If you’re passionate about dairy cattle, you will have seen many winning cattle pictures that record show ring success followed by the phrase, “…with Gene ‘Bambi’ Henderson on the halter.” Gene Henderson of Manchester, Iowa is a showman whose career has spanned four decades. Countless highlights from that time have been recorded for posterity with this outstanding showman standing beside outstanding animals. Sometimes Bambi is requested to take the halter on other special occasions too. Everyone enjoyed such a moment last year. Gene was requested to take the halter and it was duly recorded beneath the picture taken at The Franchise Kind Jersey Sale. “Karlie, a Jersey cow that sold for a world-record $170,000 on Monday, March 25, 2013, at an auction on Onondaga Hill, is led around the auction ring by Gene Henderson.” (Read more: Jersey cow sold in Syracuse for a record $170,000)
….Four Decades and Five Different Breeds
Standing first in line is the most obvious measure of dairy cattle show ring success. Repeatedly achieving that position, over a period spanning forty years and five different cattle breeds is exceptional. For Bambi this is what makes his showring experiences special and, although not the entire story of his passion for dairy cattle, it is what makes his memories one-of-a-kind.
The following list, although not all-inclusive, provides a few of the highlights:
- Brown Swiss 1988 Bambis Jade Fantasy – 1st Winter Calf & Res. JC WDE and All-American Winter Calf
- Holstein 1996 Buggs Blackstar Buffy – WDE Champion (Carrousel)
- Brown Swiss 1996 Arnola Possibly Pricilla – Intermediate Champion WDE
- Holstein Show 1998 Mt.Glen Broker Lucy – Intermediate Champion
- R&W Holstein 1998 Stelbro Renita Ranger-Red – WDE Champion (Carrousel)
- Jersey 2005 Llolyn Jude Griffen – Louisville Grand Champion (Vail & Budjon)
- Milking Shorthorn 2013 Lands-Brook Christina – WDE Champion (Lands Brook)
Of course, when it gets down to true passion for dairy cattle, there are many times when the day ranks high in your memories for reasons other than winning. Bambi has enjoyed his wide-ranging showring career and points to highlights such as being the first person to show Taraley Astro Sherry as a Sr. 3 Yr. Old for Pamton and showing Sample Patrice to her first blue and Bambi’s first blue at Madison in 1981. A review of Bambi`s successes would not be complete without considering that he has successfully led his own breeding into the winners circle, including several All American winning Jerseys either bred alone or in partnership.
…..4-H marked Gene`s start in cattle showmanship
Gene Henderson and his brothers shared show ring experiences at the Iowa farm of their parents Verla and Merle Henderson. “4-H was my first start in showing dairy cattle. A grade Holstein was my first show calf at Linn County Fair. My family had a herd of Holsteins, Quality Ridge. That’s where “Hazel” was bred. So we had cattle my entire life. There are still cattle at the home farm.” Home was where Gene first felt his multi-breed passion for cattle. “Originally we had Guernseys, then Grade Holsteins and then registered.” As Gene grew up with the dairy industry his passion was further ignited. “At Iowa State University, Intercollegiate Judging, I met Norm Nabholz. I started at shows with Nabholz Farm the first summer of my Junior year. After college I got more involved with some high profile farms.” He makes it sound simple as he modestly downplays his talents. During the early years Bambi became acquainted with lifelong friend Perry Phend who also appreciated his talent and when given the opportunity Bambi was tagged to lead some of the best under Perry’s care at Lylehaven and in later years Carousel Farm. Bambi is quick to credit Perry and Bob Fitzsimmons with giving him a leg up in showing several All Americans.
