Pull up a stool: Dairy Classic highlights those amazing milkin’ machines
CALGARY (March 11, 2013) – William Shakespeare once wrote about the milk of human kindness. Next week, the Calgary Stampede’s Agricultural Building will be filled with the milk of human industry, commitment, and pride.
Like many sectors in agriculture, the dairy industry has seen profound technological changes, with genomics, big-business metrics, and even sophisticated robotics entering the barn. But the Stampede’s Dairy Classic Championship Show, which will be staged Friday, March 22 and Saturday, March 23, can be traced all the way back to 1886, owing to the fact that Springbank and Bearspaw, just west of Calgary, were once powerhouses of provincial dairy production.
And in the face of sweeping innovation, some things — even after 125-plus years — don’t change.
“I grew up in the dairy industry. My dad, my grandfather were dairy farmers. And I believe something that has stayed consistent, through history, is dairy farmers’ commitment to producing quality milk and dairy products — raising healthy cattle, and giving them quality feed,” says Debbie Lee, who chairs the Stampede’s Dairy Classic committee.
“It’s a lot of work. It’s a large commitment. Milking cows is not a 9-to-5 job. It’s 365 days a year, milking two and sometimes three times a day,” adds Lee. “Around here, a lot of our farmers live very close to the city, where there is considerable affluence created by the energy industry. Nobody’s going to get rich being a dairy farmer. But when you live off the land, taking pride in what you produce means everything. It’s the love of the animals, and the love of the way of life.”
The Stampede’s annual spring Dairy Classic is the marquee show on the calendar of the Western Canadian dairy industry. Farmers from Canada’s four western provinces will converge on the Agriculture Building on March 22 and 23, with an estimated 150 animals in tow — showing off Canada’s exceptional dairy-cattle genetics, which are highly regarded and sought worldwide.
The public is welcome and admission is free on both days; select Calgary schoolchildren will also be paying a visit on Wednesday, March 20. The Dairy Classic may not carry the prestige of Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair or the World Dairy Expo, in Madison, Wis., but it is an All Western Competition, with results carrying considerable weight toward national industry honours.
With show judge Carl Phoenix of Sunderland, Ont., presiding this year, the Jersey show will begin at 1 p.m. on March 22, with the Holstein show to follow at 8:30 a.m. on March 23. Milking classes, alternating with Holsteins and Jerseys, will begin at 11:30 a.m. on March 23 and carry on all afternoon. Grand and reserve champions, as well as junior and junior reserve champions, will be crowned in both Black and White Holstein and Red and White Holstein classes. Phoenix will be considering milk production and butter fat content when awarding ribbons, but will also be basing his verdicts on conformation-based criteria such as a good-sized, well-attached udder to withstand years of milking, strong feet and legs, a deep barrel or stomach, and a rather lean, slender appearance.
The average Holstein produces 35 litres of milk a day, with the breed’s more prolific specimens producing double that number. The average Jersey manages about 27 litres a day, with the breed’s super-producers topping out at about 50. Jerseys don’t generally match Holsteins in volume, but are treasured for the elevated butter fat content in their milk.
Those numbers, notes Lee, are au naturel — without any of the milk-producing hormones, such as bovine somatotrophin (BST), that are used in some American states but illegal in Canada. “We’re comfortable with the fact that we don’t use those hormones. Through selective genetics and good farming practices, our cows produce more milk on their own merit,” she says.
This year’s Dairy Classic will include a herdsman competition for all exhibitors, and a showmanship competition for young exhibitors in four different age classes. Also on the Dairy Classic docket is the annual Youth Dairy Cattle Judging Clinic, led by Dr. Gordon Atkins of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and presented by BFL Canada Insurance Services Inc.
“At 4-H competitions, multi-judging usually includes a class of dairy animals. A good number of kids don’t have the experience to properly judge dairy cattle, so this is a perfect situation for kids from 4-H horse clubs or 4-H beef clubs to learn how to do that,” says Lee. “And we also have a lot of our dairy kids attend in order to hone their skills at judging dairy animals. It’s really the best of both worlds. Dr. Atkins is phenomenal, such an expert, and the Dairy Classic is an outstanding setting, with wonderful cattle in the barn.”
Catch the live webcast of this year’s Dairy Classic by visiting www.cowsmo.com. For more information on the Dairy Classic, please visit http://ag.calgarystampede.com/events/521-dairy-classic-championship-show.html
While innovation in the industry is always paramount, the Dairy Classic represents a proud tradition of the southern Alberta foothills. The show predates the Stampede itself, having been part of the Calgary and District Agricultural Society’s very first annual fair back in 1886. “A good number of our exhibitors at the Dairy Classic have been showing here for generations,” says Lee. “Some herds have gone from one family to another, but you show because you’re proud that you have good cattle. It’s tradition.”
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