SENECA FALLS, NY — The dairy barn at the Seneca County Fair felt a little lonesome to Jim Patsos, 71. Except only one year, the Waterloo, NY resident has shown cows every year since he was 11 years old. But this year, only one competitor arrived with dairy cows to exhibit and no beef cattle competed. Patsos enjoys the friendly competition and said he felt a little disappointment as to the meager turnout to the show barn.
A lifelong dairyman, Patsos said several factors have affected the show.
The cost of veterinarian screening for show animals has risen faster than the awards for winning. Despite his good placing, the prizes didn’t cover the fees.
He added that the influx of Plain sect members to Seneca County has decreased the number of farms willing to show, since Amish and Mennonite farmers typically do not show animals.
An area farmer who usually leases animals to local 4-Hers was unable to participate this year, which cut back on youngsters showing at the fair.
For several years, a cow show running concurrently with the fair helped drum up interest in the fair as well; however, since the organization changed its venue, fewer exhibitors have participated in the county fair’s cow show.
“We had 60 to 70 head at the fair and it was really nice,” Patsos said.
He ruefully joked that with so little competition, it was hard to perform poorly at the fair. He won first places in all the Ayrshire divisions, but lost out on the Supreme Champion.
“That’s okay,” he added. “We got that last year.”
He said he isn’t sure if younger people will show more interest in showing next year.
He and his wife, Deborah, have five grown children. None of them are interesting in showing, and their grandchildren also have other interests.
Fewer exhibitors correlates with the dwindling number of young farmers. The show barn felt nearly empty with only a handful of cows present, but Patsos said, “I totally enjoyed it.”
In addition to the Seneca County Fair, his showing career has taken him to the New York State Fair in Syracuse, NY; All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, PA; and the Spring Dairy Carousel in Syracuse.
“My one regret is I’ve never been to the World Dairy Expo in Madison,” Patsos said. “I showed once for my brother at the Dairy Carousel. I froze and decided I’d never do another spring show again.”
His travels have helped him forge friendships in the dairy world which he said he enjoys immensely.
Patsos and his wife started their dairy farm in Camillus, NY in the 1950s. In 1963, they transitioned to Waterloo, NY for more room. At their peak, the Patsos family kept about 70 head.
“It got to where the financial strain was even more of a strain on the rest of our family,” he said.
Patsos sold his milking herd in 2002, but kept a few cows. Eventually, they grew into a herd of 20. He moved the milkers to a farm in Canandaigua, NY where another farmer cares for them.
Patsos keeps his animals in a free-stall barn and feeds grain and hay. His milkers in Canandaigua are also in a free-stall barn and are pastured in the summer and receive total mixed rations otherwise. He still consults about any breeding or surgeries involved with his small dairy herd and tries to visit them weekly.
“My farm work consists of working for other people,” Patsos said.
He helps neighboring farms during busy times and performs skid steer and trucking for Plain neighbors. But when show season comes, he’s a regular in the show barn.
“Showing has always been part of what we did,” Patsos said. “Some people bowl, and some golf, we show cows.”
He wants to continue to develop “a small, elite group of cattle we can merchandise,” he said.
Patsos spent 10 years in 4-H, back when youngsters could participate until age 21. That experience helped him learn the ropes. After 60 years of showing, he said the most vital thing he has learned about showing is the importance of preparing animals.
“Get them trained to lead properly,” he said. “Learn good clipping and hoof trimming techniques.”
When not doing farm work, Patsos umpires Little League baseball games for the Waterloo Little League.