When I was growing up I had a favorite children’s book that I loved to hear. And to this day I will still quote the book in conversations to signify a cause and effect that is about to happen, just like the book did. The book I’m thinking of is If You Give A Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff. As I grew up, I never thought that this book would come up as much as it did, but in the past year I have been able to see this book come to life with my brother and his dairy heifers. So with that, enjoy the story of what happens if you give a kid a dairy show heifer.
If you give a kid a show heifer, they might ask to give that heifer a name.
It was a year ago when my family was at a dairy sale up in Northeast Iowa. My family hasn’t been in the dairy industry since the 1990s when my grandpa decided to quit milking due to the impact of the Farm Crisis. I grew up with beef cattle, so the dairy industry is not one that I am the most familiar with. At this sale, my dad had no intentions of going to buy anything, but at the end of the sale my 11-year-old brother walked away with two dairy heifers, one was a Jersey heifer named Sonata and the other was a Holstein heifer named Tribute.
If you give the heifer a name, they might ask for a place on the farm to give them a home.
Well if you buy an animal they need a place to stay. So, my brother and dad cleaned one of the lots on our farm, added in some clean bedding, and fixed up the water machines and the feed bunkers to accommodate for these two animals. Even though these dairy heifers are considered farm animals, they still require daily chores to be done just like any other family pets. My brother learned quickly about the importance of mixing up the right feed amounts for each animal, the necessary care each animal needs between grooming and washing, and the general chores of keeping their pens cleaned out and restocked with fresh bedding.
If you give the heifers a home, you might get asked to get them out of their pen to lead them around every now and then, so a kid might ask for a halter and lead rope to do so.
It’s not like walking a dog. Breaking farm animals to lead can be a big challenge to overcome. When I say “breaking to lead” what I mean is it is not in the nature of the animal to follow wherever you lead them. It is a process that requires the animal to learn to trust the owner or the leader in order to follow them. This process takes a lot of patience, time, strength, and more patience. The more you are around the animals and work with them the faster the animal will learn to trust and be comfortable around you. Since dairy cattle are bred for milk production they are used to being around humans and having that interaction between them, but it can still be a challenging process.
If you give a kid a halter and lead rope and they break their heifer to lead, they might ask to take their heifer to a dairy show.
Showing animals is a sport that kids dedicate many months in advance to prepare for. Showing animals are judged on different characteristics depending on the type of animal, age of animal, as well as the purpose of that animal. For example, dairy cattle are raised for milk production. In a dairy show, they are judged for their dairy characteristics (dairyness), how their body is structured and built for milk production, and their genetic makeup of the heifer or cow itself. To be more technical, a judge will first look at the overall balance of the dairy cow/heifer. They are looking for no flaws and a complete and balanced animal throughout. When looking at overall balance they look at length in body, stature, and openness of frame (the wider the better). A judge will look at the legs of the animal to make sure the legs are not too stiff or too curved. They also look at the depth of the ribs of a dairy cow to show their condition. It might not seem like it but you do not want a fat or round dairy cow—that signifies they are over conditioned and are not milking efficiently.
So, if you let a kid take a dairy heifer to a dairy show, they might ask for white pants to wear.
Now another thing that might surprise you is when you show a dairy animal the standard dress code is white pants. White pants might not seem like the most logical choice when working with animals that relieve themselves at any time of the day, but this is the standard in the dairy industry. There is not a direct reason why you wear white in dairy shows, but one source states that it dates all the way back when showing animals first began in the early 1900s. In the early years of showing, different standards and rules were adopted and one of them was white pants in dairy shows. White is a symbol of cleanliness and it was mentioned that when you show your dairy animal you are wanting to show off your animal and not yourself, so exhibitors would wear all white to show cleanliness and not take away from the animal’s spotlight. White pants were also worn by the milk man and so some would argue that this trend stems from matching the milk man. For more information, here is the link to the source I found about white pants and the dairy industry. Some shows require exhibitors to wear all white, some allow nice button up shirts with white pants. But, for the most part you want to look presentable because the cleanliness of the exhibitor is reflected in the judgement of the cleanliness of the animal.
Now if you give kids white pants and the required tools to show, they might need a support team behind them.
Just like any good sports team nothing can get done without the people behind the scenes and the fans that travel along for positive support. Showing one animal is more than one person can handle by themselves. It takes a team of family and friends to come together to take on a dairy show from helping break to lead, to the preparation of the show, to clipping and styling the hair for the show, to watching the cattle once they are prepped to make sure they stay clean, to bringing food to the show barn to feed the exhibitors, and to be there for positive support when something doesn’t go the way it was expected. This industry is more than one person can handle all by themselves, it’s a team effort—which in the end provides more learning experiences for everyone involved.
This industry is more than just cows, milk, and ice cream. It creates opportunities for the youth to learn about a sector in the agriculture industry and to create relationships amongst family and friends. My brother fell in love with the dairy industry and is now joining the county dairy quiz bowls (dairy trivia competitions) and joining different dairy promotion events. I don’t think anyone in my family knew what would happen when my brother walked away from a sale with two dairy heifers, but I guess you never know what you’ll get unless you give a kid a dairy show heifer.