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..with Gene “Bambi” Henderson on the Halter

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

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)

Gene Henderson lead the world record selling Page-Crest Excitation Karlie

Gene Henderson leading the world record selling Page-Crest Excitation Karlie

….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)
Gene Henderson leading the 2013 Milking Shorthorn  Grand Champion - Lands-Brook Christina

Gene Henderson leading the 2013 Milking Shorthorn Grand Champion – Lands-Brook Christina

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.

Waterloo 09 061

…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.”

Gene Henderson leading  LLOLYN JUDE GRIFFEN to 1st 4-Year-Old, Senior & Grand Champion of 2005 NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL LIVESTOCK EXPOSITION Jersey Show

Gene Henderson leading LLOLYN JUDE GRIFFEN to 1st 4-Year-Old, Senior & Grand Champion of 2005 NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL LIVESTOCK EXPOSITION Jersey Show

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)

Bambi and Bernice

…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”.


Gene Henderson was announced as the winner of The Max Gordon Recognition Award

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.


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Arethusa: A Winning Focus

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

As we enjoy the NHL, football bowl championship and World Junior hockey season, it isn’t any surprise that these trained athletes can put a puck in the net or through the uprights far more often than the rest of us. For one thing, from the earliest hockey drills hand-eye coordination has been a big part of their training to score goals. Dairy breeders must likewise keep their focus on the goal. Arethusa Farm Dairy has achieved notable successes in the showring and in milk production by tightly fixing their vision on what is most important to their enterprise in Litchfield, Connecticut.  Matt Senecal, Farm Manager began his employment as an intern six years ago and knows what they are aiming for. “Currently we are breeding for high type and show ring appeal but cannot lose sight of our obligation to provide milk to the processing plant.” To achieve this three-pronged success, quality must be the single over-riding focus at Arethusa.

Anthony Yurgaitis, left, and George Malkemus, both Manolo Blahnik. owners of Arethusa Farm Dairy (Photo by Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times)

The Focus on Quality is Shared by Owners and Employees

Arethusa Farm houses close to 350 head of Holsteins, Jerseys and Brown Swiss and is owned by George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis. Two successful business executives who took the world by storm when their shoes, Manolo Blahniks were catapulted into the urban consciousness through the television show “Sex and the City”. Who got the passion for cows when they originally purchased the farm opposite their home to protect their view from developers.  (Read more: The Dairy Built on Stiletto Heels) Just like their signature stiletto heels, the focus is always on top quality in all that they do.  After successes at the 2004 World Dairy Expo, Arethusa began milking 80+ cattle out of a brand new state-of-the-art facility located just north of the original farm. Today 100% of this milk is being shipped to their processing facility, located just a few miles away in the borough of Bantam.  George and Tony set high standards and the demands for excellence are even higher. This attitude also filters down to each employee and instills a work ethic like no other.” Quality cattle need quality care and Matt feels strongly about the great work done by the Arethusa staff. “Heather Lord works with the milking herd along with Joe Knapp, Shelby Crawford and Chris Cole.  Heather recently joined the team and does a great job overseeing the main milking facility and making sure we are providing the plant with exactly what it needs for production.” Excellence is the priority at all times.

Arethusa Farm Crew Shot

The Team at Arethusa Farm Dairy

“We Strive for Excellence 365 Days a Year”

You know a strategy works when results are achieved. In 2004 at World Dairy Expo Arethusa owned both the Supreme Champion Cow (Hillcroft Leader Melanie – Holstein) and Reserve Supreme Champion (Huronia Centurion Veronica – Jersey). Matt lists other successes. “We have been awarded numerous breeder and exhibitor banners at national shows, and have bred both Holstein and Jersey futurity winners at the World Dairy Expo.” This started with clearly defining the Arethusa goal. “We need our cattle to be true functional dairy cows so that we can then develop them into great show cows.”  You can’t have one without the other.

Veronica Laying in Field

Huronia Centurion Veronica 20J EX-97-USA
Supreme Champion – World Dairy Expo 2006
Grand Champion World Dairy Expo 2004, 2005, 2006

New Benchmarks.  Continued Success.

More recently Arethusa Farm Dairy entered products for the first time ever into the American Cheese Society competition held this year in Madison, Wisconsin. They were awarded second place for their Camembert in the Farmstead Cheeses-Soft-All Milks; Aged up to 60 Days-Over 50% Moisture Category. In the Cultured Milk Products made from cow’s milk category they received 3rd place for their sour cream.


