Dairy cattle judges aim for consistency
Standing in the center of the action as a judge in one of the dairy cattle breed shows at World Dairy Expo might seem like a pressure-packed, nerve-wracking undertaking.
After all, by most accounts, Expo is the dairy industry’s biggest show. The cattle in the Showring here are the cream of the crop. The stakes, both financially and emotionally, are high for the exhibitors. And the competition is fierce.
Long-time cattle judge Steve White of New Castle, Ind., doesn’t let any of that phase him. "There’s not really a lot of pressure," White says. "You have a job to do, and you go out and do it. You let the chips fall where they will."
White began his judging career in the mid-1970s. He started out working local and county fairs, then he eventually moved up to state fairs, district shows, and national and international competitions.
Along with events in the U.S., he has now judged in Colombia, Brazil and Australia. He’s been a judge in Expo breed shows 12 times and has judged every breed except Holsteins.
The level of competition at Expo is what separates the Madison event from other shows, says White, owner of White Jersey Farms, a 45-cow registered Jersey herd. "This is definitely the big-time event in the dairy industry," he says. "You can go to a state fair, and you might have just one animal that’s worthy of a blue ribbon. Sometimes there aren’t any."
"Here, there are so many great cows. You have to be on top of your game," he says.
Through his years of judging, White says it’s been interesting to watch the steady improvement of animals of all the breeds. "Years and years ago, the Brown Swiss and Milking Shorthorns were dual purpose. They were short, more compact and carried more flesh. They lacked the dairiness of the animals we see in the Showring today."
Improvement in the Holstein and Jersey breeds has been equally dramatic, he adds. "Holsteins have really improved in udders and type and milk, maybe more so than any other breed," he says. "The Jersey breed has improved in their [cows'] ability to milk."
When it comes to judging, there’s not a lot of difference in how he approaches each breed. "I tend to like judging the Jerseys a little more because I work with them every day at home," he says. "Other than that, it’s about the same with all the breeds. You like for the cattle to be tall and long, and you like for them to have dairiness. You also like for them to have conformation, to have balance."
Seeing disappointed looks on some of the exhibitors’ faces is the toughest part of the job for White. "They’ve come so far and spent so much money and they think they have the animal to beat," he says. "But then they get here, and they find out that the competition is extremely stiff."
Conversely, seeing the smiles on the faces of the winners is the part of the job he likes best. "That’s especially true with the junior shows. The kids get such a big kick out of it. They know they’ll have some bragging rights when they get back home with the other kids at school and even with their siblings."
His advice to Expo exhibitors: "It’s obvious that the winners work with their cattle every day. They bring them here broke to lead, and that can make the difference between being at the top of the class and being an also-ran."
Adam Liddle of Argyle, N.Y., has a slightly different take on the pressure that goes along with judging at World Dairy Expo. "You always feel pressure at every show," says Liddle, who has been judging cattle for 10 years. Including last year’s appearance judging the International Guernsey Show, he has judged at Expo four times.
"But it’s pressure you put on yourself. You want to do what’s right by the animal and do what she deserves. If you stick by that, whether you’re judging in a little show at the county level or a big show like this one, you’re doing your job," he says.
Even so, Liddle says the quality of the cattle that make up the classes in each Expo breed show makes judging here different than judging at any other event.
"When you get to the Showring, make sure they’re full of feed, full of milk and prepared to lead really well," Adam Liddle says.
"At this level, you have so many great animals. And it’s really hard putting those great animals in 20th place because there are 19 better cows in the class. But that’s what you have to do."
Dealing with the disappointment of exhibitors who don’t capture a top spot is the toughest part of the job for Liddle. "People will come up to me after the show and ask why I didn’t like their cow. And I say, ‘I did really like your cow; it’s just that there were some I liked a little better today.’"
The word "today," Liddle emphasizes, is extremely important. "It really does come down to how a cow looks on any given day. That’s what I’m trying to assess when I’m out there in the Showring. It doesn’t matter how many shows she’s won before or what shows she might win next week, next month or next year."
Like White, Liddle has been impressed by the changes he’s seen in the dairy cattle breeds over the course of his judging career.
"The mammary systems now are incredible," says Liddle, who manages Liddleholme Holsteins, a registered herd with 60 milk cows. "It used to be that frames would overtake the mammary system, but that’s no longer the case. Now, if the cow doesn’t have an absolutely beautiful mammary system, you’re in trouble."
His goal in judging is to be consistent. "I like a cow with dairy strength; good feet and legs; and a nice, snug udder, regardless of the breed," Liddle says. "A good cow is a good cow."
His advice to dairy producers who want to do well at Expo: "You have to put the work in and be prepared for every show you go to," he says.
"You don’t want to wait until you’re at the big show to do your preparation," he adds. "Get your animals in good condition. When you get to the Showring, make sure they’re full of feed, full of milk and prepared to lead really well. If they can present themselves well, they’ll have a leg up when the judge evaluates them."