World Dairy Expo officially opened its doors on Tuesday, Oct. 1, but for many folks (including me) this was already the fifth day they had been on the event site at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
Of course the regulars, World Dairy Expo employees, superintendents and some volunteers were there earlier getting things ready for the 2500 dairy cattle, 600 commercial exhibits and the people that go with them, that would fill the coliseum, arena, nine dairy barns and assorted tents for the five days of the big show.
The dairy cattle and their handlers began arriving on Friday, got their papers checked, found their stalls in a designated barn and settled in for the eight days to come.
On Saturday and Sunday the flood of semis, trailers and pickups packed the entry road as the traffic gets serious and every vehicle and its load of cattle and people must stop to begin the check-in process and get barn and stall directions.
The barns, outside and inside, are crowded as straw and shavings fill the stalls (and air), stacks of 1000-pound hay and straw bales await movement inside, the barn aisles really aren't as yet, just a clutter of show boxes, fans, pails, suitcases, people and animals as things get moved, jockeyed and settled in place. The sound of electric drills, hammers and loud voices fill the air and one wonders how will this mess ever get organized in put in place.
Of course it does – and fast.
What might look like chaos to an outsider (who isn't there anyway), is better described as 'settling in." The groups of people involved, from young (really young) to the well seasoned (probably issuing orders) know what to do and how to do it and have no doubt done it before.
It doesn't take long for the cattle to get bedded, stalled, watered and ready for a rest after traveling maybe 10 miles or perhaps 1500 miles for an hour or two or a day or two or more.
Soon after 2 p.m. Sunday – the cattle registration deadline – the road in front of the arena check-in office is empty, the golf carts are parked, the line of folding chairs is empty, the action has moved elsewhere.
By Sunday night, quiet pretty much reigns in the barns. Yes, the wash racks are full, the show boxes and supplies for both human and beast are sort of in order, many of the cattle and herd signs are up or going.
Monday is a serious work day in the dairy barn – it's the "get ready day " for those who must be in the show ring at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday: Junior Holsteins; Aryshires and Milking Shorthorns. That means lines form at the wash racks and the sound the electric clippers is loud and never ending.
When the big show begins on Tuesday morning, it's five days of almost non-stop shows, sales, meetings, seminars and a raft of special events. Mixed in are the renewal of old friendships, meeting new people, seeing the latest in dairy technology and watching the best dairy cattle compete in the show ring and the crowning of the Supreme Champion dairy cow late Saturday.
You don't just bring a dairy cow to World Dairy Expo, you must make an official entry showing complete information (breed, registration, health info, class) and pay an entry fee that can range from $10-$35 depending on age of the animal and $100 if entered after Sept. 8.
Yes, you can recoup the entry fee by ranking high in the breed judging where class winners are awarded from about $75-$200 depending on breed and number of animals in the class. The highest individual winning animal prize is the $1500 the Supreme Champion is awarded.
Animal identity and health records are closely scrutinized by DATCP veterinarians, breed superintendents, volunteers and UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine students.
Perry and Dorothy Moyer, Whitewater, have attended World Dairy Expo since 1973, exhibiting their Moy Ayr Farm Aryshires and winning more than their share of championships. Although they sold their farm and herd a dozen years ago, they still own eight Aryshires and have two of them at this year's Dairy Expo.
The Moyers were seated in the sun, outside the dairy barn watching the younger generation of Moyers work on their Aryshires enjoying the afternoon and talking with passing friends.
"Dairy shows and Aryshire cattle are in our blood, we'll never quit," Perry says. "But I hear they are going to tear the barns down and build a big one, I'll miss sitting outside in the sun watching the Expo unfold."
Dan Kelly, Deerfield, a long-time Dane county Holstein breeder was nearby clipping a heifer – an Aryshire heifer.
"Isn't that the wrong color animal," I asked.
"Not really," Kelly explained. "I bought an Aryshire at the Moyer sale in 2001 and she did really well in the show ring, now half my herd is Aryshire. I like them."
A slow walk through a few dairy barns on Sunday enabled me to notice a few things –some old, some newer – that made me do some thinking .
· It appears that exhibitors are bringing a lot more equipment to the show each year: More and bigger show boxes, more fans, more bottles, boxes and pails, more of everything including people working on the show string.
· The plethora of "show tents" with what seems like more being erected each year. These 10x10-foot pop up tents are used to store animal and human supplies from show boxes to beds to refrigerators to food. Exhibitors pay a $250 fee for the right to erect these tents and an another $250 to put up a farm or family promotional display.
For sure these tents are very handy for exhibitors but they do take up a lot of space (each equivalent to about three stalls) and make it a bit difficult to see the rows of cattle.
· The great many college students (men and women) who work in the barns during Dairy Expo. Some are exhibitors, some are helping their family but many are working for the big show strings for money, experience and pure enjoyment.
Over the years many of these young people have told me how they feel sorry for the city kids who get in trouble because they have "nothing to do" without knowing the joys of clipping, washing and brushing cattle, forking manure and staying up all night with the show herd. "Not very romantic or exciting," a young woman student says, "But it will help me later when I have my own herd."
· The common bonds of "doing what I love and "loving what I do" that prevails among the fraternity of dairy exhibitors and families and the friendships that are made and last for life.
· Always learning new things that surprise me like meeting 16 year old Kailey Barlow, a high school sophomore from Scottville, KY, who says World Dairy Expo is her 33rd show this year with the Louisville show still to go. I'd never heard of anyone walking into a show ring that many times in one year. Now I have.
Indeed, World Dairy Expo has it all: New technology, great cattle, cutting edge information but most of all great people with interesting stories.
Hopefully you attended, if not, make it a must for next year. Mark it down!
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.