8/2/2014 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent
LEESBURG, Va. — Ethan Richardson, 11, started the day with a blue ribbon in junior showmanship at the July 22 Loudoun County Fair and ended it with the rosette for supreme champion dairy heifer.
Ethan had a smile on his face when he walked into the ring, showmanship judge Brittany Thompson said, and it never dimmed.
“And that heifer would do anything for him. He got her set up right away,” Thompson said.
The heifer was Pottsdale Bnick Valentine, born with a large white heart on her forehead at the Potts family’s Dogwood Farm in nearby Purcellville on Feb. 13, the day before Valentine’s Day.
Since 2001, Mike and Nancy Potts and their family have opened Dogwood Farm — “Home of the Pottsdale Holsteins” — to any youngsters who want to get up early, work hard and train a heifer up for the late-July fair. This year, all 11 dairy cattle in the ring came from Dogwood Farm. The Potts family does this, in part, so their children won’t be the only ones in the ring, but also because they love doing it and want to see other children enjoy real agriculture.
Not many years ago, Loudoun County was home to more dairy herds than any other county in the commonwealth. Today, there is only one dairy herd left.
“A lot of kids liked coming to the fair, they love the cows,” Nancy Potts said. “The 4-H’ers I have show such an interest in the animals, they never complain, they come out early in the morning all summer instead of sleeping in to work with their calves.”
There is another added benefit.
“These cows will remember this halter breaking forever. We’ll always be able to put a halter on them and lead them around,” she said.
Ethan, in his third year in the Loudoun 4-H Dairy Club, was diagnosed with high-functioning autism in third grade.
“Being a member of the dairy club has given him the opportunity to learn how to care for a calf, from halter breaking to the show ring,” said Beth Richardson, Ethan’s mother. “It has improved his self-confidence, helped him feel like he belonged to something and helped him learn how to interact with people, especially his peers. Being a member of the dairy club has been a wonderful experience for Ethan.”
Ethan’s smile, his eye contact and his skill with his heifer caught the judge’s attention right away.
“I like to see enthusiasm and the smiles on their faces and that they’re just out there having a good time,” said Thompson, a 2011 Virginia Tech dairy science graduate, who was on the 2008 National Champion Dairy Cattle judging team at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. At that national championship competition, she placed fourth overall, was the high individual in Brown Swiss and placed second in oral reasons — the explanation of the class placings the judge shares with the audience.
Another 2011 Virginia Tech dairy science graduate, Derek Heizer, now a third-year veterinary medicine student, took over judging duties for the breed show and found his winner in the same heifer.
“I am looking for a well-balanced, correct heifer who is straight across her top line, shows a lot of drop and sweep to her ribs, stands with her feet square and correctly underneath her.”
Ethan first piloted Valentine to the blue in the late winter calf class, then to grand champion.
Reserve grand champion went to Pottsdale Time Leola, a summer yearling bred and owned by Dogwood Farm and presented by Logan Potts, 17.
Logan Potts could take some satisfaction in losing the top prize to Valentine; he bred and owns the grand champion.
“The champion heifer is just a little sharper and cleaner throughout than my reserve,” Heizer said, “mainly though her head and neck, and through her ribs.”
Logan Potts bred his cow, Pottsdale Norman Taffy — sired by Highland H Stormin Norman — to a young Select Sires bull, Regancrest-GV S Bradnick-ET, to produce the grand champion heifer.
Earlier this year, Select Sires reclassified Bradnick, then only 3 years and 5 months old, as Excellent and singled him out as a breed leader for type.
Potts guided Pottsdale Braxton Rolos ET to the blue in senior showmanship last year, his first as a senior. In 2012, he placed third in intermediate showmanship and prevailed with the top prize in the breed show with Betty Pottsdale Time Alexis.
As for Ethan, he’s got about eight more years of eligibility.
“I just like smiling at the judges, thinking positive and having fun,” he said, championship rosette held high.
Here are the rest of the showmanship results:
1. Gaby White, 2.Kayla Cadle, 3. Jill Harrison, 4. Madeline Alt.
1. Ethan Richardson, 2. Aine Sweeney.
1. Francesca Reilly, 2. Amanda Thomas, 3. Eva Swartz, 4. Fiona Sweeney, 5. Claire Bryant, 6. Elizabeth Manson.
1. Ashley White, 2. Nicole Beard, 3. Logan Potts, 4. Jamie Cimbalista.