Two young girls arrived with their parents and other extended family at the All-American Dairy Show held recently in Harrisburg, PA, and knew they’d be spending a lot of time working hard to prepare cattle for the show. The young girls, 11-year old Madisyn Wright and her 9-year old sister Bailey, were with their parents Nicole and John Wright, who farm in Dekalb Junction, NY.
John says a dairy calf started his love for the dairy cattle industry. “I won a 4-H calf through an essay contest when I was eight years old and have never steered away from interest in purebred dairy animals,” he said. John’s wife Nicole grew up heavily involved in FFA, winning the American Star Award and participating in large dairy judging contests such as those held at Louisville and Madison.
Rather than operating a full-scale dairy, the family specializes in producing heifers. “We might milk a cow or two at home, but we have mostly heifers on the farm,” said John, adding that they have about 20 animals. “Nicole and I are strong believers in ‘less is more’. We can do a super job with 15 or 20 head. A friend takes the fresh heifers and milks them on his farm.”
Since the heifers are fed a carefully designed ration for optimum development, the Wrights’ main crop is hay. Each year, they make small bales on about 100 acres or mixed grass. They’re able to get two cuttings each year. “There’s a lot of protein in the grain we feed, so we need nice quality dry hay,” said John. “Something that’s a little coarser for the rumen. Making small bales is hard work, but I wouldn’t want to raise our girls any other way. I think they appreciate things a lot more when they have to work.”
This year, the Wrights started making hay about the second week in June so the damp spring wasn’t a problem. “We had all the first cut done by the end of June,” said John. “Second cut is done later because we don’t want to put up high-protein second cut hay.” John explained he prefers drier, lower quality hay that won’t upset heifers’ digestive systems, and that he doesn’t feed as much second cut because he wants the heifers to have lower quality, late first cutting to balance the high protein concentrate.
In addition to a carefully planned feeding program, there’s a lot that goes into sire selection for well-bred dairy animals. Both John and Nicole are seasoned sire selectors and strive for optimum desirable traits in each calf. Their ultimate aim is to produce an animal that is a good phenotypical reflection of its genotype. John realizes that’s a goal that he must continually strive for.
“I give my two cents and she gives hers, and we meet in the middle,” said John, explaining how he works with Nicole in selecting sires. “First service Brown Swiss heifers are bred with sexed semen. For Milking Shorthorns, sexed semen isn’t available, so we use a lot of breeder bulls; bulls that come from herds we know. We use a lot of Marjorie Kuszlyk bulls. That bloodline always breeds true so we try to use a lot of their genetics.”
John believes the dairy industry is doing a good job of producing animals whose outward appearance and performance accurately reflects the careful selection of bulls. “Genomics is going to be around for a long, long time,” he said. “DNA doesn’t lie, and cows don’t lie. We as breeders create what they are today. An animal that we feel is too ‘dairy’ is bred to an old-school bull that has power and strength. Whether it’s feet and legs or udder, or whatever, Nicole and I try to pick two things we want to fix and focus on those traits.”
The most important trait John breeds for is good udders, followed by type. “We want feminine females,” he said. “With genomics and the reliability of youngsters, we can use a bull early; one that people haven’t found yet. That’s a genetic advantage.”
When it comes to preparing animals for the show ring, John and Nicole and their daughters work together. “I do the filling and the bagging,” said John. “I clip the heads and necks, and Nicole does the rest of the clipping. If an animal isn’t clipped properly, it makes a difference. When you see animals in a class, the ones that are fitted nicely stick out.”
Both Olivia and Madisyn participated in showmanship at the All-American; a huge contest that included 150 participants in their age division. Both girls made the finals, and Madisyn was named Champion Breed Showman for Milking Shorthorn for the third consecutive year. Madisyn’s winter yearling Milking Shorthorn heifer, Hillholm Liriano Daydream EXP, has won numerous junior championships and should prove to be an outstanding producer.
“It’s a good learning experience,” said John, showing enthusiasm for youth involvement in dairy showing. “Dairy kids tend to be very responsible for their age. We get excited when youth are excited. We are youth-oriented, and we’ll help any child we can.”