by Pat Malin
SYRACUSE, NY — There are days when showing cows is a hectic and nearly a fulltime job for Renee Pierick.
Just 16-years-old, Pierick is a seasoned leadsman, even though she doesn’t even live on a dairy farm. She was among a group of one of eight junior volunteers recruited by Jared Dueppengeisser of Wyoming County to lead the cows for the PDCA (Purebred Dairy Cattle Association) Judging Show in the ring on Friday afternoon, April 12.
The opening day of the NYS Dairy Carousel was devoted to the juniors. It started with a junior showmanship contest in the morning, followed by the junior judging and PDCA judging contests. The seven dairy breed registry associations who are represented in the PDCA offer youth programs that include show ring and production award recognition, showmanship and judging contest participation. The youngsters can also vie for local, state and national achievement recognition, and the opportunity to compete for college scholarships.
In order to give the juniors the chance to judge the cows, local dairy farms have to enter their cows first. Then somebody has to show the cows and make sure they’re clipped, cleaned and groomed for the show ring, so enter the volunteer leadsmen.
Most of them planned to stick around for the weekend for the other events: the Ayrshire Show and the Guernsey Show on Saturday; the Red & White Show & Milking Shorthorns Show, and the Jersey Show & Brown Swiss Show on Sunday. The final event was on Monday, April 15, the prestigious International Holstein Show. Pierick said she would work Monday and then fly home to Wisconsin.
Jared Dueppengeisser’s mother, Roxanne, a 4-H extension educator, said the leadsmen are juniors too, but they range in age from 16 to 22. They are high school and college students, so the timing of the carousel and other shows during school breaks is crucial to getting enough volunteers. She said some of the students will actually take time off from school, if necessary, to be a leadsman at the biggest shows of the year.
In addition to the NYS Dairy Carousel, the other major events are the All-American Show in Hershey (PA) in September, plus the World Dairy Expo in Madison (WI) in October.
Renee Pierick took an unusual route to get here, literally and figuratively. No one in her immediate family operates a dairy farm at present. She said her grandparents and her father had a farm at one time, then got out of the business. She credited her uncle, Jeff Pirrung, a cattle and farm investor in Florida, as the one who roped her into the business.
“I started (as a leadsman) when I was 11,” she said. “It’s rewarding.”
Later on Friday afternoon, away from the spotlight of the show ring, she went back to the holding barn. She picked up a pitchfork and joined the other volunteers in doing the heavy chores inherent in attending to the cows: feeding them, making them comfortable and clearing away soiled hay. She talked about her love of animals that provided the impetus to get into the dairy business.
“I want to go to Cornell and study to be a bovine reproductive vet,” she said. “I’m already certified in A.I. (artificial insemination).”
Judging is all in the family
Nine-year-old Cassidy Cook walked around the show ring, clipboard in hand on Friday afternoon, and seriously studied the cows. She was setting a good example for her seven-year-old brother, Jared. Both of them excitedly came to the NYS Dairy Carousel for the first time with their older sister, Alannah, 11, and their father, Joe Cook.
The Cooks operate a farm with 65 Holsteins in Antwerp, Jefferson County, NY. The younger children rated the cows from 1 to 4, then handed the results to a member of the judging panel.
“I like the black cow,” said Cassidy. “She’s showing her ribs.”
While it appears the youngest children don’t grasp all the essentials of judging, Roxanne Dueppengeisser contends they are gaining practical experience nonetheless. “They only have to rank the cows first, second, third or fourth without giving reasons,” she said.
Joe Cook said he told the youngsters to look for certain characteristics when judging: plump milk veins, big pins, sturdy legs and a prominent back. He noted that Alannah had won a Guernsey calf in a contest and would be meeting her at the Dairy Carousel the next day. Alannah will also have an opportunity to show the calf at the NYS Fair this fall.
This will be the Cook family’s first experience with a Guernsey, instead of a Holstein. “I’m always up for a challenge,” Joe Cook said with a chuckle. “We plan to breed her. Then we will give her second heifer back to the association.”
Alannah, who is interested in veterinary science, expects her Guernsey to produce more milk, in general, than the Holsteins currently in the family barn. Then she walked away from her siblings and returned her focus to judging. “Sometimes they (Jared and Cassidy) bug me,” she confided to a bystander. “Sometimes I get blamed for something they do (at home) because I’m the oldest sister.”