Minus the winter months of late December through early February, my family’s year is devoted to showing our dairy cows. We attend our local county fair every year, and depending on how our cows look, we could attend up to six other shows, going as far as Louisville, Ky.
My dad grew up showing Holsteins and Jerseys, and his sister
was a county dairy princess in 1978. My mom was heavily involved in the
Guernsey ring, being the Pennsylvania Guernsey queen in 1978 and a county dairy
princess in 1979. Ironically, my aunt crowned my mom as county princess.
And I continued their tradition, as the Pennsylvania Jersey
queen in 2004.
From my first day of life, I’ve spent nearly every day on a
dairy farm – from my father’s family farm, to working on other farms, and now
to living on my husband’s dairy farm.
I started my 4-H career at age 8 and my FFA career at age
14, having dairy projects in both. But my projects haven’t just been production
cows; they’ve been show cows too.
My animals are bred to milk first and show second. Milk is
what pays the bills, but showing is our way of having a little fun while
“displaying” our breeding program, and promoting the dairy industry at the same
I personally own more than 60 registered Holsteins, Jerseys,
and Red and Whites. Besides the two animals my husband and I purchased
together, all of the others are home-bred, a feat I’m very proud of. It makes
me even prouder to say that my home-bred genetics have won many local and
regional shows, and have placed in the top 10 of multiple state and national
Each spring, preparations begin with the selection of our
show string. Most years, our county fair is the first show of the season and
our “weed-out” show to help determine which animals should move on to other,
more competitive shows.
Typically, we’ll take between eight and 10 Jerseys for the
first half the week, bring them home, and replace them with eight to 10
Holsteins and Red and Whites. That means I have up to 20 animals that need to
be worked with.
That work isn’t exactly easy, and is very time consuming.
New calves need halter broke – first, get them used to a
rope halter; second, get them to walk beside me; third, get them to show
walk (basically learn how to show themselves off to on-lookers); fourth,
change from a rope halter to a leather show halter while still show walking;
fifth, bath time; sixth, hair-cut (a.k.a. clipping) time; seventh, repeat steps
four through seven.
Heifers and cows that have been shown before know what they
need to do and what to expect, but they still need to be worked with a few
times before the show just to remind them what’s going on.
There are years, like this one, that I have a 6-year-old cow
to show, and she hasn’t seen a ring since she was a calf. She needs a little
extra TLC to make sure she doesn’t try to plow me into the ground.
Most every evening in the summer is consumed with walking,
bathing and clipping show animals. And I’m not alone; my parents and husband do
a lot of the work too.
A few nights ago, I was walking a group of show calves. I
led three while my dad was entertaining my son.
When I got to the fourth, a little Jersey, my son decided
that he wanted to walk her. While the Jersey is very tame and would never
intentionally hurt him, my son is almost too fearless right now. Being a
typically overprotective new mom, I cautiously let him hold on to the end of
the halter strap while I walked between him and the calf, holding on to her
Some have given me grief for letting my son be so close to
cows (or mud or poop), but this was exactly the way I was raised and is exactly
the way I want my son to be. All went well and no one was injured, just an
excited little boy. A good evening in my book!
~ Jessica Rose Spangler, market editor