World Dairy Expo #53: a winner again

John Oncken

The 2,300 or so dairy cows and heifers that made the trip to Madison for World Dairy Expo are back in their own barns by now, eating their own hay and drinking the water from the farm well that they were accustomed to. They are probably telling each other that it was nice to be home again, off that bouncing truck and drinking that treated Madison water.

Same for the company sales representatives, some who came from New Zealand who on a 15-hour airplane flight, stood for hours in the company exhibit and then another 15-hour return flight.

Although most commercial exhibitors did not travel that far, shows are always tiring: It’s the before-Expo booth erection, five days of standing and talking, then taking the exhibit down and getting it ready for the next show.

Everyone from the cattle exhibitors to company reps probably needed a day or two of rest after the five-day event. Although the big Expo dairy show is lots of work that we as attendees never think about, most everyone involved will get rested up and many (people and cattle ) will be raring to go to the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto and the North American Show in Louisville, (both in November) and the 2020 Dairy Expo.

Resting for the long ride home.

Although I’m just guessing that the attendance at this year’s Dairy Expo was rather high. (Official count was 62,240) I know that bad weather brings local farm families to Madison because they can’t be in the fields, thus take a day off to see the show.


My reasons for attending Dairy Expo remain as they have been for many years: To talk with people to get a true picture of dairying as it is now and maybe as it will be in the future.

What’s new

Curiosity seems to be the driving force for many: What's new in the dairy biz? Active farmers want to see the latest products, services and equipment even though those I talked with were not in a buying mood, “No, we’re just looking, we don’t have any extra money right now” was the common answer to the question “are you looking to buy?" that I often asked.

A long, long line at the Badger Dairy Club food tent, even in the rain.

Robots maybe

A second response offered by several farmer friends was “But, I want to learn more about robotic milking. I think that’s where the future of dairying is.” Many, if not most, dairy farmers have investigated robots to some extent, many have visited robotic milking dairies and some came to Expo to talk to the companies selling robots.

A smaller dairy producer explained that perhaps robots would allow him to add more cows – enough to bring a son into the dairy operation down the road without hiring outside help. He had read about the Hinchley family at Cambridge who had installed four robots in planning for their daughter to join the farm in a couple of years.

Always milk price

Of course, the milk price came up in most every conversation with both producers and commercial sales people. And there was a flicker of optimism in their voices as they mentioned the $18.31 Class III (cheese-milk) price announced October 2nd, that's 71¢ more than August's price and $2.22 higher than September 2018 and is the highest base price since the $21.84 of November 2014. (Note the record price of $24.60 was set two months prior.)

“Yeah,” a friend commented, “you know what that means – all the big farms will add cows and we’ll have more milk.” Maybe small farms too, I added. “You’re probably right,” he said. “Isn’t that always how it goes?”

Curiosity also prompts many retired or never-have-been dairy producers to want to see where dairying is now and where it's going. The retirees are amazed at how milking cows is so different than just a few years ago and the never-beens are just confused by what they see.

Demonstrating the Tailwell.

As go the farmers

I asked two friends at their animal nutritional products exhibit how their business was going. “You know the answer John. We do only as good as our customers – the farmer – is doing. But we’re here to show our support for the farmer and to be here for them.”


Steve Dvorak, head of DVO, Inc. Chilton, is the leading installer of anaerobic manure digesters in Wisconsin but has not installed any here in several years. Meanwhile, some states and countries are rapidly moving to assist farmers to install digesters. Some years ago the power companies in Wisconsin paid farmers a premium for the electricity they produced and put in the system. That premium aided farmers in their upfront costs, but that premium is long gone, as the utilities find cheaper electricity elsewhere. From the number of visitors to the DVO booth it’s apparent the subject is still very much alive in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, Dvorak and DVO have installed digesters in Australia, Serbia and South Africa among other countries and in Indiana and California, where governments see manure digesters as an answer to many manure and environmental issues.

What’s new?

There were dozens of new companies and new products at Dairy Expo, most of which I didn’t see or maybe didn’t recognize but one that impressed me (and it might be only new to me) was the “Tailwell titanium” cattle tail trimmer that comes from New Zealand. It’s a small circular clipper powered by your power drill. The cow tail is stuffed into the clipper which is moved up the tail and “zip!” the long hair is clipped and gone. The company brochure cites a rate of 250 tails clipped in 45 minutes.

My guess – it’s a response to the now-frowned-on tail-docking aimed at keeping dirty tails away from the cows, people and milk. Seems like a good idea. See tailwell.com for information.

Watching the Holstein judging.

Biggest crowd

As always, the Holstein cow judging on Saturday drew the biggest crowd to the Coliseum over the five days of judging. Much of the lower deck seating was filled as the judging took over the entire floor. Many stayed for the Supreme Championship judging, won for the second year in a row by the big and beautiful Cutting Edge T Delilah owned by Ken Main and Kenny Jo Manion of Copake, New York.

Delilah was sold on Sept. 4 at the Elite Dairy Farm sale in New York for a reported $210,000 by owners Peter Vail and Ken Main who remains a part owner.

Something for all

The 2019 World Dairy Expo indeed had something for everyone: They saw the new and remembered the old; met old friends and made new; ate cheese sandwiches after standing in line in the rain on Saturday; enjoyed volunteering as so many did and had a good time.

I’m always impressed how a show called the World Food Expo started and failed 53 years ago and rose from nothing to be the one and only World Dairy Expo. Thanks to those who believed, acted and succeeded.

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-572-0747, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.