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Has the Show Ring Lost Its Function?

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Over the past year, I have found myself wondering, “What is the function of the show ring?”  Attendance at shows has gone down, and there are fewer animals coming out.  But more concerning than anything else is that it seems that too many of the winners at the major shows  have had significant flaws and   do not truly represent the most productive, long-lived cows that were at the show.  This has me wondering if the show ring still has a function in today’s dairy industry.

Long have I listened to the three functions of showing dairy cattle: breed improvement, merchandising and marketability.  So as I am now pondering show ring relevance, I figured I would look at each of these three areas and see how well each one actually performs.

Breed Improvement

For years, there has been an ongoing debate about how well a top show cow would last in a commercial environment.  Over the past eight months, pretty much every cow that I have seen named Grand Champion at a Holstein show has had a significant functional flaw.  This definitely raises an issue for me because, if the show ring is supposed to be the best of the best, shouldn’t the Grand Champion be a great example of that?  For me, the question now becomes, “What is it that we are looking for?” For that, I turn to the Dairy Cow Unified Score Card (US) and Holstein Cow Score Card (Canada), and I find myself looking at the relative emphasis of each major category.  I question the relative weightings in relation to what a long-lived productive cow truly looks like.  (Read more:  She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way!).  This became very evident to me at a judging school I recently attended.  On that day, the official panel (which was two representatives from AI) placed a cow at the top of the class who had a major rump problem which is usually associated with reproductive issues. Something you would expect someone who worked in the AI industry to be cognizant of.  At the bottom of the class was a very sound cow, placed there because she was not as “deep bodied and dairy as the other cows in the class.”  This caused me extreme concern. Not only did it kill my score/performance for the day, but also on a more significant scale, what does it say about us as an industry, if we are selecting these animals to represent the best of the best.

2year old - composite background

Ideal Show/Classification 2 year old

genomic 2 year old - composite background

Typical High Index 2 year old

efficient 2 year old - composite background

High productive and efficient production 2 year old.

For me, the issue here is not just a show ring problem.  It is also a classification issue.  The weighting on the score card is the same for both classification and show ring.  If we look at the score card and compare the correlations between production and productive life, we see significant issues arising around what should be benchmarks for a long-lived productive cow.


*Performance based score developed by using weights of correlations for productive life and production to each of the four major trait areas.

By looking at the correlations between actual performance data and the breed scorecards, two glaring issues come to light:

Too much emphasis on Mammary System

For years I have heard it said, again and again, it all begins with the cow’s udder.  Naturally, that makes sense, since we are talking about milk production.  What is interesting is that, while the correlation between Mammary System and Productive Life are very high, the correlation between Mammary System and actual milk production is actually negative.  My belief on this matter is that, since we have put so much emphasis on udders over the past 30 years, the Mammary Systems on most cows are to the point where they are more than sound for productive reasons.  In other words, we have done such a good job at breeding for strong well-attached udders that are well above the hock that we now have taken it to the extreme, where even cows with average udders are still correct enough to last several lactations and be productive cows.  Furthermore, and this is where the problem lies, the sires who provide the greatest udder improvement don’t actually sire enough milk.

Top 10 Proven UDC Proven Sires April 2014

NameMilkFatProtSCSConfStatureBody Depth
DE-SU OBSERVER-ET233691832.7112-2-4
DE-SU CIMARRON-ET289599882.691000
LONG-LANGS OMAN OMAN149083823.11126-2
DE-SU HISTORY-ET2083101812.72802
MORNINGVIEW LEVI132186742.5730-3
DE-SU ALTAGOALMAN-ET2856107892.773-2-3
CO-OP BOSSIDE MASSEY-ET115175662.52600
WELCOME BOL LATHAM-ET179778812.94722
KINGS-RANSOM B RUBLE307887922.987-2-2

In looking at the top 10 proven sires for Udder Composite you will notice that only 5 sires have a positive value for milk (PTAM) and only two sires (Buxton and Golf) are over 1000 lbs. of milk.  The top 100 UDC proven sires from the April 2014 Genetic Evaluations average a very low 551 lbs of milk (PTAM).

