Reflecting on the sleepy Iowa boy and his heifer at the State Fair

Des Moines Register
Mitchell Miner, 15, of Williamsburg, sleeps on his heifer, Audri, following their showing at the Iowa State Fair's youth dairy cattle show on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.

Editor's note: As the state and county fair season starts to wind down, we'd like to share this story from the DesMoines Register that was first published in 2018 that revisits an iconic image that could have been taken in any number of cattle barns across the Midwest.

A photo of a 15-year-old boy sleeping on his heifer at the 2017 Iowa State Fair clutched the hearts of not only Iowans, but people across the nation.

The "unspoken connection" between the Mitchell Miner of Williamsburg and his heifer, Audri, drew attention from national outlets like Fox News and CBS News. For two months, the boy spent nearly every day with the cow, which was borrowed from a dairy farm in Blairstown.

"She likes to lay down quite a bit," Miner said during the fair. "I don't really understand the bond with my animal either.

"She just enjoys my company." 

But what is it about the photo that touched people? On social media, people had an array of reactions:

  • It conjured memories for people of growing up on a farm and the love and care for they had for their animals while raising them for county fairs and 4-H shows.
  • It conjured memories of the hard work and dedication it takes to wake up at 3 a.m. for your animal.
  • People mentioned the everyday care it takes to show an animal: bathing them, clipping them and walking them nonstop.
  • For others, it's the unusual bond that human beings are able to make with animals that are nothing like them and weigh 10 times more than them.

But the photo also drew criticism from people online who questioned the fate of the heifer and the life she would lead once she was returned to the dairy farm.

Mitchell Miner's father, Jeremy Miner, spoke out, however, in a Facebook comment and noted the love and care it takes to be a farmer and raise animals.

"Livestock is raised with more blood, sweat, tears than you will ever understand unless you choose to make your living from it. Livestock are raised with their well-being, being of the utmost Importance. Their health, comfort & well-being take precedence over our own. ... That bond is different because we know that in the end, these animals are here for a purpose, food. Whether it's milk or meat, we know that some day, they will fill hungry bellies. It's never been about farmers not caring about animals. Farmers know that this is the reality of raising livestock. To say my son, or my family don't know what's going to happen to this heifer couldn't be farther from the truth. The problem today is that fewer & fewer people don't know where there food comes from, nor are they willing to accept the way that food gets to their table because nobody is willing to teach them this reality," he wrote in a Facebook comment on a Register article.

Audri ended up placing fifth out of seven contestants. The photo, posted by Jeremy, garnered more than 17,000 interactions, 1,800 shares and 500 comments.

In the end, the photo highlights the essence of the Iowa State Fair — hard work, compassion, a diverse array of people and opinions and adorable animals.