Who Do You Think You Are?

August 19, 2015 11:15 AM

The NBC-TV program “Who Do You Think You Are?” has built quite an audience in the past few years by following well-known people like singer Reba McEntire, actress Helen Hunt and football player Jerome Bettis as they embark on personal journeys of self-discovery to trace their family trees.

The network should consider doing a spin-off featuring high-profile dairy cattle that have become industry icons at World Dairy Expo (WDE). The following are just a few of the candidates that could make for some interesting episodes in a bovine edition of the popular show:
Westlynn Tom Dee: Owned by Clark and Joy Vilter of Four Winds Farm near Hartland, Wis., Tom Dee captured four consecutive Grand Champion titles in the International Guernsey Show at WDE between 1993 and 1996. In 1995, she was also the WDE Reserve Supreme Champion.

“She wasn’t perfect, but she scored EX-96,” Clark says. “There have only been five or six cows in the history of the breed that have scored that high.”     

Clark got his first look at Tom Dee during WDE in 1991. He had just arrived on the grounds with a load of cattle when a friend came running over to his truck. “I wasn’t even out of the cab and he said, ‘You have to see this cow,’” he relates.

Rueth and Randy Kortus, Lynden, Wash., had purchased Tom Dee at a show in northwest Washington. They offered to sell part ownership in the two-year-old to the Vilters. “It took me about three seconds to make up my mind,” Clark says. “What I saw was an animal with a beautiful udder, very stylish, with good feet and legs. She kind of had a  neon sign on her blinking ‘Here I am.’”

As special as Tom Dee’s own accomplishments in the Expo Showring were, it was her ability to transmit desirable traits to offspring that eventually elevated her to legendary status in Guernsey breeding circles. One of her daughters, Four Winds Magicman Delight, EX-94, won Grand Champion honors twice at Expo and collected five All-American nominations.

A Tom Dee granddaughter, Four Winds Destiny Child, EX-95, also captured two Grand Champion banners in the WDE Showring and earned five All-American nominations. “She was the best cow we ever bred,” Joy Vilter says of Destiny Child.  

In all of the 11 Grand Championships that Four Winds has compiled at Expo in the past two-plus decades, eight have come out of the Tom Dee family.

“She definitely put our farm on the map,” Clark says. “She was a once-in-a-lifetime cow. I always tell people I was glad I didn’t buy her when I was in my twenties. It would have been hard to get excited or enthused about anything else after owning her.”

Lands-Brook Christina-EXP-ET: Over the course of her lifetime, Christina, owned by Larry Landsgard of Lands-Brook Farms in St. Olaf, Iowa, established a showring performance record that included seven All-American, two Reserve All-American and one Honorable Mention All-American awards. She capped off her record by capturing the Grand Champion title at the 2013 International Milking Shorthorn Show. That year, she was also honored as the Unanimous All-American Aged Cow.

Christina, EX-96, 4E, was the daughter of Christie, a Lands-Brook Farms cow who was scored EX-94, 4E. Christie has 13 daughters and granddaughters that have accumulated 13 All-Americans, three Reserve All-Americans and six Honorable Mention All-Americans to date. Also in Christie’s family line were 14 Junior All-American, six Reserve Junior All-American and three Honorable Mention Junior All-American awards.

Out of all of Christie’s descendants, Christina was special, Landsgard says. “She had a full sister, Christa, who was a standout cow,” he says. “Christa had an exceptional udder, but she was more of a big-boned animal.  Christina just had this style that set her apart. She was extremely sharp, extremely angular and she walked uphill.”

It was Christina’s udder that attracted comments from judges throughout the 10 consecutive years she appeared at Expo, starting as a summer yearling in 2004. “She calved nine times in 10 years, and that udder never really changed. When she won Grand Champion at Expo, a lot of people told me she looked as good as she ever had,” Landsgard says.

Christina excelled outside of the showring as well. Her lifetime record over 2,407 days in milk was 113,260 lb. of milk, with 4,047 lb. fat and 3,370 lb. protein. “Christina was the kind of extremely sharp dairy cow, with an exceptional udder, that the Shorthorn breed really needed to breed for in order to be on par with a lot of the other dairy breeds,” Landsgard says. “It’s a legacy that I’m very proud of.”

Huronia Centurion Veronica 20J Owned by George Malkemus and Tony Yurgaitis of Arethusa Farm in Litchfield, Conn., Veronica’s showring credits include being named Supreme Champion in 2006 and Reserve Supreme Champion in 2004 at WDE. She also captured three Grand Champion titles—2004, 2005 and 2006—at the Jersey Show at Expo.    

Bred by Fred and Ruth Armstrong and Family in Auburn, Ontario, Canada, Veronica classified EX-97 during her fifth lactation. That’s something only a handful of Jersey cows in North America have achieved.

So far, 47 of Veronica’s daughters classified in the U.S. have scored Very Good or higher, notes Matt Senecal, farm manager at Arethusa. Of those, 35 have scored Excellent, with 16 scoring EX-92 or higher and four scoring at EX-95. She has 110 daughters registered in the U.S. and has direct descendants in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Twenty Veronica sons are in AI sampler programs. It’s little wonder the Arethusa Farm website refers to her as the “most famous Jersey cow
in the world.”

One of Veronica’s daughters, Arethusa Response Vivid-ET, EX-94, was name Grand Champion of the International Jersey Show as a four-year-old and went on to be named Reserve Supreme in 2012. To her own credit, Vivid has four daughters scored EX-95.

Veronica also excels in putting milk in the tank. Her lifetime production record stands at 187,259 lb. of milk, with 10,166 lb. fat (5.4%) and 7,427 lb. protein (4.0%) in seven lactations.

“Along with her personality, what makes Veronica so special is that she breeds so true,” Senecal says. “People seek out and pay top dollar for her genetics. She’s had an incredible impact on the breed.”

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