Against all odds: Subliminal’s journey to Star of the Breed

Britta Wellenstein
University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine
Tom Cull exhibits Subliminal at the American Royal livestock show.

Tom and Kelli Cull knew Subliminal would be an excellent cow when they saw her exhibited as a three-year-old at a Holstein show in 2012.

For the ten years the Culls have had her on their Wisconsin farm, she has proven to be just that: exceptional. Most recently, Subliminal was named the 2021 Star of the Breed, capping off over a decade of wins and achievements.

The Star of the Breed award recognizes a registered Holstein cow that exemplifies milk production and breed standards. It’s an extraordinary honor in its own right, but two things make Subliminal’s win especially significant.

First, at 13 years old, Subliminal is the oldest cow to receive this recognition. And second, getting to this point came with bumps in the road.

Soon after the Culls purchased Subliminal in 2013 and brought her to their Budjon Farm in Lomira, Wisconsin, Subliminal took a fall and dislocated her hip. The Culls immediately transported Subliminal to the UW School of Veterinary Medicine’s teaching hospital, where Shelia McGuirk, then a professor (now retired) of large animal medicine administered treatment with her surgery colleagues.

“Her prognosis was low when she went into the hospital,” Kelli recalls. But in the days and months following, the Culls saw Subliminal handle her extensive care and healing with calmness and strength.

After surgery, Subliminal remained in a sling for 90 days. Then she spent the rest of the year with hobbles on her legs to limit movement.

Only a year after her fall, Subliminal returned to dairy competitions.

“It was a combination of amazing staff at the hospital and Subliminal’s calmness that helped her heal as well as she did,” Kelli reflects.

In 2015, Subliminal won Supreme Champion of the World Dairy Expo Junior Show — the top honor at this world-class cattle show in Madison.

“Seeing her out there as if nothing had ever happened, her mobility unquestioned, it was a magical moment for all involved in her journey thus far” Kelli told Holstein Association USA’s magazine, The Pulse. “Subliminal definitely beat all odds.”

Subliminal’s strength only continued to grow as she went on to win more awards in the years following while continuing to breed and calf.

Last year, Subliminal received an EX-97 rating. This rating is among the highest for dairy cattle, meaning Subliminal is unmatched in her milk production, reproductive power, and muscular and fat build characteristics.

Subliminal’s story — her performance in competitions and her resilience throughout her life — has touched others worldwide and gained her a devoted fan following.

The Culls continue to bring cattle to UW Veterinary Care and are grateful for the expertise in supporting Subliminal and their entire dairy herd.

“We are blessed to work with the vet school,” Kelli says. “We are always very appreciative of what the vet school does.”

This article appeared in On Call - University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine magazine