Earlier this summer, I was on a search to find the right clipper blades. This challenge reminded me once again that the dairy business has changed, and that holds true in the showing world, too. My husband, Scott, grumbled, "Not sure how much more ground down blades can get and how much shorter we can clip cows." I gently reminded him, and myself, that instead of thinking about all that has changed with showing cows, maybe we should focus on all that has stayed the same.
Walk through the barns at any county or state fair and you are reminded that there are fewer people in the dairy business. Most farms don't bring strings of cows anymore, and those who do have fewer animals in their string. Showing cows isn't for the faint of heart or for those looking to make money; it requires hard work and takes money. But what motivates people to load up their trailer year-after-year, to clip all those cows, and even break that stubborn two-year-old to lead, is more than the sheer hope for a purple ribbon. Really, it is about the camaraderie that is displayed, which motivates farmers to spend their vacation days exhibiting cows.
I know many of you feel the same. It sure is wonderful to walk through the barns and see a familiar face. A face that truly understands all that you are going through. The scene of dairy farmers standing around after show day, talking about the highlight of their year, and the struggles that they have overcome, too. It provides a sense of friendship that draws farmers together, and it allows them to breathe easier.
Those highlights they talk about might be that good 3-year-old that freshened in with promise and performed well on show day, or it might have been that really good cow that just was raised to 90 points. Or, it might have nothing to do with the herd of cows and focus on the family: a new grandbaby or a kid graduating high school. Or it might just be a proud Jersey mama, bragging about how her kids were the saving grace during an overwhelmingly bad summer and how the state fair allowed her husband to get away from the farm for a few days.
Undoubtedly, showing cows surfaces old childhood memories, and yes, times have sure changed. But what hasn't changed is smiling wide as you watch your child grow up with a leather show halter in hand, learning some of life's best lessons. Those lessons are really hard to duplicate elsewhere.
For me, on show day, the highlight is seeing an 8-year-old and a 78-year-old, all under one roof, sharing the same passion for good cows. The smiles from all generations already has them talking about what cows and fairs they'll attend next year before this show is even over.
Karen Bohnert is a second-generation dairy farmer, born and raised on her family dairy in Oregon and moved east after graduating from Oregon State University. Karen and her husband work in partnership with family, and they along with their three children live and work on the family's 500 Jersey cow dairy in East Moline, Ill. Karen's pride and love for dairy could fill a barn, and she actively promotes dairy anyway she can.