Holy cow! What's going on at Embassy Suites in East Peoria?

Jeanette Kendall TimesNewspapers
A calf was one of the 100 cows that are underneath the Bob Michel Bridge at the Embassy Suites Hotel for a convention taking place there this week.

Those staying at Embassy Suites or driving by the East Peoria hotel last week likely did a double take. 

Right in the heart of the city behind the hotel, a bunch of cows were inside a fenced area underneath the shade of the Bob Michel Bridge.

The 2014 National Ayrshire & Brown Swiss Convention took place June 25-27 at the Embassy Suites. The group has an annual convention which goes from state to state.

Rick Swan, executive director at the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce, said the group contacted Embassy Suites three years ago.

“They liked the Embassy as a setting because the parking lot was conducive to everything they wanted to do,” Swan said.

Swan said the Chamber helped with the event by coordinating free fencing through Keystone Steel & Wire Co. to corral the cows.

“We also worked out with IDOT because of the location and the proximity of the bridge,” Swan said.

About 300 people stayed at the Embassy Suites from as far away as New Zealand, Mexico, New York, California and Texas for the event. In addition to meetings, exhibits and the sale of the cows, the group mixed in fun things to do.

On June 25, the group had a golf outing at Coyote Creek Golf Course. On Thursday, groups took bus tours of Peoria and of River Valley Dairy in Tremont.

“They started Monday. That means they’re eating at our restaurants. They’re visiting our locations around town, not only our side of the river, but the other side of the river. It’s a great regional draw,” Swan said.

“I think it will be a great event. They’re filling our hotel. They’re going to be here through the weekend,” Embassy Suites General Manager Fred Jones said June 25. “They’ll be using a lot of the areas of East Peoria and Peoria.”

Steve McDonald of Princeton, co-chairman, who represents the Ayrshire cows, and co-chairwoman Joni Paaske of Hillsdale, who represented the Brown Swiss, talked about the convention.

McDonald said the Ayrshire cows originated in Scotland. The Brown Swiss originated in Switzerland.

Paaske said there were about 100 dairy cows in the parking lot. 

“You can use them for breeding,” McDonald said.

These are not the kind of cows that would end up on a McDonald’s Big Mac. They cost about $25,000, with the Brown Swiss being a bit more expensive than the Ayrshires.

“We’ve had some Swiss this spring that have been in the $10s (thousands), $20s and $30s,” Paaske said. “It’s all very relevant on what the milk market’s doing.”

The cows ranged in age from to at least one baby to 4 and 5 years old. The cows can live to be 19, but 12 is about average, Paaske said.

McDonald said the Embassy location was selected because their national office wanted the chance to host the event.

“We went to different cities and checked them out and East Peoria turned out to be everybody’s favorite,” he said.

Paaske said they checked a lot of cities and wanted to have a spectacular event.

“The Embassy Suites has just been phenomenal to work with,” she said.

The public is invited to come and watch the sale during the convention, but dinner is served to those paid members of the convention. The sales are at 3 p.m. (Ayrshire) and 6 p.m. (Brown Swiss) Friday in the Convention Center at Embassy Suites, 100 Conference Center Drive.

Paaske said the convention is held in June, which is Dairy Month.

“This is kind of a grand finale for dairy month,” she said.