BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) – Pamplona has its bulls. Brattleboro has its heifers. And girl, did they ever draw a crowd Saturday.

With 100 flower-bedecked young cows leading the way, the seventh annual Strolling of the Heifers parade – Vermont’s udderly kitschy answer to Spain’s famous annual bull running – turned downtown Brattleboro into a celebration of things agricultural.

The parade, part of a three-day festival aimed at raising awareness and money for agricultural education programs, drew an estimated 45,000 people, most camping out on lawn chairs or curbs to watch as young 4-H club members led the heifers up Main Street.

“It’s the most awesome, creative parade I’ve ever been to,” said Cindy Vitko, 49, of Shelton, Conn., who read about the event and attended last year for the first time. “I’ll go for the rest of my life.”

Milking the dairy theme for all it’s worth, some participants wore cow hats, black-and-white Holstein-patterned clothing and costumes with fake udders attached. Marching bands, school groups, antique tractors, farm families, food co-ops, a farmers’ market and a juggler on a unicycle rounded out the field of participants.

“We have yaks, we have buffaloes, we have llamas, we have chickens, we have bunnies,” said executive director Orly Munzing. “It’s Noah’s Ark here.”

But it was the cows – most of them females 2 years old or less who’ve never milked or given birth – and their handlers who took center stage. ‘

With drinking water placed along the route, 12 veterinarians on hand and a costumed group of “pooper scoopers” trailing the animals with wagons and shovels, heifers with names like Black Berry, Shadow, Jungfrau and Perry Como, ambled up the street, their halters held by young 4-H members and their helpers.

The animals took it in stride, stopping occasionally to dirty the pavement or resist their handler’s lead.

“When it’s their first year, they’re a little skittish, “cause it’s a different environment and it’s pretty loud and there’s a ton of people, so it takes a while for them to get used to it,” said Heidi Matthews, 15, of Vernon, a member of the Vernon Cowlicks 4-H club, who walked a 4-year-old Jersey milker named Elsie.

“I love just showing cows and walking them,” said Abigail Allen, 9, of Walpole, N.H., who walked Birthday, a 6-month-old heifer. “It’s so much fun.”

The mile-long procession mooed and whinnied its way up Main Street, past an ersatz red carpet where a Joan Rivers wannabe dished dirt for the crowd (“Here are some of Brattleboro’s mooovers and shakers,” she cracked, watching the Brattleboro Nursery School “Sap Buckets” approach) and then by a reviewing stand.

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AP-ES-06-07-08 1423EDT

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