July 11, 2009
Youth show off their dairy cattle at junior fair
CORTLANDVILLE — Friday morning was given over to intense styling at the Cortland County fairgrounds. Hair was being trimmed and shaped so it was just so, and hooves were buffed to high shine.
“The judges are looking for what’s going to help out your herd,” explained 14-year-old Chris Todd of Moravia, as he watched a group of friends fuss over their 1 1/2-year-old Holstein, “Carly.”
Around the dairy enclosure on the fairgrounds, 4-H members were brushing and spraying the fur along their animals’ spines, using scissors and clippers to even things out in some cases, and using the bovine equivalent of hairspray to give it the right look.
“She’s lucky, the whole top line is white,” Todd said as he watched Carly being prepped for the 9 a.m. show, in which the cows were judged on their appearance, demeanor and size.
About 110 dairy cows have spent the past week at the fairgrounds, said Syd McEvoy, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County and an educator for Cortland County’s 4-H program.
The cows join nine horses, seven pigs, 18 rabbits, a couple dozen chickens and roosters, 15 sheep, and more than 50 goats from around the county, all of which will eventually face judging during the Cortland County Junior Fair. Other animals are brought in for shows.
While the 4-H members busied themselves Friday morning with the cosmetic appearances of their animals, Matt Sharpe, an 18-year-old whose family runs HFM Holsteins in Truxton, said many of the traits the judges look for are determined long before the cows show up at the fair.
“It’s breeding,” he said. “I work a lot with genetics.”
Sharpe explained that dairy judges look for a lot of “rib” in a cow, an indication it will grow larger and consume more food than others.
“The bigger a cow is, the more she’s going to be able to eat, and a cow that can eat more is going to produce more milk,” Sharpe said.
“You need good genetics,” Todd agreed. “They want to see a lot of udder, for the best milk production.”
These characteristics — all judged based on their ability to effect milk production — are used to rate the cows’ fathers, Sharpe said.
Outside the barn, the children who had been primping their animals began forming a line with their calves. There were Holsteins, Jerseys, and even a shiny Brown Swiss calf. Some calmly followed their handlers around the pavilion as a judge regarded each animal, while others bucked a little at their young handlers in apparent fits of stage fright.
Sharpe said he brought six cows from his family’s Holstein farm.
They ranged in age from 3 months to 3 years old, the oldest being a large, striking white Holstein named Kilo, who placidly munched hay while Sharpe directed his volunteer friends, who carried out the routine tasks associated in keeping a cow well-fed and happy during a week-long stay away from home.
“Let her lie down for now,” Sharpe said to two friends who were attending to Kilo. “At 11 o’clock, we’ll get her up one more time to make sure her udders are straight.”
“We got up today at 4:30,” he said. “I stay in the barn and sleep on a cot. In the morning, you wake up and feed them, and throughout the day you keep them clean, feed them three times a day, and milk the ones that need milking.”
He looked at Kilo, who was still chewing her breakfast and nonchalantly looking out at the cars parked near the barn.
“Those cows are probably cleaner than a lot of people,” he said.
Sharpe said he has been bringing cows to the county fair since he was 6 years old, and that he plans to go to Cornell University next year to study genetics.
He said he plans to return to his family’s farm to continue working with the cows.
In the meantime, he’s started a small business. He said he travels around the region, going to fairs and cow shows and looking after clients’ animals — spending all day with the cows and tending to their every need.
“I just really like working with the cows,” he shrugged.
The Cortland County Junior Fair wraps up tonight. The midway opens at 5 p.m., and the J.D. Rollin South Band will perform from 8 to 11 p.m. A fireworks show will cap off the evening, starting at 10:30 p.m.
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