Showing dairy cows into the future

I am Rodney Paulo, dairy program specialist for All-West Select Sires. I’m also a partner in Paulo-Bro Dairy and a coach, advisor and supporter of all things youth related. The “show bug” bit me at an early age, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, while I watched my older siblings and adults show at various levels of competition such as local, state and national shows. What is the “show bug” you ask? Well, some may consider it somewhat of a psychiatric disorder or an addiction. Symptoms cause a passion for competing and a desire to own or breed the most perfect cow or heifer possible.

The affliction can lead to a yearning to compete and learn all we can about selecting the desired traits it takes to be competitive. This knowledge can be attained through various judging competitions in 4-H, FFA or at the Collegiate levels. Some go on as an official judge at many of the local, state, national or world caliber shows. This has become my passion as well.
Today, one might ask about the relevance of showing or judging due to the many genetic selection tools made available through genomic testing. I don’t believe we have to come down on one side of the fence or the other when it comes to showing or the more commercial genomic approach. My view from atop the fence is quite spectacular. In fact, you can simply think of both as a means to achieve the goals and objectives of a breeding philosophy.

Some people want to breed for a cow that can win a show, others may desire to chase the ever-moving goal line that is high genomic test numbers. There are others that may choose to pursue a combination of both or maybe neither. That’s what’s great about breeding dairy cattle everyone can appreciate the “to each his own” approach to getting to their desired results.

The challenge of breeding generation after generation of cows that are profitable and scored at least Very Good 85 is what keeps me interested and motivated. I use an “all of the above” strategy when it comes to tools used for selecting the genetics I want to add into our herd.

I am of a very strong belief that there will always be a place in the industry for shows such as the Western Classic Dairy Show – a premier junior division dairy show that brings all kinds of industry people together through sponsorship, cattle sales, volunteerism and the competitors themselves. The feeling of camaraderie of like-minded individuals coming together to share a passion will keep new young folks coming into the industry and also keep the need for some older reputable folks to teach and lead the youth along the way.

Eva Van Dyk won Supreme Champion Showmanship at last year’s Tulare County Fair under Judge Rodney Paulo. Van Dyk was from Tulare, but her family recently moved to Wisconsin. Courtesy of Rodney Paulo

As for the kind of cattle we consider desirable and those that we will select for showing? I believe that will continue to evolve over time with the help of genomics and proven cow families that have stood the test of time. These will continue to be the standard tools of the trade for years to come. The term “balance cow” will be more prominent as the desire to have a more moderately-sized, yet still pretty cow that is profitable, will be the standard going forward. Gone are the days of the excessively oversized cow, or heifer, that is not efficient on the modern dairy facility.

My hope is that Junior Division participants in Showmanship will continue to garner more attention and respect. I often tell people, “you can’t buy a blue ribbon in showmanship that has to be earned.”

It starts with the selection of a show-worthy animal of course, but only those willing to put in the hours of hard work by properly feeding, training and caring for the animal, along with having complete knowledge of her, will place well in this competition. The gratification you feel when you do place well in this class is like no other. Sadly not everyone can be first place so it also can be a learning experience for those that want to do better next time. The desire to accomplish a goal such as this builds character and these responsibilities will help them in whatever career or life passion they may strive for.

My final thoughts would be to remember there is no single right, or wrong, way. Just follow your passion even if the path varies a little from time to time. Be prepared and willing to accept that there will be failures as well as triumphs along the way. Recognize that the actual journey itself is the most gratifying thing about your quest for excellence. An added bonus is the friendships you make during this time, they will be lifelong treasures.

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