Arethusa Farm Dairy were awarded second place at the recent American Cheese Society competition held this year in Madison, Wisconsin for their Camembert in the Farmstead Cheeses-Soft-All Milks; Aged up to 60 Days-Over 50% Moisture Category.

One-on-One Attention

The milking equipment was recently updated and Arethusa Farm milks almost 20 cows out of the original tie stall barn that also features a five bay pack barn.  Any cattle that are potential show prospects are housed there as well.  Arethusa Farm Manager Matt Senecal expands on this aspect of their strategy. “This allows us to work much closer in a one-on-one environment individualizing for each cow’s needs.”  Dan Ceresna and Katie Deslippe are a key part of the success and work mostly with the show cows. Rod Rankin is the Herdsman and has been with Arethusa for almost four years now.  Rod has tremendous ability and spends a great deal of time fine tuning the show cow program.  He also oversees all other areas and communicates extremely close with all employees.

Picturesque show barn facilities at Arethusa Farm Dairy

Picturesque show barn facilities at Arethusa Farm Dairy

Communication is crucial.

Producing quality products requires focus on even the smallest details. Matt explains. “There are protocols in place to keep a constant check on the quality of the milk being produced. We then meet with the products’ manager to make sure we are supplying him with a superior raw product for him to then create into outstanding Arethusa Farm fresh products.   We do not have room for errors. It does not work for us to lose a tank of milk.  If we don’t have milk to ship, the dairy plant is not able to make products to distribute to the numerous stores and consumers. Our brand is marketed as a single source herd…all products are produced only from milk here at Arethusa Farm.  This is a huge selling point to our customers.  They are able to visit the farm and see just how we take care of the cattle and facilities.  When they walk into the barn and see this environment they are sold right away.”

Heifer facilities at Arethusa Farm Dairy

Heifer facilities at Arethusa Farm Dairy

The Arethusa Team

To achieve the level of quality they are targeting requires that the entire team achieves excellence in their assigned areas.  Matt recognizes the importance of teamwork at Arethusa. “We greatly appreciate the passion each individual has for what he or she does.” He goes on to outline specific contributions. “Tom Breakell acts as the General Manager.  His time is split between the farm, dairy, and many other projects that may be going on.” Regardless of the responsibility everyone targets quality. “Linda Rankin and Kazmeira Nero work closely together to raise calves in a meticulous calf program. Taylar Sherman is responsible for the heifer program. The focus is on quality for all animals including 40+ recipients that are used in our extensive ET and IVF program.”

Arethusa show team at the recent Royal Winter Fair.

Arethusa show team at the recent Royal Winter Fair.

The Team Pulls Together Wherever They Are Needed

It is always nice to have a trophy room and to have your name in the record books for achieving results in dairy production.  Behind the scenes it takes a lot of people who can step up as needed explains Matt. “Dana Chase and Bryan Colbert fill many different positions whether they are needed at the calf barn, heifer barn or cow barn.  Bill Pulver spends his time at the farm when things are much quieter.  He has been with us for almost two year now working the night shift making sure everyone is safe and sound.  Bud Dore and Jeff Jarl are important to the farm, and they will do anything you ask. Bud is currently the longest running employee to date. Jeff runs a top notch chicken house and will paint anything and everything that may need painting.” Arethusa recognizes that there is a role for mentoring dairy industry personnel and they actively support that outreach. “Sammi Wilson is currently working with us for a year through a program called AgriVentures.  She is here from the UK to learn about the many different aspects of dairy farming.  We have designed a program for her to become familiar with all areas of Arethusa Farm.” Regardless of the individual tasks, Matt emphasizes how important the whole team is. “EVERYONE is important to the farm.  Without one of these people, Arethusa would not operate as smoothly or be as productive as it currently is.”

Arethusa Response Vivid EX 93 World Dairy Expo Reserve Supreme Champion Royal Winter Fair: 1st 4-yr old; Sr. Champion; Grand Champion ABA Unanimous All-American 4-yr old Member ABA All-American Sr. Best 3 Females Member ABA All-American Produce of Dam All-Canadian; Champion All-Canadian Cow

Arethusa Response Vivid EX 93
World Dairy Expo Reserve Supreme Champion 2011
Royal Winter Fair: 1st 4-yr old 2011
Sr. Champion; Grand Champion 2011
ABA Unanimous All-American 4-yr old 2011
Member ABA All-American Sr. Best 3 Females 2011
Member ABA All-American Produce of Dam 2011
All-Canadian; Champion All-Canadian Cow 2011

