(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published March 9, 2003.)
When we think of Wisconsin, we think of it as the nation's Heartland -- a placid place where you can park your car anywhere and leave it unlocked, with the key in the ignition, knowing that no matter how long you're gone, when you return your car will be covered with cheese.
But, more important, your car will still be there, because Wisconsin is a decent, honest place, populated by decent, honest, chunky people. Or so I always thought. But then I received, from several alert readers, a shocking article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, written by Marilynn Marchione. This article describes an evil, almost unthinkable activity that is raging out of control in Wisconsin, and threatens to infect Minnesota (the nation's Spleenland) and Iowa (the nation's Pancreaticglandland).
What is this activity? I will answer that in two shocking words, which you probably never thought you would read in a family newspaper: udder tampering.
Never miss a local story.
Yes. There are men in Wisconsin who are using artificial means to make their cows' udders more attractive. Why? Because these men are very, very lonely.
No, seriously, they are doing it to win livestock shows. These are competitions in which cows are judged on various characteristics, kind of like human beauty-pageant contestants, except that the cows are more likely to know what ''Iraq'' is.
For livestock judges, the most important part of a cow is the udder, because this is where the cow produces important dairy products such as milk, butter, cheese, yogurt and ranch dressing, via a process called ''photosynthesis.'' As you know (like HECK you do), a standard cow has one udder, which is divided into quarters, each of which has a nipple, or ''teat,'' except in Utah, where this is illegal.
Livestock judges -- who, I'm guessing, are predominantly male -- prefer cows with big, round, firm udders. The judges are not interested in cows with droopy udders, even if these cows are smarter and have nicer personalities. On Saturday nights, when the big-udder cows are basking in the glamour of the livestock show, the droopy-udder cows are back in the barn, alone, quietly chewing on Danielle Steel novels.
Here's where the scandal comes in: There are people whose job is to prepare cows for livestock shows. These people are called (I swear) ''cow fitters.'' Most cow fitters are honest. ''As honest as a cow fitter'' is an expression you hear frequently in the Heartland. Unfortunately, in recent years, a growing number of ''bad apple'' fitters have been artificially enhancing udders using various injections. This ticks off honest dairy farmers such as (I swear) Elmo Wendorf of Oconomowoc, Wis., who is quoted in the Journal Sentinel as follows:
``What they're trying to do is make both rear quarters absolutely equal, both 36 double-D. It's kind of like women having a breast implant. People really hate it when I compare cows to humans, but it's kind of the same.''
Cheating in livestock shows is illegal, and punishable by fines, or even prison. (''What are you in for?'' ''Murder. And you?'' ''Udder tampering.'' ''YIKES!'') But how do you catch the cheaters? The tampering is invisible to the naked eyeball, and most cows are too loyal, or just plain too scared, to squeal on their fitters.
Fortunately, there is hope, thanks to the work of top cow scientists at the University of Wisconsin. According to the Journal Sentinel, these scientists have developed a technique, using ultrasound, to check udders for tampering.
There's a photo in the newspaper showing university veterinarian Robert O'Brien squatting under a suspected cow, peering intently at an electronic device while holding some kind of sensor against the cow's udder, looming large overhead. You look at this dramatic photo and you cannot help but envision it as the basis for a major action film -- ''Udder Patrol,'' starring Tom Cruise as a maverick investigative veterinarian, Nicolas Cage as a cow fitter gone bad and Pamela Anderson as herself.
But the udder-tampering crime wave is not Hollywood fiction: It is real. And that is why we all owe a debt of gratitude to the developers of the ultrasound technique, which could offer significant benefits to humanity, beyond livestock shows. As Dr. O'Brien told the Journal Sentinel (I swear): ``We think we could clean up the Miss America contest with the same technology.''
(c) 2008, Dave Barry
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