The Daily Gamecock

Fried Food, Crowds and Cows: South Carolina State Fair's opening night

Annual attraction opens for 12-day run

While the smoke from cigarettes and turkey leg venders mingled in the air above the loud and twinkling opening of the South Carolina State Fair, one woman in overalls sat in a quiet barn surrounded by a few men drinking beer and six cattle chewing hay.

“I am the fourth generation as far as dairy farmers go in my family,” said Amanda Lutz, the owner of Sunny Day Farm. “Dad had a farm, and he milked until I was about 7 and we sold out and kept the cattle. Then, I started milking for a farmer near us, and I’ve been in the business ever since.”

Lutz and her husband own and operate Sunny Day Farm in Chester, S.C., which is home to 75 head of certified Jersey cattle. The six cappuccino-colored cows with dark noses and velvety ears lowed gently at passing children who ran up to pat their flanks. Six more are expected to make an appearance before Saturday’s Jersey cattle show, which will judge the cows based on appearance and anatomy — which determine how healthy and profitable the cows are. 

“Our oldest cow here will be seven in January,” Lutz said. “She puts out about 10 gallons of milk a day and just came off vacation.” 

By vacation, Lutz meant that this particular cow hadn’t been milked for a while because she was pregnant. Other cows in the barn were dry or not being milked because they had not had a calf — a prerequisite to producing milk. Most Jersey cows can produce an average of seven to eight gallons of milk a day, according to Lutz; she has 69 cattle currently producing. 

With 69 healthy cows, Sunny Day farm can produce 8,500 pounds of milk in two days, she said. 

“We get about $20 for 100 pounds of milk, which sounds like a lot but our cost of production is more than what we’re getting paid for our milk because of the drought and rising feed costs,” Lutz said. 

In order to make ends meet Lutz’s husband works a job off the farm. Lutz also sells replacement cows to other farms.

“If we were living off milk-money, we’d starve to death,” a fellow farmer said as he downed the last of his Dos Equis. 

The life of a farmer is not an easy one. Lutz begins her day around 4 a.m. and heads out to the barn to milk the cows and feed the calves their breakfast milk. Throughout the course of the day, she cleans their stalls, deal with any health issues in the herd and takes care of the maternity pens. The days end around 6:30 p.m., though Lutz could continue working through the night if a cow is calving or ill. 

“It can make for a long day,” Lutz explained. “I never get a day off, but I love it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

Meanwhile, State Fair visitors wandered around with their heads titled back, dazzled by the lights and atmosphere.

Lines of people drifted around nearly every vendor stand, especially ones selling signature foods such as donut burgers, funnel cakes, elephant ears and candy apples. 

“I’ve been coming to the State Fair for almost 50 years, since I was a little girl,” Betty McQuatters said, holding hands with her husband Joe. 

They said that the fair isn’t as much fun now as when they were younger, but they still enjoy looking at the exhibits. The most fun, they said, comes from watching their granddaughter and her friend ride the rides and play the games. 

“My favorite thing about the fair is definitely the fried food,” said Cassidy McQuatters, Betty and Joe’s granddaughter. “I’ve been coming here since I was really little and I always get something to eat.” 

After hearing about the “raspberry chicken sandwich,” a deep-fried chicken breast nestled between two raspberry donuts, Cassidy McQuatters commented that it sounds “like something I would puke on.”

The fair offers a wide variety of food to the more adventurous patrons. But for those looking for more classic cuisine, there’s plenty of funnel cakes and Wisconsin cheese bites. 

“Nowhere else in the world can you eat a turkey leg like this,” said Chris Keitt, who was tearing into a massive leg while his son was working on a candy apple. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid and it doesn’t get better.”

The food and the cattle barn are just a couple of the attractions for people all around South Carolina to come and spend some time at the fair. 

When fair-goers are done enjoying their bizarre foods — like the Elvis (a bacon-peanut butter-banana burger) — they can make their way over to all the rides and games the fair has to offer. Games like shooting a basketball for the top prize of a Rastafarian monkey with blood-shot eyes, were a big hit on opening night.

For the ride junkies, the fair has plenty of to satisfy people of all ages. Slip ‘N Slides were set up for the younger children enjoying their fair experience, while college students and young adults gripped the handrails of more intense rides and screamed at the top of their lungs. 

After a day full of screaming, eating and playing, people pouring out of the fairgrounds then had the pleasure of a much more calm ride — in standstill traffic.