Walking Heifers

Life in the Farm Lane

6/13/2013 3:35 PM

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 time.

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 shows.

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 halter myself.

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

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