ichard Carlson

Practice makes perfect with calf showmanship

Judges offer tips to 4H members

When it comes to dairy showmanship, practice is the only way to make perfect.

“I honestly think that it’s just a lot of hard work at home,” Roberta Carlson said. She was one of the judges at the Chilliwack Fall Fair over the weekend, a job she’s taken on plenty of times in the past, and one she’s well suited for.

She was a 4H leader, a 4H mom, and even a 4H member when she was a child. Now, she and her husband Richard own Sunnyhome Farms in Salmon Arm, where they raise dairy cows.

With two big competitions left for the Agassiz Rainbow 4H Club — the PNE later this month, and the Agassiz Fall Fair in September — both Carlsons offered some tips on what the judges will be looking for, and how to improve their ‘project’ at each fair.

4H members compete in two different categories: confirmation and showmanship. While the first looks at the cow’s presentation, the second looks directly at the 4H member’s abilities.

“When we’re judging showmanship, we’re not judging the calf,” she said. “We are looking at the member’s ability to show their project. And most of that is reflected in the amount of work done at home, with training, washing and cleanliness.”

The more a member works with its calf, the more confident that member will become. And since there’s no telling how a calf will behave on a particular day, it’s best to know how to handle a rowdy animal in the show ring. Sometimes, the chances of having a calm calf, rather than one that won’t listen, mostly comes down to luck of the draw.

“Some calves are just easier to train, and that’s just the way it is,” she said.

She advises that the younger members take the time to watch the senior members handle their calves.

“If they have an opportunity to watch the older kids, they should,” Carlson said. “See what they do, how they present their animal.”

And expect to improve with each passing year, too. Carlson watched their children progress from junior members, to senior. They now are adults and working at Sunnyhome Farms alongside their parents. As a mother, she feels 4H is well-rounded program that all youth can benefit from. While you don’t need to live on a farm to have a dairy project, it helps to have a family member or friend who has an area to keep the animal. For those without that option, there are 4H clubs that focus on dogs, rabbits, goats and even photography, depending on where you live. There’s even a tractor and small engine club in the Fraser Valley. Being a 4H member also means taking part in events such as public speaking competitions. It all adds up to tremendous personal growth, Carlson said.

“I’ve seen a lot kids go through 4H and watched how they developed into adults,” she said.

But for those who are going through the dairy 4H program, knowing your calf is an important facet of succeeding.

And being judged for confirmation is a big part of the fair circuit.

“We’re looking for an animal with a dairy appearance,” Richard Carlson said, “which is actually the opposite to what you’ll see people selecting in a beef cattle ring.”

When listening to the judges’ comments, members will hear words like ‘refinement’ and ‘dairyness’ — two words that both add up to a healthy heifer that can produce a lot of milk.

“We’re looking for a calf that will turn into a cow that will produce a lot of milk,” he said. That includes a strong, straight back, a correct seat and leg bone.

“You like to see a cow that has some style and balance, with an uphill run at the front of the calf,” he explained. “And with balance you like to see a nice straight body and a deep body.”

The Agassiz Rainbow 4H Club will show next at the PNE, from August 18 to 23. Those visiting the PNE are welcome to visit the club members in the barns, or watch the competitions and hear the judges’ comments.

To find out more about joining 4H when it resumes in the fall, talk to a 4H member at the PNE or Agassiz Fall Fair, or contact the Schwaerzle family at 604-796-9603.