With each passing year, we do a better job growing calves and heifers. That has meant younger age at first calving and an earlier return on investment from herd replacements. Several years ago, many dairy cattle shows recognized this trend by adding the “yearling heifer in milk class.” We suggest that fall shows take this approach one step further by adding a summer calf class and dropping the fall yearling not in milk.
The summer calf class might be the easiest sell to exhibitors at fall shows. If March calves are ready to travel the show circuit by early June, it would only stand to reason that 90 days later, June-born herdmates could do the same. By adopting this approach, breed leaders could help answer the often-asked question: “How do we bring more value to cattle in this growing divide between high-end genomic individuals versus those of high type?”
The answer could involve bringing more value to a class of summer-born heifers that have competed for only one show season, up until that point. One show — the Royal Winter Fair — has taken the lead and plans to give this idea a test drive in November in its Holstein and Red and White shows.
As for the fall yearlings . . . those unfresh heifers simply eat feed and cost all of us money. Ample research points out that as heifers calve in at later ages, they’re more likely to have health issues. Meanwhile, the fall yearling in milk class has become more popular than ever. These young milk cows now far outnumber their freeloading counterparts that haven’t calved.
The Ayrshire Breeders’ Association was first to give this “no more uncalved fall yearlings” concept a try . . . however, some members balked at the idea and breed leaders relented by bringing the class back to national shows. We think Ayrshire leaders were simply ahead of time on the idea, and we encourage them to revisit the concept along with the other six dairy breeds in the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association.
Dairy is full of tradition and no place may honor it more than the showring. However, bull shows and dry cow classes have been loaded onto the trailer of history. When it comes to fall shows, the fall yearling not in milk should be the next to meet that fate. Meanwhile, junior and senior classes for 2- and 3-year-olds, intermediate champion, and lifetime production classes all have been added to shows in recent decades. A June calf class might be the next step forward.