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For years, there has been considerable debate about how the person who leads or owns a cow influences a judge’s opinion and how the judge places the class.  With the introduction of Facebook and other social media platforms, this debate has been amplified.  Which leads to the question “Have Facebook and other social media platforms infected the show ring?”

There is no doubt that Facebook is the most powerful social tool in the history of mankind.  The ability for Facebook to connect people with similar interests from around the world is unmatched.  Previously, when you wanted to know the results of a cattle show or how a particular cow looked at a show, you had to call someone you knew who was there or wait at least a month to see the results and a few posed pictures in a print magazine.  Now, in the age of social media, pictures are placed on Facebook even before the class has exited the ring. Larger shows now offer live streaming of the show and those at the show and/or watching the show online post their comments in real time.

How the World has changed

All this has significantly changed both the method and the speed that show oriented breeders communicate with one another.  However, has this changed how animals are placed in the show ring? Ten years ago, most often the first time a judge would have seen most cows would have been in the show ring on show day. But today  judges have more than likely seen pictures and heard comments on animals long before they ever enter the show ring.

One of the great things about social media is that it has enabled members of a small, remotely located community, such as the Tanbark Trail, to connect and share their thoughts very easily.  Many top judges are active on social media and they see how certain animals are doing at shows and how popular certain animals are, long before they enter the show ring to judge a show.

Everyone has an opinion

In the past, when members of the Tanbark Trail disagreed with a judge’s placing, their comments would only be heard by a select few.  Now in the age of social media, their opinion can reach thousands in a matter of minutes.  While I have not seen many negative comments about a judge, I have indeed seen comments made about how certain cows where “gifted” due to certain circumstances.  This touches on the question of the integrity of the show ring and those who are selected to judge it.

It’s a question of integrity

The question of integrity is not a new one.  It has been around for as long as there has been subjective cattle judging.  In the age of social media the need for integrity has been amplified.  One of the interesting challenges with selecting dairy cattle judges is the fact that the best ones are often very involved in the show scene.  This means that they have developed friendships, preferences and opinions over the years. The best judges have always been those that are able to let their judging performance not be influenced by these factors.  In the age of social media, a whole new level of integrity is required.  No longer is it just the opinion of a select few, but rather the opinion of thousands that can significantly influence a judge’s decision.  Those who are of the highest integrity are able to tune out all the traditional influences as well as the new ones that social media brings to the table.

There are some who would comment that judges should not be active on social media.  I argue the exact opposite.  I want a judge who is involved in the dairy community.  All aspects of the dairy industry.  In today’s day and age, that means social media as well.  There are many judges that are very active on social media and whom I trust to have the integrity  to tune out what they read on Facebook or see online when, they are making their final decision in the ring.

Does social success influence show ring results?

There are some that would say that how popular a cow is on social media greatly influences her placing at a major show.  I would argue that the reason that most of these cows have become so popular is because they have been able to demonstrate again and again their superior conformation and hence have developed a loyal following.  There is no question that many cows’ show ring pictures have been able to go viral on social media.  However, there is a very sound reason why these cows have great pictures….they are of superior conformation.

One of the great things about show ring pictures is that they are 100% honest.  Since these photos are being posted online usually within minutes of being taken, there is no opportunity for them to be doctored or altered in anyway.  Hence, when a cow looks great in her show ring picture, it is because she looked great in the show ring.

One of the greatest pleasures I get from taking pictures in the show ring at the major shows is that I am able to get the same view of the animals in the ring that the judges of the shows see when they make their decisions.  Often I receive comments from people outside the ring about how one cow placed higher than another when from their view it did not look correct.  Very seldom have I ever had a case where these questions proved accurate. When you see the pictures afterwards, you often see that particular cows looked better from a distance than they did up close.  So while many will let their personal preference or influences affect the questioner’s own opinion, I have seldom found a case where it was not at least a tossup or where one judge’s decision on the day may be slightly different than another’s.  However, never have I seen a blatant error on the judge’s part.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Judging a dairy cattle show is never easy. Since the introduction of social media and the growth of dairy show coverage, the job of judging has only gotten harder.  Probably the most important trait a judge has always needed is that of Integrity.  In today’s social media age, the necessity of integrity is greater than ever.  Now instead of hundreds of eyes watching you there are thousands, all with their own opinions.  Facebook and other social media platforms have done wonders for growing the popularity of the Tanbark Trail, but it has also led to the potential infection by the influences they bring.  It takes judges of the utmost integrity to tune all that out and place the animals based on how they appear on show day and only that day.  And that’s exactly what the best judges have been doing for years.


