The 1,500-pound, black-and-white Holstein tugged on its rope halter and butted against Toni McCannon, who was holding tight and brooking no nonsense. "Would you stop? Cut it out," McCannon ordered.

The 23-year-old animal science major was one of about 20 students at the University of Maryland who were parading -- or attempting to parade -- their cows in a recent practice session, in advance of last Saturday's Ag Day at the university.

Students in the two dairy production classes adopted cows for a semester and then showed them in the annual festival. They were responsible for washing, grooming and clipping the beasts, as well as "teaching them to behave," McCannon said.

The dairy production class, however, is somewhat of an endangered species, at least in its current one-on-one fashion.

The cows, the last permanent herd on the College Park campus -- founded in 1856 as the Maryland Agricultural College -- are scheduled to be evicted in fall 1986.

That is when the dairy barn, which dates to the 1930s, is expected to be demolished to make room for a $12 million building, complete with state-of-the-art research laboratories and a covered show ring, for the Animal Sciences and Agricultural Engineering departments.

The Holstein herd will join 80 other cows at a university dairy operation in Clarksville, Md., a 35-minute drive away in Howard County. After that, up to 20 of the cows could be brought back to campus on a temporary basis to use in classes, just as sheep, swine, beef cattle and horses are currently trucked in.

Administrators and faculty members contend that the cows-for-building trade-off is a smart bargain.

"This is the first new and best thing we're getting in a long time," said Dennis Westhoff, chairman of the Animal Sciences department. "We're tickled to death. This is not bad news, it's great news."

"It's a little sad, but that's progress -- and we're replacing it with more modern facilities," said Donald Hegwood, dean of the College of Agriculture.

"Any aggie would be sad to see the animals move, but the trade-off is progress."

Animal sciences students were far less enthusiastic, however.

"Taking these guys away from us is like taking a computer away from a computer science major," said Stephen Foulke, a 19-year-old junior pre-veterinary student from New Carrollton.

"There's people here who have never seen a farm, and this is a chance for them to experience it," said Gary Wilber, a 21-year-old senior who plans to return to his family's 1,000-acre grain and poultry farm in Salisbury, Md., after graduation.

"It's a disservice to the undergraduate program," said herd manager Jordan Thomas.

"There is not enough hands-on experience. In recent years the animal sciences student is generally not someone from a farm background, and it's not good to move them into the job market without having the opportunity to work with an animal."

At the recent practice session, Thomas offered encouragement and tips as the students circled and posed the cows in an awkward bovine ballet.

"Get the nose up in the air a little more," he advised one student. "Remember, she's supposed to look regal."

"Brag about her in one way or another to the judges," he told the class over a chorus of moos.

"Gary, I think you know something that you need to work on between now and Saturday," Thomas told a student whose cow, dragging her hapless keeper with her as she charged into a row of bushes, was acting more like a bull at a rodeo than a placid dairy cow.

Later, as she combed the coat of her animal, Velveeta, in the white barn, Gigi Salvati, an 18-year-old freshman from Bound Brook, N.J., said she had "never been with a cow before in my life" prior to taking the class. When she told her parents that she had adopted a cow for the semester, Salvati said, the response was, 'You have a what?' "

Department chairman Westhoff said he agrees with the students that hands-on experience is important -- but not necessarily with a large herd. "We are concerned about having students in contact with animals, and we always want to have enough animals here to do that," he said. "We don't need 60 cows here to do that."

In addition, Westhoff said, students will be better off seeing the ultra-modern dairy operations that will be put in place at the Clarksville facility, which is scheduled for a $3 million face-lifting.

"Currently we're exposing students to management practices that are not up-to-date in an old facility," he said. "If you want to teach a mechanic how to work on a car, you're not going to pull out a 1930 Ford."

"I understand the nostalgia" about the barns, said Filmore E. Bender, associate director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, the agriculture school's research arm. "The students will have to drive a little farther to have access to the animals in a standard milking environment.

"But they haven't lost the animals, and they've gained research, they've gained modern teaching facilities, and they've gained a new dairy at Clarksville that is current with industry standards," Bender said.

"When they walk into the dairy barn at College Park, they're not learning how dairies are operated in the state today. They're learning how dairies were operated 50 years ago." CAPTION: Picture 1, Lisa Reinhardt, a sophomore pre-vet major from Harford County, with Selina. Picture 2, Jordan Thomas manages College Park barn, which will be demolished to make way for a $12 million research facility. By Vanessa Barnes Hillian -- The Washington Post