Top 10 Proven Production (PTAM) Sires April 2014

NameMilkFatProtSCSConfStatureBody Depth
DE-SU MUCHO 11209-ET1319102852.63920
MR CHARTROI ELOQUENT-ET1740106862.791231
PARILE LOCARNO177486842.67122-3
SANDY-VALLEY PANAMA-ET1841108742.4911-1-2
BUTZ-HILL LETTERS-ET199986852.7110-2-1
DE-SU THUNDER-ET1339100602.63164-2
DE-SU PHOENIX 588-ET2659113952.768-1-3
DE-SU SKYMONT 11195-ET163194742.7412-1-3
CHAMPION ALTABOOKEL196394792.8115-1-1

Conversely, if you look at the top 10 proven sires for milk (PTAM) you will notice that there are two sires (Ruble and Jigsaw) that are over +2.00 for UDC in fact the top 100 milk sires have an average UDC of 1.16.  In the top 100 proven Productive Life sires average +1.44 for UDC and +1.48 for PTAT. Therefore it’s very clear that the top sires for milk do not always have the best udders, and the top udder sires are not typically you high production sires.  Interestingly this leads to the conclusion that a high UDC is not as strong an indicator of either production or the ability to have high production over a cows lifetime as many believe.

Not enough emphasis on Functional Rumps

There certainly has been a strong positive trend over recent years to breed and select cattle with greater emphasis on reproduction.  With that has come a greater focus on rump angle.  This is an area where I am noticing the greatest discrepancy between the show ring and what it truly takes to be a long-lived functional cow.  It has been generally accepted that a level wide rump was a show ring rump and a high rump angle rump was a calving ease rump.  The challenge is that, over the past year, I have seen cows with extremely high pins being made Grand Champion.  While I love a nice boxcar rump as much as the next person does, it still needs to be at least level and not have a severe tilt from back to front.


There used to be a time that you could take a heifer to a spring show with the expectation that, if she did well, you would be able to sell her for significant dollars.  That has changed to such an extent that not nearly as many breeders are even sending animals to the spring shows anymore.  In fact, those that are looking to sell their animals are opting to send them to a Tag Sale instead.  Lately, that is proving to be a better avenue for merchandising your show animals.  For a couple of hundred dollars you can have your heifer clipped, fitted and worked with.  That is a fraction of the cost of taking them to a show yourself.  (Read more:  TAG – You are it! How and Why TAG Dairy Sales Are Successful)

One thing that came to light for me, as I was sitting watching the Best of Both World’s sale this week, hosted by St. Jacobs ABC, Ferme Blondin, and Crasdale Auctions, was that there is still  a  market for “show cattle.”  (Read more: Best of Both Worlds – Sale Report)  Now I am not saying that they are topping the major sales or bringing the highest revenue (Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions 2013).  What I am saying is that a cow that has had some success in the show ring and that can produce desirable type calves reliably is still very profitable.  An example of this was Ernest-Anthony Aphrodite-ET 2E 95 who sold for $21,000 at the sale.  While her show days are long behind her, she still carries significant value.  That is because she is able to reliably produce nice cut calves. She also flushes well, as was evident at the sale with many of those nicely cut daughters selling for $5,000 to $10,000. (Read more:  KUEFFNER DAIRY TEAMWORK “2 Dream the Impossible Dream!”) While the price of genomic animals has certainly fluctuated, a well-bred, nice pedigreed calf from a fairly well known show cow family continues to be one of the most stable markets. (Read more: The Judge’s Choice – Investment advice from Tim Abbott)


Ernest-Anthony Aphrodite-ET 2E 95 the Member 2009 All-American Produce of Dam, Member 2009 All-American Senior Best 3 Females, Member of 2007 Unanimous All-American Senior Best Three Females and Reserve All-American Produce of Dam sold for $21,000 at the Best of Both Worlds Sale. Of course Aphrodite is from the great Tri-Day Ashlyn-ET EX 96, the Supreme Champion from the 2001 World Dairy Expo and Royal Winter Fair.


