Travel, History, and Cow Chips in America's Dairyland


The Trojan Cow


Fish Frys


The first thing you notice is the cow. Like the great Trojan horse, the giant faux animal rolls down the street, barely clearing power lines, carrying a small army of children insider her belly.

“What do you kids do in there?”

“We throw t-shirts and cow chips.” 

Silly me. What else would be dropped from the derrière of a 20-foot tall cow? Cow chips and t-shirts, each item promoting the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw held in Sauk City every Labor Day weekend. 

The cow is a familiar site in summertime parades throughout south central Wisconsin. Terry Slotty, Sauk City, is in charge of the black and white icon. He pulls it with his riding lawn mower.

“Have to watch out for the wires,” said Slotty, describing the occupational hazards. 

The chip-to-shirt ratio is roughly 3-1: for every three cow chips dropped from the cow’s tail, one t-shirt promoting the event is deposited for lucky spectators to take home. 

“People who want a chip can certainly have one,” said Bob Egan, Sauk City, a member of the shovel brigade, but most people prefer to take home a t-shirt instead. The shovel brigade follows closely to pick up the dried chips, which are roughly the size of a Frisbee. 

Sometimes during the parades the support team will play hockey with the chips. 

“We’ll scoop one up in a shovel and throw it up and someone else will try to catch it,” said Egan. “Or we’ll throw one way up in the air and the wheelbarrow will try to run under it. We try to think of something new all the time.” 

Yet promoting the annual cow chip event at parades and taking care of the behemoth bovine -- it’s 20 years old and “needs a little work” -- is not the most important job for Slotty. Not even close. 

Could you play the World Series without baseballs? The Super Bowl without footballs? World Cup without pucks? 

Terry Slotty takes care of that, too. 

“We picked them (last year) on July 26,” he explained. “We lay them out on a flat bed wagon. Scoop ‘em up with shovels because they’re pretty juicy then. About the third week in August I turn them all over. Set ‘em on edge so they get dry.”

About 15-20 members of the event’s organizing committee and their kids help with the harvest. 

“It’s kind of a party night,” Slotty said. 

“We meet someplace and eat supper before we go over to the farm. You usually want to eat first.” 

About 200 chips are harvested.

“We find a farm that has the right kind of chips, beef cattle that are grass fed,” said Slotty with the kind of confidence that only comes with experience. “If they’re fed with corn, the chips are too watery and they dry out like newspaper and you can’t throw em. Got to have a little texture to it, so grass fed works best.

“The competitors are looking for a chip about six inches around and inch or so thick. They want some weight to it. They throw it overhand like a baseball then it starts to act like a Frisbee.”

Considering giving it a try? 

No gloves allowed. 

Here’s the inside, er, scoop on how to get the edge on your competitor. 

“Lick your fingers before you throw to get a good grip,” Slotty offered. 

“Lick ‘em after to clean them off.”


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