When it comes to famed Milking Shorthorn farms, there is none better than Innisfail Herds of Davis, Calif. After returning from the U.S. Army in the mid-50s, Stuart Rowe told his father, "We either have to change breeds or change the breed." And with that visionary focus, Stuart and a group of fellow breeders transformed the breed from its dual-purpose status. Since then, Rowe has bred over 200 100,000 pound cows and six with over 200,000 pounds of lifetime milk production.

Dating back to the 1920s, the Innisfail herd has won Grand Champion honors at every major U.S. dairy show going back to the Chicago International, Cow Palace Grand National, and the National Dairy Cattle Congress. In the modern era, Innisfail-bred cows have claimed 25 percent of the Grand Champion titles at World Dairy Expo over the past 44 years.

For this and many other accomplishments, Stuart Rowe represents the only Milking Shorthorn herd recognized by National Dairy Shrine as Distinguished Cattle Breeder, and Stuart also won the prestigious Klussendorf trophy.

What was the most memorable show?
There have been so many good memories. I think my most memorable occasion was the National Milking Shorthorn Show in Oklahoma City, Okla. We were still showing aged bulls. I was showing in a class of 12 aged bulls, and the ring wasn't terribly big . . . you could just feel the tension. The bulls and exhibitors were on edge. When I came out of the ring from that class, I remember that I was soaking wet. I had an involuntary tremble in my arms that I had never experienced in the show-ring prior to that day. We managed to win the class, and he went on to be Grand Champion.

Innisfail Lobelia 72D topped the 1988 National Sale and went on to become a five-time World Dairy Expo Champion (a record for any cow from any breed until last year when the Brown Swiss Snickerdoodle took her sixth title). Was Lobelia 72D the best cow you ever bred?

In this business, I never spent a lot of time looking back; I'm always looking forward. We are really excited about this upcoming Madison show because, in some respects, we think we have the best set of cows that we've ever taken to Madison. I've been optimistic on other occasions and it didn't always pan out, but there is a lot of excitement when you feel you have some aces in the hole. As far as the best cow we ever bred, that would be a difficult question to answer.

Innisfail-bred cows have won Madison 11 times (four different cows). So it becomes kind of difficult to single one out. From a type standpoint, and for her era, Lobelia was probably the best cow we ever bred. She was ahead of her time when compared to the competition. But she was not a transmitter like some we've had, and so it would be determined on how you were describing "best."

Lobelia wasn't a big cow, but she had an outstanding udder and that combined with her dairyness when we were still transforming ourselves from a dual-purpose to a dairy breed. That is what set her apart. She was a real dairy cow and combined with that outstanding udder.

Nine times an Innisfail-bred cow (three cows) sold to another party and went on to win Grand Champion honors at World Dairy Expo. What is your philosophy on merchandising? What makes you willing to part with a good one?

The best form of advertisement is to sell good cows and see them do well. Our herd needs exposure because of our location. Show people don't get to California very often. In Lobelia's case, we knew we had something special, and we knew because of circumstances at the time that we just could not get away from home as much as Lobelia deserved to get out. It would be good advertisement for others to know that we were breeding those kinds of cows.

When we sold her, people asked me if I regretted selling Lobelia, and I said it was probably the best move we ever made in that she got back where she could get to all these shows and make a name for herself. If we tried to haul her back and forth from California (which we had done on numerous occasions), it's very difficult to get a cow ready for several consecutive years. That's why we house some of our best cows in the Midwest with Katie Bue these days. Katie is getting them primed for Madison.

Your farm bred the first Milking Shorthorn to produce over 200,00 pounds of milk. Over the years, Innisfail has bred 202 cows with over 100,000 lifetime, 37 with over 150,000, and six with over 200,000 lifetime. What have been the keys to achieving this incredible longevity?

We've never pushed cows for extreme production. We've used some grazing so that the cows last longer. We've still got good production, but they were not maxed out you might say. I think that's the key. We got the cows off concrete, and they weren't pressed to produce such high amounts. They are generally healthier because of the grazing aspect.

You served as executive secretary of the American Milking Shorthorn Society (AMSS) for a number of years. What was it like running the organization after being a breeder for so many years?

I went into the job with questions; how I could do it . . . how I would do it.

My prime motivation probably was that Emily, my wife, and I had always talked about the opportunity to do something outside of dairy farming such as the Peace Corps. Not that that's what the Shorthorns needed, but we felt that we had something to offer the breed that might help, particularly in the area of communications with membership. One of our goals was to visit as many members as possible. We traveled to 28 states. We saw members who had not had an AMSS representative on the farm in 10, 20, sometimes 30 years. People treated us so well in our travels. We hardly ever stayed anywhere except at a member's farm house. You see this country so much better when you get off the interstate and get back into what I call the real world.

