The Sifford family’s beef herd isn’t the largest in the state, but it’s serving an important purpose for the young women who own the animals.
Rosemary and Steve Sifford and their daughters raise cattle on their farm in Snow Camp, NC. Rosemary explains that their two older daughters, Madison and Salem, own the animals in the herd, and are responsible for their care as well as making breeding decisions and preparing them for shows and sales.
“We keep three cow lines, so we can only use a bull we’ve bred for two-thirds of the herd,” Rosemary explained, adding that cows are bred primarily via A.I. “We try to find a balance with the show phenotype so that after they’re finished showing, they’ll come back and be a productive cow. The idea is that the girls can pay for college tuition with earnings from the herd.”
Steve’s family has a dairy farm, so the girls also have Holstein heifers to work with and show. “They show them, then when they are bred and ready to calve, they return to the dairy herd,” said Rosemary. “They haven’t had many opportunities to show a cow in milk, but are looking forward to that now that some of the cows are old enough.”
The beef herd includes about 15 to 20 Hereford cows; both polled and horned. “We have some polled cattle that I really like,” said Rosemary. “For the regular cattleman, the polled cow is the best choice because she’s sound and there are no horns to deal with. But for show heifers, I think the horned heifers tend to be a little more framey and sometimes have more a ‘show’ look; that phenotype that catches the judge’s eye. That’s the reason we added horned genetics — to add more frame.”
Cows are bred to calve throughout the year so there are choices for the girls when it comes to selecting animals for classes. “Some calves will be born in March, some in May and some in the fall,” said Rosemary. “We try to keep the options open.”
Madison, who is 15 and owns about half the cattle, says that she likes Herefords because they’re easy to work with. “They’re really the most docile breed,” she said. “They’re tame and easy to halter break. As soon as I could lead a calf, I was in the ring. My parents took me to a sale and bought a bred cow. When she calved, I named the calf Clover and that’s the first calf I started showing myself.”
Madison is involved in Alamance County 4-H and Southern Alamance High School FFA, and participates in a variety of activities including livestock judging, skill-a-thon, livestock shows and 4-H county council. She also participates in dairy judging and dairy skill-a-thon through 4-H, and serves as chaplain for her FFA chapter. Madison finds the most challenging aspect of livestock judging is preparing oral reasons. Since Madison participates in both dairy and livestock judging, she has to concentrate on the differences between the two cattle types. “When I first started doing dairy judging, I had to turn off that switch for livestock judging and make sure I was doing dairy,” she said. “Sometimes dairy judging uses more in-depth terms, and you have to evaluate the udder and know those terms too.”
Like others who exhibit livestock, Madison has learned that participating in shows and judging contests help improve her stockmanship skills. “The more you look at animals and animals in classes, the more differences you see,” she said. “When I’m in the show ring and comparing heifers, I can see what I can improve on. Or if I’m watching a class, I can judge along with the judge to see how close I am to that judge’s opinion.”
Madison has started looking at colleges, and since she’s interested in becoming an Ag lawyer, she’s looking for a good Ag-based school. “I’ve thought about North Carolina State University,” she said, “or maybe Penn State because they have a good dairy judging team.” Madison believes that participating in livestock judging has given her a good eye and helped her select the best animals for her herd. “I’ve improved so much over the years, learning how to judge so when I go out and look at my herd I can see what we need to improve. Or if I go to a sale and I’m looking for a heifer, it has helped me learn the terminology and what I need to look for.”
Thirteen-year old Salem says she has learned a lot from Madison but is also learning on her own. She is involved in 4-H livestock judging, livestock skill-a-thon, dairy judging and dairy skill-a-thon. Salem says that showing dairy cattle is just a little more difficult than showing beef cattle, mostly because she’s more accustomed to working with beef animals. “I’ve been doing livestock judging since I was eight,” she said. “My favorite species to judge is beef cattle.” Salem says she’s getting better at giving oral reasons and is finding that she has gained confidence and is less nervous in front of the judge. She is looking forward to entering high school and participating in FFA.
Salem explains how her family starts halter training young animals. “We have a creep feeder and the calves come in and eat,” she said. “Then we put halters on them and let them drag it in the pasture. They step on the lead, and when the halter is pulled on, they learn to stop. When it’s loose, they can walk. It helps them get used to the whole idea of the halter. Then when they’re a little older, we start holding on to the halter and walking around with them.”
One aspect of owning cattle that has helped Salem hone her judging skills is selecting A.I. bulls for her cows. She enjoys studying EPDs and making breeding decisions based on those figures. Salem would like to pursue a degree in agriculture, but isn’t sure what she wants to do yet.
Sedona, who is five, helps her sisters with feeding, washing and blowing out cattle. Although she isn’t old enough for junior Hereford membership, she shows in Cloverbud classes. One year, Sedona exhibited Madison’s showmanship heifer and won grand champion.
Rosemary explains that cows and calves that aren’t being prepared for shows are managed in a rotational grazing system. Show heifers are kept in paddocks near the barn so the girls can work with them. During summer, cattle are kept cool with fans in the barn during the day and are turned out at night. The family attends about 20 shows each year, starting at the local and county level, then on to state fairs, the Regional Junior Hereford Show and the Junior National Hereford Show. Rosemary and Steve ensure that the girls miss as little school as possible, and appreciate the schools’ cooperation in allowing the girls to participate in shows.