…Not Simply “Chosen” but “The Best of the Best”
Over the years, Bambi has been the showman that is not simply the one that is chosen but the one who is sought out! Gene Henderson is recognized by many other exceptional showmen for his skill in this area. Norm Nabholz is emphatic about Gene’s expertise. “There is NOBODY better on the Halter than Bambi.” Norm recognizes that there is ongoing debate whenever the question of listing who is the best comes up. “You know you can argue about best judge, best cow, best bull (Before Goldwyn) best fitter, etcetera but, in this case, this gentleman is the BEST.” Nabholz closes the argument with a humble but vigorous disclaimer. “This is my opinion. But I have seen more than my share of great showmen and ladies in my lifetime. Bambi is the Best.”
….The Story Behind the Story
Sheer volume of experience in the show ring, means that Gene Henderson has a storehouse of memories to draw on. Although he’s recognized for making it look easy, sometimes this was more of a challenge then anyone could have foreseen. The story is told of the time that he was leading a cow who had been operated on for a displaced abomasums. The catheter was removed just ahead of show time. Then Gene went to work and history records that “Bambi” led Griffin to the title of Reserve Grand Champion of the Show. “Bambi has this amazing style about his showmanship. That’s why he was the logical choice to show Llolyn Jude Griffen- Ex-95 both at Madison and Louisville.”
Sometimes the things you learn about people are un-expected
For instance, do you know why Gene Henderson is widely known as “Bambi”? According to impeccable sources (the man himself) it is because, “In high school a coach said I ran like a deer, Thus Bambi”. Who would have foretold the eventual success of this speedy athlete? For many of his mentors, it probably hasn’t been unexpected. (Editor’s note: while this story started during Bambi’s college days it was never documented and knowing how tight Bambi is there are those that believe that a shirt was purchased at a thrift store that had the name “Bambi” on the back and the story was invented to justify the shirt). Gene credits his success, first of all to the influence of his family. He then turns to two admired gentlemen namely, Milford Nabholz and Bob Massee and, in recent years, to the Reibe Family from Wisconsin “a very humble and down to earth family” for whom Bambi has led several All Americans and in partnership bred several as well. However, it isn’t surprising that Nabholz Family holds a revered position at the top of the list of Gene’s mentors. “If I had not met Norm and his family I would never have gone on to the bigger shows.” (Read more about Norm – HALTER, PEN and GAVEL. That’s Just the Norm)
…there was one time when Gene’s greatest success was outside the showring
The showring circuit provides great memories and beyond that Gene is grateful for the whole experience. “Beyond the winning, I have enjoyed meeting remarkable people, showing some of the finest cattle and traveling throughout North America. Being a member of the Winning Intercollegiate Judging team while at also Iowa State stands out as an achievement.” However, Gene feels strongly about what has been most meaningful to him. “Personally, the biggest accomplishment for me would be my recovery from a stroke, January 18, 1999.”
…. a Gentleman who is Recognized by his Peers.
The dairy industry values those who make a difference. Sometimes that affects the way we perceive our industry and quite often those people become role models for others to follow. In 2001 Gene won the Robert Massee Sportsmanship Award given to the individual who exemplifies good sportsmanship in the show ring as well as in the cattle barn. And recently he was announced as the winner of The Max Gordon Recognition Award. This award is given annually to an exhibitor who possesses the five key elements for which the award’s namesake stood: sportsmanship, ethics, professionalism, ability and promotion of the Jersey cow. Gene Henderson is a deserving recipient of this award but no doubt feels more comfortable downplaying his own abilities. Bambi has spent many years perfecting how to put the most complimentary spotlight on the animal at the end of the halter. And that`s where he prefers the attention to be. When huge crowds are focused on the animal he is leading, that is good. When the Judge is focused there too, then he is getting the job done correctly. That is why friends, family and peers recognize him as “the Best”.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
And so, Gene ‘Bambi’ Henderson reiterates his personal priorities. “You can be competitive in the ring and still be humble after the show. Showing cattle should be about the care of the cows 365 days a year. Not just the time in the showring.” And he concludes with advice that is not to be overlooked when developing a successful lifetime career, “Enjoy every day and laugh a lot.” Congratulations Gene Henderson, we admire you …..on the halter …. and in life.