Cow chip throws and vaccines: A Prairie du Sac Labor Day festival

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A girl gets ready to throw a cow chip at the Wisconsin Cow Chip Throw. The adult competition would come later in the day, Sep. 4, 2021 (WISC-TV)

PRAIRIE DU SAC — For thirty-three years, Marietta Reuter has helped coordinate what’s become an annual tradition in Prairie du Sac since 1975: throwing cow manure. This year, Sauk Prairie Healthcare got in on it by setting up a COVID-19 vaccine clinic next door.

“Basically we collect and dry cow manure, it’s dried for about a month, and then we save it from year to year,” Reuter explained, who sits on the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Committee (yes, there’s a committee–and rules.). “So some of our chips may be 20 years old.” They’re also at least six inches wide to make the adult competition–anything else gets passed off to the kids.

“Was it actually cow poop?” A six-year-old asked her father, John, after tossing two chips on Saturday morning.

“I wasn’t telling her that part,” he replied with a chuckle.

The annual Labor Day Cow Chip Throw included an arts and crafts sale, 5k run, live music, an all-day volleyball tournament, kid’s pedal pull, and an evening dance band after the corporate throw wrapped up.

“Great food served by all local, non-profit organizations,” Reuter noted. “I think that’s what sets us apart, it’s really a cool event that way.”

Event organizers say on their website that the competition attracts about 40,000 people each year. And it’s been thirty years and counting since anyone’s been able to beat a 1991 record, when Greg Neumaier of Sauk Prairie threw a chip 248 feet. (He went on to win the men’s competition for the next six straight years plus several more; his last win came in 2011. But he hasn’t again topped his own throw.)

Just across the corner from the festival, Sauk Prairie Healthcare had set up to give out COVID-19 vaccines in the hopes the state’s ongoing $100 reward card incentive program would pull a few people over. (They gave out six shots in total, five of them to first-timers, which they said wasn’t a bad tally compared to similar events.)

“We want to get community immunity, or as close as we can,” Ken Carlson said, SPH’s Vice President of Planning and Business Development. “I hope [the reward] puts them over the decision edge.”

More than that, however, they also just want to be available to talk about vaccines and have experts answer questions in an empathetic, low-stress environment.

“If you’re in doubt, just start there,” Carlson said. “We have doctors, there are people out there–experts–that will have a respectful conversation with them and not judge, and just simply have a dialogue about the vaccine.”