Over the past two years, I have noticed a drastic decrease in the number of people attending cattle shows.  This has gotten to the point where many have started openly raising concerns about what is happening.  Take for example the recent Maxville Holstein Show (Read more: Maxville Holstein Show Results 2014) where it would have been generous to say there were 100 spectators in the crowd.  Furthermore, the average age of those spectators was well over 60.  If you were evaluating marketability by that attendance at the show, you would certainly have been disappointed.  However, here again, times have changed. Today, due to the Internet, more and more people are watching from home.  Especially if they live a significant distance away.  (Read more: Who is going to the show? Why attendance is down at the dairy cattle shows).  The statistics from our own coverage tell a very different story than does the attendance at the show.  We had over 10,000 people view the show results on our website on show day alone.  Over 1,300 people shared our webpage on Facebook and another 3,000 people liked or shared our pictures on Facebook.  Therefore, what has really happened? The answer is that the marketability of a show has gone from being that of a local attendance market to a worldwide market, where you can merchandise to people from around the globe (as long as the right dairy publications attend).  If the dairy publications don’t choose to attend your local show, there is still an opportunity to snap your own pictures, get them liked and shared around the world and produce your own viral marketing.  I have often seen a quick selfie by breeders at a show far outperform a professional side photograph on Facebook.

The Bulvine Bottom Line

When all is said and done, the viral nature of show results, pictures, and videos on the Internet prove that the show ring still serves a relevant position in today’s dairy industry.  There are certainly opportunities to further enhance the relevance of the show ring to the rest of the industry.  The best way to do that is in the type of cattle that we select at the shows.  For years, the show ring and type classification led the charge on the need to focus more on mammary system improvement.  Today we are at the point where cows’ udders in most herds in the world are very sound.  It’s now time for the show ring and type classification to again lead the charge when selecting for long-lived productive cows.  This will mean putting greater emphasis on functional rumps and functional cows.

Let`s ensure that the show ring has a relevant function in the dairy industry for years to come.



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Over the past month I have been to 5 cattle auctions and 7 cattle shows in 4 different states or provinces. To say that I spent some time on the road driving from one event to the next is an understatement. And, while all of these events were amazing in their own unique way, there was one consistent thing that surprised me. Less and less people are attending these events.

RF Goldwyn Hailey - Grand Champion NY Spring Show

RF Goldwyn Hailey – Grand Champion NY Spring Show

Now normally this would cause one to think that dairy cattle showing is dying, but in reality I actually think that the exact opposite is true. Consider this. The quality of cattle at these shows has been the best I have ever seen. I have had the opportunity to see the great RF Goldwyn Hailey multiple times, and this last time at NY Spring Show I would say that she looked the best I had ever seen her (Read more: RF Goldwyn Hailey Rides to the Top Spot at NY Spring Carousel and New York Spring Holstein Show 2013 Results). Also in NY I saw one of the most competitive Sr. 2 year old classes ever, where the legend in the making R-E-W Happy Go Lucky was beaten for the first time in milking form. Though in all fairness she is in the later stage of her lactation and the others are peaking.



At the Ontario Spring Show, I saw what I think to be a future World Dairy Expo and Royal Winter Fair Grand Champion, Valleyville Rae Lynn, giving Hailey a run for her money, though as Hailey has shown this spring she is untouchable. (Read more: Ontario Spring Discovery – Nothing Slipped Past Judge “Crack” and Ontario Spring Discovery Results). And at Quebec Spring Show I get to visit with many of the most passionate breeders in the world today (Read more: Do We Speak the Same Language? and Quebec Spring Show Results).

Valleyville Rae Lynn

Valleyville Rae Lynn – Reserve Grand Ontario Spring Show

So what is it then? Why are less and less people attending the shows?

In discussing this with Randy Blodgett, newly appointed publisher of Holstein World and mastermind behind Holstein World Productions, the answer becomes pretty clear. They are all watching the coverage online.

