Cow Tales from the Dairy Farm – It’s Show Time
With hay coming in and corn getting ready to harvest, I find myself getting ready for my favorite time of year: Fair Season. Some folks have already started showing for the year. While others can’t imagine being stuck at a fair for the weekend, I am raring to go. Having grown up participating in 4-H and FFA, I have a fondness for attending the local fairs, because it is a time to compare livestock, eat fair food, and catch up with old friends.
The life of a farmer does not allow for a lot of social time, especially during the summer months, so heading out to a show with your best girls (cows that is) and getting some time with your human friends is considered vacation. Prepping animals for show is not an overnight project though; it starts months, if not years, before you get to the show ring.
I have been working with my cow family for over 13 years. My herd originated with my first 4-H Holstein, Delilah. I am proud to own the next five generations of animals in her family tree (all of which are still actively in my herd) and I have worked to improve their genetics by both managing my breeding program and my growth management program. With all the work at home, it is gratifying to go to the fair and win your class, or on the other side, it is good to see other people’s animals and see where I can keep improving my herd.
Getting ready for show day is always an adventure. We usually get to the fair and set up our display the day before to make sure we have everything we need. Getting the bedding laid out, our water bowls mounted and the decorations hung up is a lot easier without having to worry about a trailer-load of cows waiting to get unloaded, bathed and fed. Once the bedding is complete, we all fight to stand in front of one of the big fans to cool off, since shaking out a dozen or so straw bales gets you pretty sweaty.
After the cows arrive and get settled, we get to chat with our friends and keep an eye out on the pack (the place the cows are tied) and make sure everyone stays clean, fed and calm. We also get the cows prepped for show day by clipping their hair a certain way or milking them at certain times to make them look their best. We get up extra early (3:30am… yuck!) on show day to make sure everyone is ready to go in the ring on time. Time seems to drag on before the show in comparison to how it flies by when you are in your class.
Going to the fair is not all about winning the blue ribbon and hanging out with your fair family. Farmers attend local fairs to showcase their industries and educate the public. Education to the non-farming community is important to all of the agricultural industries. Even after an exhausting show day, I know it is important to answer questions and explain how my animals are handled, raised and fed. Being able to explain to the unknowing public that even though Divine looks thin, she eats over 60 lbs. of feed and hay a day and makes lots of milk in return.
Some of the most mundane chores can be really exciting to watch for someone who has never seen a cow. I use clear hoses and a clear milk machine when milking the cows so everyone can see what is going on. Notoriously, I end up with a crowd with hundreds of questions zooming from all directions around the cows and myself. Watching small children finally make the connection that milk comes from dairy cows is gratifying, but so is the fact that I can explain to their parents that dairy cows are well managed and treated with respect.