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Competitors arrive at the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, New York, hoping to win blue ribbons for everything from goat milking prowess to prized heifers. And ever since the 1980s, women have been trying to demonstrate control over one especially unwieldy breed: their husbands. They did it again yesterday at the annual husband-calling contest.

Lara Pellegrinelli checked it out at the Livestock Arena at the Dutchess County Fair.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Contrary to popular opinion these days, you don't need to be wired to stay connected with your loved ones. At the Dutchess County Fair, you'll never catch anyone asking: Can you hear me now?

Unidentified Woman: John. Where are you?

PELLEGRINELLI: The fair's annual husband-calling contest brings communication between a woman and her man back to the basics. Inspired by hog-calling events at other country fairs, the contest was the brainchild of Andy Imperati.

Mr. ANDY IMPERATI: The hogs could be a mile away, and they'll go: Eeee, you know, how they call hogs - and them hogs come running across the field. It's unbelievable. And then I thought, oh, God, we don't have the hogs here. Maybe I'll just turn it into a husband-calling contest. And it works out perfect.

PELLEGRINELLI: You heard him. In agrarian Dutchess County, they didn't have swine to call, so they found a ready substitute in their men folk. So what kind of call does Imperati's wife of 47 years use to motivate him?

Mr. IMPERATI: Well, I can't tell you what she says most of the time, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IMPERATI: I need two more volunteers to be judges.

PELLEGRINELLI: Imperati pulls audience members out of the stands to serve as judges. They evaluate contestants on loudness, clarity and creativity, the reason Ernestine Martin dominated the competition for nearly a decade.

Ms. ERNESTINE MARTIN: One of my calls was the one in which I said: Bill, I just got a phone call from my doctor. We've killed another rabbit, sucker.

PELLEGRINELLI: That call wasn't about a pet bunny, but kidded about the arrival of baby number seven. This year, Australian-born Margie Riordan scored points for her imaginative call, taking second place.

Ms. MARGIE RIORDAN: Come here, you big stud. I'm waiting for you. Come home.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RIORDAN: Come on, lovey. Show me those beautiful gray hairs that I gave you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RIORDAN: Come home. I've got some chicken. I've got some goat, even pigeon. We'll make a barbecue. Come on, lovey.

PELLEGRINELLI: Even though Riordan's husband almost hopped the fence to reach her, the winner was Donna Kuklis from Saugerties, New York. She won $40 and the blue ribbon.

Ms. DONNA KUKLIS: John. John, where are you now? The kids are in the corn again. I told you don't let them go in there. Why are they there again? John, I know you can hear me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PELLEGRINELLI: Actually, John might not be able to hear her, having weathered her calls for 11 years of marriage.

Mr. JOHN KUKLIS: I can't hear you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KUKLIS: I just can't hear anymore.

PELLEGRINELLI: For NPR News, I'm Lara Pellegrinelli in New York.

Ms. KUKLIS: John, where are you? (Unintelligible)

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