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Cow girl outstanding in her field

July 29, 2005|by HEATHER KEELS

SHARPSBURG

heatherk@herald-mail.com

If you have any questions about whether this year's Miss Washington County Farm Bureau is the real thing, just ask her what she's been reading lately.

She'll think for a moment, then tell you about a research book on mad cow disease and the latest articles in Dairy Today magazine.

"I like things like that a lot better than Shakespeare and stuff," said Hannah Smith, 17, who is dreading the Advanced Placement English Literature class she will take next year as a senior at Clear Spring High School. "It's just kind of hard for me to relate."

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For Smith, school days start at 3:45 a.m., when she gets up to help a neighboring farmer milk his cows, stopping at another farm on the way home to milk her own herd of 19, all before 7 a.m.

"It's kind of tiring," she admitted. "I'm in a lot of AP classes, so the homework is a lot, and then to get up that early is hard."

Still, Hannah said she pulled off a 3.99 GPA last year while also remaining active in the National Honor Society and 4-H Club and serving as president of her school's Future Farmers of America chapter.

And aside from literature classes and the lack of windows in the classrooms, the self-described "outdoorsy country girl" said attending Clear Spring - known locally as an agriculture magnet school - is good preparation for her future, which includes cows, cows, and more cows.

Hannah hopes to attend Virginia Tech and major in dairy science in preparation for a career as a large animal veterinarian, working mainly with dairy cows and calves. She also hopes one day to have her own dairy farm and breed a cow that will be given the top rating at the World Dairy Expo, the most elite dairy cattle competition in the world.

Coming from the flip-flop-clad Miss Washington County Farm Bureau as she wipes her hands on the back of her jeans after pouring sloppy feed into bucket-like dishes for her Ag Expo entries, the dream doesn't sound a bit unrealistic. Hannah's row of 10 cows takes up nearly a quarter of the dairy barn, with a little bench between a Holstein and a Brown Swiss that her parents have converted into an altar to her dairy farming achievements. There are plants in cow-spotted flowerpots, bouquets of flowers wilting in the heat and a framed article from when she won the Farm Bureau title.

Above the fence hangs the name of the Smiths' Clear Spring dairy farm, Rocky Haven Farm, and below it hang framed pictures that tell the story of a dairy-farm childhood:

There's Hannah at 4 years old, with her first calf, Pinky. "She was very bad," Hannah said with a grin. "She knew I was a little kid and she could take advantage of that." It was Hannah's dad, John Smith, who gave her Pinky and first got her involved in 4-H, she said. "I fell in love with it. My sister kind of grew out of it, but I never did."

Then there's Hannah at 9, with Isabelle, the grand champion cow in 1997 and one of Hannah's favorites until she got old and couldn't stand up, forcing the Smiths to have her put down last July. Hannah said she could never bear to have any of her cows sold for meat, so she has them put to sleep when they get old.

And there's a smiling teenage Hannah with Okay, her first Guernsey cow, a gift from the neighbor who now keeps her cows on his farm. In November, Hannah said the Smiths decided to sell their herd because her uncle, part owner of the farm, had arm surgery and didn't want to keep farming. With their share of the money, Hannah's parents helped her purchase back her own cows - 10 Brown Swiss and 7 Holsteins -and the neighbor agreed to keep them.

Without his generosity, Hannah said she didn't know how she would have borne to part with the cows.

"They're just like a dog or a cat," she said. "They know me. They follow me around the barn."

In fact, Hannah has been sleeping in a cot in the dairy barn all week to be close to her cows, particularly Ethel, who she said gets homesick and bawls if she leaves her there.

"She'll let out this low beller every few minutes," she said. "Everybody in the barn gets really mad at her. They threaten to put her in the horse pin."

She's much more well-behaved than Pinky was, though, and quiets down immediately with Hannah nearby, she said.

"I have no problem controlling them now," she said, "but I still love my cows just as much as I loved Pinky."

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