I have a confession to make. I love pretty cows. It’s true. They are my guilty pleasure. There is something beautiful and majestic about a cow that stands 65 inches tall at the hip, with her long, lean neck stretched out as she glides around a show ring. Silky, shiny and ultra-dairy, with ribs wide enough to fit a fist between and an out-of-this-world udder glossed up and bagged tight with milk.
You know, the kind of cow that makes most commercial dairymen cringe because she wouldn’t last one lactation in his freestalls or milking parlor.
By now you may have checked the cover to make sure you didn’t mistakenly open up some purebred breeder magazine, but rest assured, you are in the right place. Or you may be pondering why a lover of show cows works for a commercial dairymen’s magazine. As I come clean with this admission, I simply ask that you hear me out on why I love “pretty cows.”
It comes down to this. My husband and I needed an excuse to have cows. Both of us grew up on small family dairies, and we both truly love working with cattle.
While full-time farming isn’t the career path we chose, we missed cows and didn’t want to short-change our children the joys and experiences only that lifestyle can provide. Raising a handful of dairy animals in the backyard is how we get our “fix,” and we try to make showing calves and heifers a family activity.
Competition makes it all the more fun. In order to compete, we choose to play the game and strive for the fancy show-style animals. For us, that means breeding to high-type bulls, running an intense nutrition program with three-times-a-day calf feeding and spending summer nights walking and washing calves. Led by my husband’s keen eye, we focus on developing well-grown, balanced and refined show heifers.
Like a “real” dairy farm family, we do chores. We thaw frozen waterers in the dead of winter and make hay under the sweltering summer sun. We watch for heats, vaccinate and haul manure. Though this is all done on a small scale, it reminds us how hard those “real” farmers work every single day.
There are times when our part-time hobby seems more like a full-time job. Some days, the challenges seem to outweigh the joys, or we imagine how much more fun it would be to spend our summers on a boat instead of in a barn. But the sight of a child walking out of the show ring with a blue ribbon and a beaming smile melts away those thoughts and keeps us coming back.
You see, the reasons I love pretty cows are about much more than how they look. I love them for the experiences they bring to our lives. The memories, camaraderie and friendly competition. The life lessons, teachable moments and human-animal bond.
Each of us chooses to pursue these experiences and feelings in different ways. Ours is simply through breeding, raising and showing pretty cows.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and respect the not-so-pretty cows out there too. These more moderately sized, functional hard-working ladies make the dairy world go ’round. Both types of cows have a place in the industry, but there will always be a special place in my barn and in my heart for a “pretty cow.” PD
- Midwest Editor
- Progressive Dairyman
- Email Coffeen