It turned out to be a wonderful experience. The only things that really pulled us back was one, we did miss the farm and family, and two, the business (AMSS) has become more electronically advanced. That was neither my expertise or my interest.

When you began working with Milking Shorthorns, they were considered a dual-purpose breed. Describe the transition from that era to the breed's recognition by the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association (PDCA).

There were some unfortunate things that happened within the breed. In their effort to retain the dual-purpose status, they were trying to make a beef cow milk. I say this because they were selecting against what most of us think are dairy traits.

I read an interesting article that described a cow shown at Chicago International. Then-secretary, Bill Hardy, who was an advocate of the dual-purpose animal, was quite critical of a specific cow. The very things Hardy criticized her for are the very things we are striving to breed today. If you go 50 years selecting against features that we feel are associated with high production, those genes simply become less prevalent.

I came out of the U.S. Army and looked at our cattle and my future. That's when a group of us pursued a plan to bring outside genetics into the breed because our existing gene pool didn't meet the dairy standard. Harry Clampett became AMSS secretary, we got the concept passed, and we started adding outside blood including Illawara into the breed.

That might just be part of the story. I say this jokingly, but there is some truth to it. Harry Clampett loved to play poker with Keith King (Milking Shorthorn breeder), Gene Meyer (Hoard's Dairyman managing editor), Jim Cavanaugh (secretary of the Jersey Association), and there were some others. They would get together for the PDCA meeting, but Milking Shorthorn couldn't be a member of the PDCA unless we recognized ourselves as a dairy breed. So partially because he liked to play poker with these guys, and partially because that was our direction (I can't tell you or estimate how much of one or the other), Clampett was very instrumental in getting us accepted into PDCA.

You have judged seven different U.S. national shows, the Canadian Royal Winter Fair, and three premier shows in Australia. What type of cow do you appreciate the most?

I probably looked a little more for general appearance than some people do from both showing and judging standpoints. Today, they call that style. Style alone is nothing, but style combined with some other good traits, a sound udder and the dairy character, is what sets the great ones apart.

In earlier days, I was more consistent in selection of the more dairy-type Shorthorns than other judges. Nowadays, I think everyone is looking for dairy quality Shorthorns, and we have more consistent judging than we had years ago.

One of the things that I think influenced my judging would be the fact that we didn't have a lot of Shorthorns in California. My early experience with judging was evaluating all breeds at a number of county fairs, so I think that the image of a dairy cow was implanted earlier than some of the same generation who confined their judging to only Milking Shorthorn shows.

Please describe your breeding philosophy.

Many people ask me if I have some secret to breeding this many good cows within our breed. I took statistics in college . . . probabilities and other statistical measures have had an effect on understanding genetics. I've always maintained that breeding a good cow is luck because we can't control how the genes migrate, but what we can do is increase our chances of being lucky by congregating or collecting enough of these many good genes in your herd.

I've never been the one who's developed a cow family. My good ones have not been a result of a single mating or a particular cow family but have come from various lines within the herd.

It's interesting. I talked to Dave Kendall, our current AMSS secretary, and he'd been to a meeting where they discussed the newest scientific work in DNA and beyond. They're finding that not everything fits in Darwin's scheme of half the genetics comes from the mother and half from the father. Heritage somehow is transmitted a little differently than that. He was kidding when he said, "Stuart already knows that."

That statement came from an earlier discussion when I posed a question to him, "You know, we've been breeding cattle for many years. Most of our families came from foundations that started in the 1920s. Tell me why we went through so many years where all the cows were bred to one bull, and even now the majority of them have similar breeding, but cow families breed true. For example, why does our Stella line look like the Stella's and they do not look like the Lady's after 75 years or more of similar breeding?"

There is something about inheritance where it's coming through that doesn't quite fit how you think it would happen.

You are an astute student of cattle breeding. We understand you saw the famed race horse Seabiscuit as a young boy in the 1930s and wrote a short report on him. What was your impression of Seabiscuit?

Race horses are difficult to describe for people in this era. In those earlier days, horse racing was next to baseball in attendance. Seabiscuit was such a rags-to-riches kind of a horse, and especially after he beat the famed 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral in that match race when most thought War Admiral was nearly unbeatable. Seabiscuit was a hero at a time there probably were not a lot of heroes around, and he was my first sports hero. Remember, it was the Great Depression. And through him, my interest in breeding cattle was stimulated.

When we went over and saw Seabiscuit, he was not the typical high-strung thoroughbred horse. He was very calm, and he was standing in the shade of a fence, and we were actually along the fence petting him. He was not even interested in moving out of the shade. It would be difficult to call him ordinary, but in some respects he was . . . I think that's why people were attracted to him. He was not something that seemed beyond the reach of the average person. He was like one of us. I was infatuated with him.