Decrausaz Iron O'Kalibra  Class 9 winner, Sr & Grand Champion - 2013 All European Championship

Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra
Class 9 winner, Sr & Grand Champion – 2013 All European Championship

During the recent NY Spring Show, there were over 5,000 people watching on the live video stream. This reminded me of the video stream we shared of the EU Championship Show where there were so many people wanting to watch that we had up to 1,000 people waiting to get one of the coveted spots to watch the live stream on the Bullvine alone(Read more:The All European Championship Show: The Greatest SHOW on Earth and Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra Wins Grand at the 2013 All European Championship). Interesting note about the EU Championship show. The show itself did such a great job of covering the show, we here at the Bullvine didn’t even have to attend the show and we had the largest viewership in the world, thanks to the power of digital and social media.

3X as many people watched the 2013 All European Championships on then all other publications combined.

And now we are talking about just those who are able to take the time to watch it live. If you add in those that watch the coverage on the various publications and Facebook you would easily be over 12,000 viewers. There are more publications than ever covering the shows. Gone are the days when you were lucky to get covered in your national breed publication and that’s it. In today’s digital dairy media world, you are likely to have 4 or 5 publications there taking pictures and sharing the results. Who knows maybe someday we will have coverage comparable to a professional sporting event? Imagine it, commentators during the cow show bring you all the play by play.

From the great camera angles combined with the very professional in ring cameras combined with the outstanding music and exceptional ring announcer the experience was riveting for all.

From the great camera angles combined with the very professional in ring cameras combined with the outstanding music and exceptional ring announcer the experience was riveting for all at the 2013 All European Championships.

But already even this is starting to change. We here are the Bullvine try to do even more. While we have not gotten into the live streaming of the shows, we have started to do more and more stories about what happens beyond the placings. We try to bring you the story behind the story, such as (Read more World Dairy Expo 2012 Holstein Show – A Battle for the Ages and The 2012 Royal Winter Fair Holstein Show – One of the greatest ever told!).

Brian and Rob Eby embrace

Brian and Rob Eby embrace after Ebyhomle Goldwyn Marcia is named Reserve Grand Champion at the 2012 RAWF

Watch out for those “Moovie” Stars

Actually, it’s almost scary how much some things have changed. Just write or share a picture of Hailey, O’Kalibra, Happy Go Lucky, or Rae Lynn and the piece goes viral. These cows have become “Moovie” Stars. They have their own cult following that would rival that of One Direction, Maroon 5 or Justin Bieber.

While I am sure that many dairy breeders are not “Beliebers”, they are very passionate about great cows and these four certainly are that. And yes I am sure that many of the showmen that show these animals do have egos as big as Justin’s is. Things have changed so much that the showmen of these cattle have gone from complaining about or at least ignoring the photographers in the ring, to a point where they make sure they have the animal set up correctly. They are all looking good and appreciate the exposure. So much so that in the past 2 weeks alone we have had over 20 requests by breeders for pictures from the show for use in ads and other marketing efforts. A “money shot” of their animal winning their class or better yet the show, brings coverage you just can’t buy and a boring side shot cannot compare with. (Read more No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures and Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct)

The Power of Social Media

Starting today in Wisconsin is the Mid-West Spring National. This is a show that I am sure will be great. But I will not be there. That’s because between, myself and my trusty traveling partner (my father and Bullvine writer), we need time to rest. Yes the time in the car is fine for discussing many of the great events or challenges facing the dairy industry and leads to some great articles (Read more: Where is the Balance in Balanced Breeding?)., we need time to get caught up on the other things in our lives.

We were stressing out that we needed to be there but just couldn’t do the 11hr drive back and forth and still get everything done that we need to do. So we are not going. The amazing part is, when I mentioned on Facebook about the show and asked what animals were there and who looked good, we got some super responses. The best of them were the people that said they would take some pictures for us and share with us all the “juicy” details about the stories behind the story. To our faithful readers who are doing this for us we send a BIG thank you. To those looking for results, we say “Don’t worry we’ve got you covered”.

