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Are Dairy Cattle Shows Holding Us Back?

Dairy cattle shows started out as a breed awareness tool. They then became an improvement tool. More recently they primarily function as a marketing opportunity for breeders and a training process for youth. Today many breeders are thinking that shows have gone beyond their best before date and are not serving a purpose for the vast majority of dairypersons. Let’s talk about show standards and show procedures.

Show Standards

The following standards may need revision or rethinking:

  • Stature: The show ring has moved to the stage where an animal must be extremely tall to place near the top at state, provincial or national shows. (Read more: Are Today’s Holstein Cows Too Tall? And 15 Strength Sires That Will Still Fit In Your Stalls) Often there are very high classifying cows, which are 58 to 62 inches tall, down the line that have high gTPI’s. In heifer classes the requirement for excessive stature is even more evident. From a spectator perspective, there appears to be a 25% emphasis placed on stature in the show ring that has a 5% weight in the scorecard. This over-emphasis is being challenged by many lifetime profit improvement focused breeders.
  • Mobility: Recently some judges have been placing emphasis on how an animal walks. That’s a good thing. Could we take this one step further and have judges designate the best in class for mobility, just like they do for best udder? (Read more: Mobility – The Achilles Heel of Every Breeding Program and Cow Mobility: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back?)
  • Maturity: As I listen to judges’ reasons for heifer and young cow classes I hear comments that one animal is placed over another for depth of fore or rear rib. Bullvine research (Read more: She Ain’t Pretty, She Just Milks That Way) shows that young animals do not need to have deep bodies at a young age to be long-lived and profitable. They do need good mammary systems and sound feet and legs.
  • Dairyness: It seems to me that exhibitors and judges confuse ability to produce large volumes of milk with an animal being railed off (skinny). There is a difference. Skinny cows do not have body reserves, usually do not get in calf easily, and cannot cope with hot weather, herdmate competition or other adversity. Placing a dairy cow 200+ days into lactation, and three months pregnant, down the line because she has put on some cover is not what breeders want or need. The definition of dairyness needs to be reconsidered by show judges.
  • Over Filled Udders: Yes we like to see a capacious well attached udder. But is that actually what happens? With more and more cows milked 3x or milked 4-5 times per day by robots do we need to show mature cows with 100 lbs of milk in their udders to demonstrate that they can produce a high volume of milk? On-farm the breed ideal is changing to a cow that can produce 4 pounds of milk per hour at 22 months of age or 6.5 pounds per hour at 72 months of age and be milked every eight to ten hours. Cows with over filled udders loose definition of cleavage, walk with difficulty and are under significant stress.
  • Cow Class Determination: Dairy cows exist to produce milk. It is our opinion that using age is an out-moded method to determine cow, After the first lactation classes, classes could be divided by pounds of milk already produced as follows: 1) 20,000 to 40,000; 2) 40,001 to 65,000; 3) 65,001 to 95,000; 4) 95,001 to 135,000; 5) 135,001 to 185,000; and 6) Over 185,000. Basing classes on milk produced would be a more appropriate method than birth date given the ideal of breeding for lifetime production.
  • First Lactation Classes: First lactation cows go through many stages from calving until day 305 of lactation. After calving, they have more udder depth, lack body depth, need more udder quality and are low front ended. By day 305 they will be markedly changed in all these areas. With many first lactation cows at most shows, it is the Bullvine’s opinion that having four classes would be an asset. The four groups could be determined by stage of lactation as follows; 1) Less than 75 days in milk; 2) 75 – 150 days in milk; 3) 151 – 225 days in milk; and 4) over 225 days in milk.

Show Procedures

Some ideas that may also enhance cattle shows could also include:

  • Information in Catalogs: Spectators want to know performance as well as pedigree as they assess the animals on parade. Without performance information it can be a quite boring exercise for all but the keenest. I want to know more and perhaps I can use my cell iphone to search for more details but that is costly. In today’s information age show catalogues can contain DGV’s for heifers or calving date, number of lactations and pounds of milk, fat and protein produced for Surely we are past treating spectators as mushrooms and keeping them in the dark when it comes to animals in the ring.
  • Message Delivered: Most shows have youth, domestic and foreign breeders and consumers watching. Why not have five of the 15 – 25 minutes while the class is being judged used to deliver a message about dairy farming. All shows have announcers who presently give a very limited amount of information. Why not have them deliver interesting and useful information? After all dairy farming is more that just watching a runway beauty contest. Awareness and education would be a great addition to the show.
  • More Winners: Presently beside the class winners, best bred and owned and best udder winners are awarded. Considering all the effort that breeders go to exhibit their animals, awards for mobility, milk, fat, protein, gTPI, etc would give exhibitors more opportunity to promote their animals. I fully understand that this takes more effort at entry and checking time but if exhibitors are going to the effort why not expand their marketing opportunities and, at the same time, educate and inform?
  • Milk Outs: At one-time milk outs were required for the top few of each milking class. That was abandoned due to the time needed and cows not having milk in their udders in champion parades. Milk outs have been replaced by ultra sounding of udders. The question should be asked is ultra sounding serving a worthwhile purpose? If so, why is ultra sounding not used at all shows?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Shows and showing have remained quite static for the past twenty years during which time the breeding goals have changed significantly. With fewer and fewer exhibitors and interested, involved people watching the shows, it is time for a re-assessment. Not since the birthdays for classes were changed from January and July to September, December, March, and June and the milking senior yearling class was added have there been changes to align shows with genetic advancement. It is time that a North American across breeds task force be named and charged with the responsibility of bringing forward standards and procedures that will make shows relevant to the breeder needs for the future.



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