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Twitter image of Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth fixing Russian Anton Gafarovski.

Twitter image of Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth fixing Russian Anton Gafarovski.

As I was watching the Olympics today from Sochi Russia, I saw the Canadian cross-country ski coach, Justin Wadsworth, do something amazing.  You see from all accounts Justin was having a terrible day.  His team had not performed as well as they had hoped they would and he was depressed.  As he was watching the final of a race he had hoped that one of his team members would have been competing in, he spotted Russian Anton Gafarov coming over a rise.  Gafarov, an early medal favorite, was struggling miserably.  He’d crashed on a quick downhill corner and broke a ski.  Then he crashed again.  A long, thin layer of P-Tex had been skinned off his ski.  It was now wrapped around his foot like a snare.  Gafarov was not ‘skiing’ to the finish.  In a race typically decided by tenths-of-a-second, Gafarov was three minutes behind the pack.  He was trying to make it the last couple of hundred metres down the 1.7 km course. Wadsworth grabbed a spare ski he’d brought for Canadian racer Alex Harvey and ran onto the track.  Gafarov stopped.  Wadsworth kneeled beside him.  No words passed between them.  Gafarov only nodded.  Wadsworth pulled off the broken equipment and replaced it.  Gafarov set off again.  “I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line,” Wadsworth, a three-time Olympian, said. That unselfish act defines what the Olympics is all about.

This story also reminded me of an incident that occurred at the Royal this year.

During one of the most anticipated classes in history, one of the cows came into the ring very uncomfortably.  She was not walking with her usual stroll because the teat glue, something that is  legal in the North American show ring, had come partly unglued and was causing the cow discomfort and had her kicking at her teat.  While many just watched the cow and the showman struggle, one person didn’t.  The next showman behind this animal knew that the thrill and passion that drives us all to love the show ring is not about beating someone else, but rather demonstrating the passion for great cattle.  No one wants to win on a technicality or because of the misfortune of others.  They want to win because they showed the best cow on that day.  So that showman took it upon himself to relieve the cow of the discomfort by adjusting and regluing the teat.  A simple act of kindness but, in reality, a much larger gesture.

Like Justin Wadsworth at the Olympics, what drives the show ring, or a sport like cross country skiing is not only the prize money or the fame or fortune.

It’s passion for that higher level of training, commitment and dedication.  Let’s face it, for the majority of the athletes who compete at the Olympics they do so not to get rich or famous, as there just is not that kind of money in the sports they compete in (outside of  men’s Hockey).  The same is true for the majority of the people who show cows.  If you penciled it all out, the show ring for many is not a big money maker, it’s a passion.  (Read more: RF Goldwyn Hailey: Cash Cow or Cash Hog?) A passion that typically costs them far more money than they will ever make.  It’s that pure passion that drives them.

 Sometimes we are accused here at the Bullvine of forecasting doom and gloom and not looking at the positive.

And while yes I do tell it like I see it, there are parts of this industry that I know will remain for generations to come.  (Read more: The Dairy Industry – Past, Present and the Future, Casualties of the Genomic Wars – The End of Seed Stock Producers and Supermodels, Show Cows and the Future of Dairy Cattle Breeding) One such part is those who love to breed show cattle.  That is because they do so, not to get rich, or be famous.  It’s because they just love great cattle.  They love competing at the top shows.  Their passion is what drives them not profits. While I certainly see many changes to those who are breeding high index cattle, also typically those ones are trying to “get rich quick.”  They do so often times for the dream of big bucks instead of the passion for cattle.  (Read more: Richard Caverly A Passion for Perfection – Winner Gives All!, FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: Passion with a Purpose and Do We Speak the Same Language?)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

No matter how often we compete against each other, it’s the passion that joins together the men and woman who compete at all the local shows, regional shows, and even World Dairy Expo and The Royal.  Not high paid or well-known except during those moments of intense competition. .  I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen exhibitors help their fellow breeder, often their biggest competitor. However, they rise above the rivalry and share their mutual dedication to the craft they have spent countless hours working on.  That is what makes the show ring great.  For over 30 years I have had the pleasure of being moved by great moments inside and outside the show ring.  The medals and ribbons add up to winning histories but moments of unselfishness show us the true winners.  For me, those who do it for the passion last.  Those who do it to get rich don’t.


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For Love of the Ring!

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Last night I had the opportunity to go back to the county show that I had exhibited at for over 20 years.  It has been a few years since I was last at the Brant Wentworth County Show held at Paris Fairgrounds, but man did many memories come rushing back to me.


Sometimes it’s too easy to get caught up in all the big names and issues like show ethics, that you forget what it really means to show dairy cattle.  Watching the 19 pre 4-H show people in the ring brought back many memories for me.  While the faces have changed, many of the names have not.  I guess it’s a sign of getting older, but all the same kids that I used to compete against when I was young, now have children of their own in the pre 4-H class.  There is something so pure about watching these young people compete.  These kids are not doing it for the money.  They are not doing it for the glory.  They are doing it for the love of dairy cattle and the show ring.


This is when   you remember what makes county shows so great.  It’s not the money you are going to make by breeding or selling a class winner.  After all, let’s face it there is none.  It’s not the fame that will come from it because, in most cases, no one will ever really know about the results.  It’s about community experience and love of dairy cattle.  For me last night was   the purest confirmation of why we love dairy farming that I have seen in a long time.  These kids put on a show second to none for enthusiasm, tension and crowd appeal.  I loved it!  I grew with much the same experience as many of these kids:  working each day on the farm, helping my parents and learning to appreciate being a dairy farmer.  There is something about being a dairy farmer that is very special.  It is hard to describe to someone who has not had the experience.  Ingrained in every child raised on a dairy farm is a set of values and sense of accomplishment, that can’t ever be taken away, even though many of these youth eventually end up off the farm.


Getting the opportunity to talk to many of the dairy community members that I have known for over thirty years was great.  It was also super to meet so many new faces that will be the next generation leading the dairy industry into the future.


L-R John Innes, David Loewith, Anne Louise Carson

As much as it seems like the world is changing every day, events like this remind me how deep the roots of the dairy industry remain.  At this local show we had many generations of dairy producers as well as several different types of producers.  We are fortunate in our county to rub shoulders with  some of the most progressive milk producers in the industry, such as David  Loewith (seen here with Holstein Canada Secretary Manager  Ann Louise Carson), as well as one of the top index herds in Canada, Mapelwood Holsteins.  By the way, Mapelwood also took home Grand Champion honours with Willsey Jasper Rockette.


Grand Champion – Willsey Jasper Rockette
Exhibited by Mapelwood Farms.

In talking with Clarence Markus about his recent barn fire and how they are already starting to build again. (Read more: Your Barn Is On Fire!)  Clarence commented about how the dairy community from around the world has been great in supporting him through this tough time.  He also said the thing that surprised him most was how, even though you don’t realize it, everyone is watching you and that the great things that you do to support others, don’t go unnoticed.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Sometimes I wonder what the future of the dairy industry holds.  At one time, Wentworth County that I grew up in had over one hundred   dairy producers and its own show.  Now there are less than thirty and it can be hard for two counties, Wentworth and Brant, to get enough cattle out.  At times I wonder if there is much future.  Then I have moments like last night, when these 19 future dairy leaders showed the world exactly what it means to fall in love with dairy cattle and the show ring and I think to myself, “Man the future is looking bright!”

For more pictures click here and for show pictures click here.

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Just like Alex Rodriguez and Major League Baseball, the dairy genetics industry has a drug problem.

You cannot go very far without reading something about the latest drug scandal involving a pro athlete.  This week it`s 13 major league baseball players headlined by Alex Rodriguez the league’s highest paid player.  Experts in sports doping believe that the problems in baseball — and cycling, track and field and other sports — remain widespread and that policing sports is proving to be nearly impossible.  With recent events at a few of the dairy cattle shows, has me asking whether the dairy industry also has a drug problem.

There are many similarities between the professional sports world and the dairy cattle show scene.  (Read more:  Is the Show Ring the Center of the Dairy World? and Dairy Cattle Showing: For Ego or Profit?) However, for me this is not just a show ring issue.  The problem of people wanting to test the limits and sometimes go over the line is not a new one to the dairy industry.  There have been breeders whose ethics have had a greater effect on the industry than that of those in the show ring.  (Read more:  Has Genomics Knocked out the Hot House Herds?  And The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling).  While a cow that wins  the show may catch the attention of many breeders, it’s the 2yr year old who is getting illegal drugs (such as rBST in Canada) to help inflate their production, or their pictures enhanced or udders juiced for picture day that causes a bigger issue for the industry (Read more: No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures and Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct).

Why do we test in the first place?

According to major league baseball, the point of the testing is to keep the sports-entertainment industry functioning, to maintain its loyal public and to stay in business.  For these very same reasons, wouldn`t it be a good idea to set up some form of rules around the use of performance enhancing drugs in the dairy industry?

Yes I am well aware that there is the use of ultrasounds at the Royal and World Dairy Expo.  However, they can only catch so much and it means that some exhibitors just switch to a different drug of choice.  For some that means the use of dextrose to get that cow alert and veins popping while she is in the show ring.  Though many have admitted that dextrose is not that effective, it still could be viewed as a performance-enhancing drug.  The big issue is that, whenever there is testing, there will always be those who are one-step ahead of the tests.

However, as I said earlier, the bigger issue is not with the show ring but rather with the fact that some of the genetic index stars are getting that extra edge on classification day, or on the day they are pictured or they are even getting the day-to-day production boost they need in order to get ahead of the rest.  These animals have absolutely no testing to prove whether they are simply living up to their genetic potential or why they are far exceeding it.

In talking with many average producers, and especially in talking with many commercial producers – both groups who represent the largest purchasers of semen, I have heard a consistent theme, about how they have lost trust in the seed stock industry, especially certain high index cattle.  They feel that generation after generation have shown that they are unable to cut it in the working day-to-day environments.

Do we really want to clean it up?

The dairy industry is guilty of ignoring the drug issue, just like the NFL. Just because you don’t have positive tests, does not mean there is not an issue.

Even with all the talk about what needs to change, there has been very little done over the years to actually bring about change.  It’s kind of like the way the NFL does not want to admit it has an issue with drugs.  Do you really believe a 300-pound lineman can run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds?  The National Football League generates millions and millions in revenue, clobbers everything in the television ratings and is a national obsession.  The NFL brags about its drug-testing program and, while they catch a few players from time to time, the inference is that the majority of the players are clean.  Yep, that’s probably true.  Those offensive linemen are bulking up to 335 pounds on good diet and weight lifting.  Sure they are.  Instead of dealing with the issue, they would rather look the other way.

The same is true in the dairy genetics marketplace.  Instead of addressing this issue, many in the industry would rather sweep it under the carpet and not discuss it.  Here at The Bullvine we have written many articles on marketing ethics (Read more:  Dairy Cattle Marketing Ethics – Do they exist?  and Business Ethics and Marketing Dairy Cattle Genetics), and for the most part the A.I. companies, those who make the most money from these practices, have decided to bury their heads in the sand, not wanting to buck the system.  That is because they are the ones making the most money from this and yet not the ones actually committing the crime.  Similar to how the owners of the baseball, hockey, soccer, and football teams are trying to pin the issue of drugs in professional sports solely on the athletes.  If they really wanted to clean up the game, they could do so, since they are the ones controlling the most important part in this equation.  The money.

Are we doing enough?

One of the big knocks on sports like Hockey and Football is that you never hear about any players actually being caught for the use of illegal drugs.  The same is true for the show ring.  You never hear about a cow failing a test, as we recently did in the beef industry (Read more: Stampede steer champion disqualified after drug test).  While some would tell you that is because there are none, those in the ring and the barns know that is not the case.  At least the shows are doing something.  What are the photography and seed stock industries doing?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While certainly everyone loves to talk about what show cows are fixed and which ones are not, the bigger issue for me is that of the seed stock industry.  Yes genomics has helped eliminate some of the hothouse cattle but it certainly has not changed the way many of these top cattle are cared for (Read more: Preferential Treatment – The Bull Proof Killer) and how they are marketed.  So the answer to the drug question boils down to this. Until changes are made in these areas the dairy genetics industry will continue to have a problem!!!

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Now there is a question that you will get many different answers to.  From your die hard show supporters that believe the earth revolves around the show ring, to your commercial producers that would tell you there could be nothing further from what really matters.  Everyone has an opinion.  The question becomes, ”Who is right?”  For me personally this question comes up as I prepare to head out to the Ontario Summer Show and then on to the International Intrigue Sale at Ferme Blondin on Saturday.  On the one hand,   I am questioning if this is really that important to 99% of the breeders out there?  And beyond that, how much will the results of this show and the sale affect the dairy industry?

I wonder will the Grand Champion of the show really have any genetic effect on the rest of the industry?

Probably not.  For example, take a look at last year’s World Dairy Expo and Royal Winter Fair Grand Champion, RF Goldwyn Hailey.  Are her genetics setting the breed on fire?  NO.



So then if it’s not from the genetic advancement standpoint, what is it that’s important about dairy cattle shows?

Will the standard from the show ring become the new standard for type classification?  No.  In many cases type classification and show ring evaluation could not be farther apart (Read more: Over-Scored and Over-Rated).  Therefore, it’s not the show ring that is setting the standard for which all other cows will be measured.

So then what is it that has so many breeders excited about showing?