Touch my heart

Now there is one event that I would love to be at. And yes it does happen today, and yes it is at a cattle show, but NO it is not happening in the show ring. Since starting the Bullvine we have had the opportunity to get to know many amazing people. One such case is Beverly Donavon, the passionate owner of the great Ayrshire show cow Sweet-Pepper Black Francesca. Their story has touched our hearts and made us huge fans of both (Read more: The Magic of Francesca).

Through the power of social media we have gotten to know Beverly and her husband Richard. Recently Richard mentioned to me that a great young artist, Emma Caldwell, had painted an amazing picture of “Frannie” and that he would be attending the Ayrshire Spring Show in Quebec today with Beverly to meet the artist and pick up the picture (Read more Emma Caldwell’s Art Stirs Mind and Heart!). Now you see Richard may come sometimes come across as a sarcastic wrangler but when you get to know him, you can’t help but like him. This special event that he has arranged, and that Beverly knows nothing about, is just another reason why. When Frannie passed this past winter, Beverly was understandably devastated and Richard has done everything he could think of to help her through this tough time. This picture is just one of the many things he has done to help her through it. Emma Caldwell has graciously agreed to auction of her latest painting “Hailey” with a portion of the proceeds to go towards a charity (click here to learn more).

Emma Caldwell's painting of the great "Frannie"

Emma Caldwell’s painting of the great “Frannie”

So my interest in being there has nothing to do with the show, which I am sure will be great. It has nothing to do with covering this story, which I am sure will be a tearjerker. But rather, it has EVERYTHING to do with the power of the human spirit. Three amazing people will get to meet, share a few tears (Bev most certainly), and celebrate an amazing cow and a very thoughtful gesture by all in involved. There will not be a big presentation in the center of the ring. There will not be any announcement over the public address system. If you see Bev with tears in her eyes over her trademark heartwarming love for one of her favorites , be sure to give her a big hug and say, “Way to go, we all loved Frannie and she was one of the best ever.”

So this is where I will be this weekend.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While we here at the Bullvine will not be able to attend as many shows as we would like, I think that is also the case for many passionate dairy breeders. However thanks to the power of social media and the enhanced coverage many of the trade publications are providing, you can rest assured that you will be able to get the full story. To those who pioneered this, such as Randy Blodgett over 16 years ago, when he first did digital real time coverage at Expo, “Way to go Randy”. To those that have stepped up to help bring us the story behind the story at Mid-West Spring National, we say “Thanks”. Yes show attendance is down, but there is no question that the show passion lives on.


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Let the insanity begin!  With the BC Spring show starting today, the 2012 show season officially begins.  While everyone gets really excited about spring shows and finding that diamond in the rough 47-inch summer yearling.  I find myself asking, “Does spring show really matter that much?”

To find answers to this question I checked out the results of the 2011 All-Canadian contest to see which animals were exhibited at spring shows last year:

A Closer Look

Therefore, thirteen of twenty-eight, or forty-six percent (46%) were at spring shows.  Let’s take a closer look.  Consider that, other than 2 year olds and milking yearlings, most cattle that were exhibited were well-established show cows.  The ones that were not were either too late in their last lactation or calving in the summer for the fall show season.  In addition, most 2 year olds and for sure milking yearlings have not calved yet.  These facts make it’s hard to consider the cow classes as an indicator of the relevance of spring shows.

By far the most interesting result is that of the 12 All-Canadian or reserve heifers 9 of them were exhibited at a spring show.  That’s 75% of them that were found by spring show time.  Most people think that the great show heifers are found as diamonds in the rough through the summer and the county fair show season, While I am sure the guys that run the roads looking for that next great one are looking just as hard all year long, it goes to show that by spring show time, many of the great show calves have already been found!

The Bullvine Bottom Line

As you head out to the spring shows, keep a close eye on the heifer classes.  Chances are you will see many of the same animals at the top of the class come Expo and Royal time!


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