Taking home the Supreme Champion Calf, Cow and Heifer awards, Blue Heaven Farm in Stanley, NY had a great time at the recent Ontario County Fair. Shown by Samantha Smithling, Emmett Smithling and Zoey Richwalder, a Newark youth who leased a Blue Heaven animal, the farm proved that you don’t have to be big to win big.

Kort Smithling, owner of the farm and father of the Smithling children, calls his operation a “hobby farm gone wrong” because “it probably costs me way more than a hobby farm should.”

He keeps 25 heifers and calves and 10 milking or dry cows at his place and 20 milking cows at a nearby farm. He also raises 45 acres of dry hay and maintains three acres of pasture.

So why farm? “That’s how I was brought up,” Smithling said. “My father was a large animal vet. We always had cows growing up. It teaches a lot of responsibility and work ethic and that’s how I want my kids raised.”

He calls showing animals “utter enjoyment.” “It’s what we like to do. We like going to different fairs and shows. The people we get to meet are some of the most down-to-earth, honest people. That’s the type of people I want my kids around,” he said.

He showed animals at county fairs while he was growing up, but he joked that he “drags” his kids all over the country to regional events, the New York State Fair and the World Dairy Expo. To level up to that kind of competition, he decided to improve his herd.

Blue Heaven Farm shines at Ontario County Fair

Samantha Smithling snuggles with one of her show animals at the Ontario County Fair in Canandaigua, NY. Photo by Deborah J. Sergeant

“When my kids started getting into it, we had homebred animals for years and they were of decent quality,” Smithling said. “But I decided if my kids wanted to do it, they’d have more passion if they had more success. We bought into a few cow families that had standout individuals. The kids enjoy it now. I’m not saying we have to win anything, but it’s a lot of fun when you’re in the conversation. It makes marketing a lot easier.”

The family participates in two Brown Swiss sales a year as well as private selling of show animals.

Showing helps promote the farm, as “every class you place well in goes on the pedigree and gains more attention to the animal you’re trying to market,” Smithling said.

His best advice for selecting an animal to show is to pick one from a family that has demonstrated generations of success.

“Typically, a true breeding cow family will continue that if you use the right bull,” he said. “It’s easy to say ‘Pick the big one,’ but if she’s ugly, she’s ugly.”

The family begins preparing to show months in advance. The animals receive special grain and other supplements compared with the non-show animals. They also break the animals to halter and gain experience in being led well before show time.

“We try not to skip a day on any of these show animals,” Smithling said. “We try to clip them a couple times before we show them to promote a healthy-looking hide. We wash them several times before we ever get them to a show.”

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant