by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
Jenelle Ritchie was 9-years-old when she first brought her Brown Swiss dairy cow, Caramel, to the Shiawassee County Fair in August of 2000. At that time, the little girl couldn’t have guessed that she was starting a tradition that would continue every single fair through 2014. Ritchie’s siblings were also involved with the fair, but she decided she wanted to try dairy instead of beef cattle. That’s when the big Brown Swiss cow came into her life. This large North American breed is fairly uncommon in this region, even though after the Holstein, it has the second highest annual milk yield, with the milk being considered excellent for cheese production.
Caramel started her Shiawassee County Fair career in 2000, and primarily because of her breed and large size, she quickly became popular with visitors. Caramel has large, fuzzy ears and sappy cow eyes, and because she was annually placed in the same stall, she became quite comfortable with the arrangement. Other 4-H members and fair participants joked that she was “the queen of the cow barn.” Caramel would often reach her head out of her stall to greet the crowds. She thoroughly enjoyed it when people would pet her and wasn’t afraid to seek out extra attention. Over time, Caramel became somewhat of a dairy barn attraction to individuals who returned to the fairgrounds year after year.
How did Caramel do when it came to showing at the fair? According to Ritchie, “She was a pretty decent heifer, but as she grew older, I didn’t bring her so much as a show cow. I wasn’t bringing her for the ribbons or trophies. I really brought her more to see everyone get so much joy out of her.”
Ritchie, now a nurse, grew up with her family on a “small family-owned hobby farm” in Corunna. “Unquestionably, 4-H was hands down the best experience I could ever have in my childhood,” she expressed. “I still can’t miss a fair. I need my fair-fix.”
Ritchie wishes to express her gratitude to all of the supporters over the years, in particular to Michele Lenneman, her 4-H leader. Lenneman was involved for 11 years in helping to organize the situation to ensure that Caramel could be at the fair.
Caramel is retired from fair life these days. At 18 years of age, the huge Brown Swiss cow is content to spend her time at the Ritchie farm.