Arethusa and Quality Cows

Matt looks back on Arethusa’s cow story. “Arethusa has been extremely fortunate to have worked with and bred many great show cows since its inception. Of course, Huronia Centurion Veronica 20J takes the ribbon for a cow that has proven that she can show, put sons into stud, and breed the kind of cows that win (Read more: The 12 Greatest North American Colored Breed Show Cattle of All-Time). She is a remarkable cow with a personality like no other. Her daughter Arethusa Response Vivid went on to prove Veronica is not just a show cow but a brood cow, too.  With all of her mother’s personality and more, Vivid gained lots of attention when she was crowned 3x Grand Champion in 2012 and Reserve Supreme Champion at the World Dairy Expo.” At Arethusa they are currently working with Crovalley Knowledge Akika VG 89, Roquet Jasmine Sanchez EX 91 and Ernest-Anthony Allure EX 92. All three have been nominated for All Canadian and /or All American in 2013.  It isn’t surprising that Arethusa’s focus on excellence would earn them success in the Jersey show ring as well.

Roquet Jasmine Sanchez was Grand Champion at Expo Quebec where she was the only cow to defeat the great RF Goldwyn Hailey in over a year.

Page-Crest Excitation Karlie was purchased by Arethusa for a world record $170,000 at last springs The Franchise Kind Sale.

Arethusa and Karlie, “The True Type Jersey Cow!”

One of the interesting parts of the dairy breeding industry is learning how owners, breeders and great cows came together to build success. Matt enthusiastically recalls. “Karlie came to our attention first in 2012 when she was named Reserve Intermediate Champion at the World Dairy Expo. A month later at the Royal Winter Fair, Page-Crest Excitation Karlie went on to become the Reserve Grand Champion.  Upon return from the shows, George and Tony had expressed interest in purchasing another great young jersey cow.  As winter went on and many changes took place here at Arethusa, spring sale time quickly approached.  Ads began to run and people began to talk about the Franchise Kind Sale, a sale that is known for quality and show ring success. I had seen Karlie was being offered as Lot 1.  Not only were the owners going to offer Karlie for sale, but also a package of IVF pregnancies too.  The chance presented itself to purchase not only a young show ring star but the potential for nine immediate heifer calves to begin to develop in the herd. After much discussion George and Tony expressed their interest in the purchase of Karlie.  The stress built in the days to come, and when the gavel dropped, it was announced Karlie would be heading to Arethusa Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut. At that instant we knew the pressure was on.  It was now in our hands to bring Karlie back to the ring just the way she left.” (Read more: Jersey cow sold in Syracuse for a record $170,000) And the rest, as they say, is history. Matt happily reports. “It was said at different times this fall during the judge’s reasons… ‘This is the true type Jersey cow!’ She is complete, she is balanced and when she is ready to work… she just gives you chills. Karlie has gained many fans this year not only in the Jersey breed, but from those that love great show cows. She has been a pleasure to work with as she too just loves every part of the competition.” (Read more: ARETHUSA FARMS TRIUMPHS IN THE 2013 INTERNATIONAL JERSEY SHOW and Royal Winter Fair Jersey Show 2013 Results)

Page-Crest Excitation Karlie, owned by Arethusa Farm of Litchfield, Conn., was awarded Grand Champion honors at the 2013 International Jersey Show at World Dairy Expo

Page-Crest Excitation Karlie was also named Senior and Grand and Supreme Champion at the 2013 Royal Winter Fair

Arethusa Attracts Attention

Whether it’s sports or dairy breeding, when you achieve exceptional results, you will achieve exceptional attention.  Arethusa Gold Valencia became the first home bred EX95 Holstein this year gracing the cover of the Holstein World Ring Side edition at World Dairy Expo. Matt lists other attention getting opportunities. “Arethusa has also been featured in The New York times, The Wall Street Journal, on the CBS Early Show, and many other well-known publications.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Wayne Gretzky says it best. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!” And every aspiring baseball player has been told. “If you want to hit a home run, don’t take your eye off the ball!”

While hockey and baseball analogies are perhaps overused, the lessons they provide are useful.  When it comes to focus, Arethusa farm isn’t playing games but they are winning.  The reason? They are maintaining laser like focus and advise others to do the same. “Make a plan that is practical for your goals.  It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and passion. Focus on what you love, and be confident in the choices you make.” At Arethusa this focus is a winning strategy!


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