Could it be the thrill of competition?  There is no doubt that as a society we put our great athletes on pedestals and maybe the show cows are just like the great athletes, whom we idolize so much.  Just as in every day society, the vast majority of us could not name the top executives at the world’s Fortune 100 companies, many breeders could not tell you the top ten gTPI or gLPI females in the breed.  HOWEVER … we all can tell you our favorite show cow.  And just like we have Green Bay Packer, Montreal Canadians or Toronto Blue Jays fans who would die for their team, there are fans of the many great show cows that would scorn anyone who says anything negative about them.

I think another great thing about shows is the way   they bring everyone together.  Whether you love showing cows or not, pretty much all breeders are passionate about dairy cattle.  Anytime you can get this number of people together who are passionate about the same thing, you are sure to have a good time.  There is no question that dairy breeders are very passionate about what they do.  You certainly cannot say you got into dairy farming for the money, because there are much greater opportunities to make money in other industries.  However, you certainly will be hard pressed to find a greater community where everyone shares the same passion as they do in the dairy industry.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Is the show ring the center of the dairy world?  Probably not.  But is it the perfect opportunity to see amazing cattle and talk with fellow breeders about what is great about this industry?  Yes.  I love to show…I love going to shows…..I love looking at great show cows…..most importantly I love talking with dairy breeders about cows. All of these things happen at a show.  So for me, the answer is “Yes!” For that day, that show is definitely the center of the dairy industry!


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dairy cattle showing youthOne of the outstanding benefits of living on a dairy farm is that it provides the opportunity to learn how to compete in the dairy ring. Working with dairy animals improves physical fitness, coordination, self-discipline and teamwork, but these beneficial activities can also put participants at risk for injury.

Show-related injuries are preventable.  It is a matter of protecting bodies, while they are still growing and just beginning to understand the skills involved in working with animals. Unlike sports such as baseball or hockey where flying objects can cause injuries to the face, the danger in the show ring  most often lies in the child’s awareness of the living, and sometimes unpredictable, animal at the end of the lead.

Training of both the child and the animal is the key to avoiding injuries to both participants.  Of course, it is up to the adults in charge to make sure that youth participating in the events are safe from foreseeable harm.

Dairy Show Injury Prevention Tips

  • Dress participants in appropriate protective equipment. Most sports teams require participants to have specific equipment that is the proper size and adjusted to each athlete. We should do the same for young cattle show persons. Footwear that can withstand tromping on and that is safe from slipping in wet, muddy or messy conditions. Steel toed work boots are the safest choice. Flip flops, clogs and bare feet are strictly unacceptable when working with cattle.  If proper protective equipment isn’t available, it is NOT alright to go ahead.  It teaches two incorrect things: a- the rules don`t count  b- rules can be broken.
  • Proper halter size. A halter that is too big is dangerous as it can be easily pulled off. The halter should not cause discomfort to the calf. As well, make sure the lead shank is neither too long nor too short. This is where experience will be the best teacher but don`t let the handling of the halter or lead become a bigger job than moving easily with the calf.
  • Maintain safe show ring conditions. Wherever, cattle are being shown, basic safety precautions should be in place. Clear the area of debris. Beware of broken glass, rusty nails, used syringes, rocks and other items that would increase injury if a child fell or slid on them. If this will be an outdoor event, watch weather forecasts; have a set of guidelines for postponing the event, if necessary.
  • Have an emergency plan for injuries during shows. If at all possible have an adult trained in first aid techniques on hand. At least have an adult with a charged mobile phone. Provide the adult supervisor with a notebook of emergency phone numbers for parents or guardians of all participants. Carry a well-stocked first aid kit.
  • Enforce basic sportsmanship rules. This is the beginning of learning how to care for animals, prepare them for showing and putting forth their best feet forward in the ring. By all means, prevent bullying of competitors by adults or children. Young show persons need to focus on showing, not on their shame, embarrassment or humiliation.
  • Ensure children drink plenty of liquids. In the excitement of participating in this highlight of dairy cattle this may be overlooked and could result in dehydration. This is especially important in high heat, high humidity or high altitudes or with children who are novices and may not have experience in maintaining control of their animal for an extended time.
  • Provide proper training and skills building for young show people. Select a calf that will be a suitable size for the child to work with and show. Begin training as soon as possible. Training is not something that can be done in a couple of days! As the child builds fundamental skills, they will gain confidence in handling the calf and in presenting it for the judge`s consideration.
  • NEVER wrap the lead rope around the hand, arm, wrist or any body part. If they are bound like this and the heifer moves away quickly, the child could be seriously hurt.


When children are properly prepared to show dairy cattle, the skills they learn and mentors they meet will last them a lifetime. Safety first.  Memories forever.


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