July 06, 1987 12:00 PM

The crowd of nearly 400 was growing restless. “Give her some lemonade with a little Ex-Lax in it,” someone shouted. “Hey, you want a White Castle hamburger?” offered another practical bystander. There was laughter, then the spectators sat back for some serious waiting. History was in the making. Croswell, Mich. was staging the state’s first cow-drop raffle.

Yes, cow drop, the stuff most people in this rural community prefer to stand upwind of. But now they were content to be in the thick of it, as it were, for the chance to win money and raise funds for the town’s seventh-and eighth-grade cheerleaders. Scrounging around for a funnier, more profitable alternative to bake sales and car washes, school boosters decided to divide a field into 400 two-foot squares and sell each one for $10. Babe, a local Holstein heifer, would be let loose in the field and closely watched until she managed to make deposits on the property of three lucky square holders. To prevent tampering and to make sure everything was on the up-and-up excrement-wise, state lottery officials decreed numbers would then be randomly drawn and placed on the grid, thereby identifying the winners of the three prizes—$750, $250 and $100.

Fine, except that Babe made her first drop out of bounds, just before she arrived on the field. The crowd had to wait 98 minutes for her next installment, all the while shouting encouragement, offering suggestions, cracking their knuckles and gradually thinning. By the time Babe fired off another round, even the eventual winners had gone home. Nevertheless, the raffle raised $2,900 and was judged a success. “We’ll do it again,” promised school principal John Ferda. “This is a clever little town with a good sense of humor.” And a lot of cows.

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