I arrive at the Rodeo's so-called "Celebrity Dairy Goat Milking Competition" out of breath and extremely sweaty. This is not because I find the idea of milking an animal for the first time particularly intimidating, but because I'm both chronically late and generally a very sweaty person. And thankfully, after hoofing it from a distant parking lot and into the depths of the Rodeo's "Agventure" exhibit hall, I show up just as the milking is set to begin.
Each year the Rodeo invites a slew of media personalities to pull on the teat of destiny and determine who can coax the most milk from a goat in just 60 seconds. Surveying my competition—a combination of radio hosts and fellow keyboard jockeys—I figure I can compete. I'd watched the how-to videos and solicited some basic milking pointers from my folksier friends (something about pinching rather than pulling). Feeling confident, I throw on an apron and assume my position beside a goat named Eliza.
But as I stare into the dark, soulless eyes of Eliza the goat, something tells me the mysteries of nature might not be so easily decoded, even with the help of a 22-step Wikihow tutorial. No, as the starting signal echoes through the rafters of NRG Center Exhibit Hall A, I begin to pinch and pull and coax to no avail. I pinch harder, and Eliza only twitches her leg. Precious seconds elapse. My polka dot-patterned milk bucket remains drier than dirt.
The timer is quickly running down, and panic sets in. Determined to outpace the competition, I focus on a single nipple, vigorously coaxing the milk from the udder above and squeezing her leathery undercarriage with increasing intensity. Objecting to my shenanigans, Eliza resorts to a full-on bicycle kick, attempting to throw off whatever ham-fisted human happens to be fidgeting with her udder from behind. Finally, despite her mighty protestations: Milk! The stream is sporadic and small, but, to this novice milker, it might as well be the Spindletop gusher. A steady flow of liquid gold flows into the receptacle for a few dozen seconds before time is up.
Stepping back, I look at the considerable puddle collected at the bottom of my bucket, legitimately floored. "Pretty good, huh?" I say to the two very nice handlers who stopped Eliza from curb stomping me, mid-milk. Unimpressed, they stare at me with stony faces, and one transfers the milk from the pail to a transparent Tupperware for me to present to the judges.
My surge of satisfaction quickly recedes as I glance at the other celebrities' output. The winner, George of 100.3 FM, had summoned a downright deluge of milk from the goat during his tête-à-teat. It was clear the trickle sloshing around my container would not take top prize, but it was also clear that I would not take last place. One or two other competitors had managed to tease only the slightest whisper of milk from their goat companions, so at least I'm better than them.
Trophies are distributed. We gather for a group photo. One of the goats pees all over the shamrock-green shavings covering the floor. Another lets loose what a clueless passerby might mistake as a pile of Milk Duds.
And then I leave. I could've kept my Tupperware of goat milk, but for what purpose? Would I add it to my morning coffee, replacing the taste of Houstonia's bitter office sludge with the lingering anxiety about the safety of drinking raw goat milk? No, I decide. I just leave, walking through the maze of animals, past the purveyors of artisanal fudge, by the rows of massage chairs and out into the parking lot, spirits buoyed by the brisk spring winds and the satisfaction of having successfully communed with the animal kingdom.