Allow me to introduce you to the Wisconsin Udder Tuggers. Their commitment to celebrating June Dairy Month has connected thousands of people to the dairy industry for more than a decade, and their enthusiasm for cows has garnered recognition around the country and even the world. For their efforts, they’ve received remarkable awards and a loyal following.
I’m not talking about a group of dairy farmers here, or even industry professionals. No, the Udder Tuggers are a minor league baseball team.
More accurately, they are the alter ego of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the High-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, for a few unique games in June. The Timber Rattlers play their home games in Appleton, Wis. The surrounding area boasts more than 100 cows per square mile, matching the dairy density of Tulare County, Calif., the nation’s largest dairy county.
A salute to cowsTwelve years ago, the team began “Salute to Cows Night” at the ballpark to honor the dairy prominence of the region and the state during June Dairy Month. Fans would leave with souvenirs such as cereal bowls and milk glasses, as well as the unique experience of meeting a real-life calf, cow, or even dairy farmer.
By 2019, the team decided to go all in with a name change to complete the promotion. They partnered with a nearby dairy, Milk Source, to develop the idea.
What resulted was players taking the field in cow-printed jerseys emblazoned with “Wisconsin Udder Tuggers” for one special game on Salute to Cows Night. As they say, the rest is history.
Taking the nation by storm
“It was like lightning in a bottle,” said Ryan Cunniff, the organization’s director of corporate partnerships, a cultivator of the promotion since the beginning. The brand change was picked up by SportsCenter on ESPN and other national news outlets. Merchandise with the team’s new name and logo sold out and had to be reordered as sales poured in from all over the world. That year, the team was awarded “Best Theme Night” and “Best Overall Promotion” across all levels of minor league baseball.
Realizing the incredible reaction to the promotion, the team planned to extend the Udder Tuggers’ season to a full weekend in 2020. When last season was canceled, that dream came true this year as fans were treated to four games between the Udder Tuggers and the Peoria Chiefs.
A variety of t-shirts, hats, pennants, and other goodies featuring cows were available in the team store. In addition to the players, team staff wore cow-printed jerseys. Inflatable cows hung from the rafters as fans entered the gate, and each night they received a spotted giveaway — a stress cow, a can koozie, a cow bobblehead, or a fanny pack. The giant cow mascot, Buddercup, was a hit. On the video board, Chiefs players were superimposed on cow figures, and a loud “moo” echoed through the stadium after an out.
“This is minor league baseball, so we like to be a little wacky,” Cunniff chuckled of the festivities.
Dairy up closeWhile fans definitely enjoy the novelty aspect of the game, the root of the promotion remains in celebrating dairy farmers and connecting people to where their milk comes from, Cunniff added. Milk Source has been a major partner on the event, bringing a cow and calf for fans to visit before each game. Farm staff are available to answer consumer questions about the industry. When fans ask if the Jersey cow is the mother of the Holstein calf, it’s a chance to talk about the different breeds of dairy cattle, said Avi Stern.
“I like getting out here to interact with the community. It’s a great way for people to experience agriculture,” believes Stern, Milk Source’s director of public affairs. “Most of these people have never seen a cow before.”
In addition to the animals, Cunniff said fans may get to ask questions at a “Meet a Farmer” booth or gaze up at the size of a combine. Julia Nunes, advocating for Wisconsin agriculture this year as Alice in Dairyland, talked with fans throughout the weekend and threw out a ceremonial first pitch.
The weekend also serves as a way to do some financial good for the community. Over the course of a few days, fans can bid in an online auction for the players’ special edition game-worn jerseys. The money raised goes back to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Fund, which supports fundraisers and charities throughout the area, including 4-H and FFA programs. This year, the jersey auction raised more than $8,500.
Walking around town with some Udder Tuggers gear is sure to be a good way to start a conversation about cows, baseball, and even the dairy industry. The promotion has clearly resonated with thousands of people over the years as they continue to enjoy the games, sport their spots, and witness agriculture in action. And as more people hear about the team with the unique name, they might learn a little more about where their milk comes from, too.