Dairy Expo: before the show

John Oncken


It’s 2 p.m. Thursday, September 28, five days before the doors to World Dairy Expo (WDE) officially open on Oct. 3, but the Alliant Energy Center grounds are already alive with activity.

The grass lawn around the big globe always draws eaters munching grilled cheese sandwiches bought at the nearby  Badger Dairy Club.

The big Kuhn equipment display seems to be all in place in its traditional space between the dairy barns and Coliseum and other displays and tents in the big parking lot in front of the Exhibition Hall are ready for the crowds.

The first dairy cattle are expected to AGRI later in the afternoon, but the health inspection crew is already assembling at the health and breed superintendent office in the Arena building.

Health checks

It might surprise some that animal health is of major concern to World Dairy Expo and each animal must have current health papers. While Wisconsin has no specific paperwork or identification requirements for cattle moving within the state, the WDE requires that all Wisconsin cattle be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI or health certificate) documenting official animal identification.

Out of state animals must meet health testing requirements based on the animal’s state of origin, if there are problems with the paperwork, the animals will be moved to an isolation area until corrected health papers arrive.

Sheila McGuirk, (right) longtime Professor of Large Animal Internal Medicine and Food Animal Production Medicine instructs students  in the health inspection process.

A half dozen state and federal veterinarians along with student volunteers from the UW-School Of Veterinary Medicine check each animal as they arrive. One of the veterinarians involved was Sheila McGuirk, longtime Professor of Large Animal Internal Medicine and Food Animal Production Medicine at the UW.

“About 80 students volunteered, she says, noting that students earn one credit for serving two shifts. "And it’s great experience for them.”

Breed superintendents under the direction of Dairy superintendent Dave Bollig, Belleville also check each animal for registration papers and proper class entries.


Many trucks and trailers carrying tack, feed, and supplies for both cattle and caretakers  arrive in the barns prior to the cattle and begin setting up the stalls bedding and storing the supplies early on Thursday. (Note: It takes a lot of food and supplies for both cattle and humans over the course of WDE.)

Once the cattle are unloaded and  bedded they are ready for a rest, especially after a long trip. The barn crew begin  and often the owners who are there finish erecting  the display and putting up the name posters above each animal.

A slower time 

After the cattle are bedded, fed, watered and resting, the visiting begins and the owners and long timers wander around the barn meeting and greeting old friends.  Meanwhile many of the animals are washed and given a rough clip to begin the fitting process that gets more serious as show day draws closer.  Dairy cattle judging begins on Tuesday morning and ends late Saturday with he crowning of the Supreme Champion.

Washing calves after a long trip.

Big crews

A first time WDE goer walking through the dairy barns might wonder about the large number of people working with the cattle. True, but it takes people to keep the animals clean and comfortable, that’s why many of the larger herds hire workers for the duration of WDE.

One of the first people I met during a Friday barn visit was Jessica Pralle from Humbird.  Although I didn’t recognize her at first, she reminded me that she was the daughter of Scott and Pam Selz-Pralle. I was embarrassed, of course, because I have known her mother Pam since she was a child growing up at Selz Farms. Pam and her husband Scott now operate the 400-cow Selz-Pralle farm - one of the nation's top production and type Holstein dairies anywhere.

Jessica Pralle, Humbird, WI, took a week off from her job at ST Genetics to care for cattle at Dairy Expo.  Although she has exhibited at WDE for many years, she says, “I’m learning a lot working with the crew from Savage-Leigh Holsteins.

Jessica said she had graduated from the UW-Madison last May with a Dairy Science degree and is employed at ST Genetics where she is based in Green Bay, working as a large herd advisor.

Love it

But, like many dairy farm kids, she found it hard to get away from the cows.  “A friend told me of the opportunity to work at Dairy Expo for Savage-Leigh Holsteins a Knoxville,  MD, herd, Jessica says. “I do chores morning and night and help get the cattle ready for showing. I love working with cattle and this gives me a chance to work with real professionals and learn so much about the cows. And, I can stall my Jr. 3 year-old-cow that I’ll show in the Holstein Jr. Show, with the string.”  


A walk through the dairy barns at WDE offers the chance to see some 2500 dairy cattle and meet some of the 1700 or so exhibitors that own and care for them — each with their own story. 

The National Jr. Holstein show on Tuesday traditionally kicks off the show judging schedule at World Dairy Expo.

Everything for dairying

The 850 top companies from more than 28 countries in the WDE trade show provide an opportunity for producers to see cutting-edge technology and the latest dairy equipment. It’s an opportunity to talk one-on-one with leading researchers, technical experts and national sales representatives from around the world and see the latest technology  the dairy industry has to offer.

The 16 foot high bunker silo wall section in the Wieser Concrete exhibit is one of the biggest and heaviest  displays at World Dairy Expo.

Exhibitors began moving in the week prior to Expo bringing their displays from near and far. I’ve always been awed by Wieser Concrete’s ability to move 16-foot tall concrete bunker side walls and big sections of slatted flooring to their display. Same for the exhibits like Minnesota-based Udder Tech, Inc that sells everything from  calf blankets to waterproof bibbed overalls, aprons, pouches, jackets, pants and milking sleeves and on and on. How do they keep track and don’t they lose things? 

So much to see

I dare anyone to walk fast enough to visit the five locations scattered around the grounds and look at and understand the commercial exhibits in less than two or three days — especially if you stop to talk or maybe have a grilled cheese sandwich or an ice cream cone.

Won’t know

Non dairy folks will not even know what they are looking at, even if they were raised on a dairy farm. Robotic milking, sexed semen, computerized feeding programs, freestall barn construction and modern manure handling are relatively new and rapidly changing areas of technology that today’s dairy farmer must deal with. 

Some exhibitors will be offering relatively unknown technology that may go on to become revolutionary in dairying. You don’t need to understand it all but rest assured, everything will be aimed at less labor, less expense and/or more profit.

I know that I will see things that are new, different and maybe that I won’t understand.  But, they will no doubt be interesting. The commercial exhibitors spend a lot of time effort and money to show their goods and services to the industry that has continued to include increasing numbers of foreign visitors. 

i look forward to seeing the show and next week I’ll tell of the new, different and interesting. See you there! 

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or e-mail him at