The dairy cattle are coming back to Madison!

John Oncken
The commercial exhibits draw the crowd, the cattle shows draws the publicity and attention.

It started in 1967 as the World Food Exposition with its intended audience: the consumers of food and dairy products. There was big name entertainment and attractions galore to attract a crowd. 

But it didn’t happen, the halls were bare except for the dairy show held in the Arena building better known as a hockey rink than a show ring and the huge food displays were without lookers: The consumers didn’t come. 

It was the cows

After a lot of thought, the event leaders turned to dairy cattle as the key ingredient to attracting dairy folks and efforts were made to bring the failing World Dairy Congress from Waterloo, Iowa to Madison. 

”Pros” at work.

“The Iowa State Dairy Association first organized what was called Dairy Cattle Congress in 1910 in an effort to stimulate attendance at its annual meetings. The experiment was an immediate success. Lured by the prospect of seeing elite show cattle on display, more than 40,000 people attended that first year. Breeders exhibited more than 300 head,” according to the historical book ‘We need a Show'.

An inspired group of dairymen worked long and hard to make that happen. And it did. In 1969, the Dairy Expo cattle show was held in the new Coliseum for the first time, and the opening night banquet hosted 2,000 people. 

A sometimes miserable job is washing cattle especially on a cold morning.

Over 5 decades

In the 54 years of World Dairy Expo  many things have changed: from a ten-day event to the current five-day show running Wednesday through Saturday with the crowning of a Supreme Champion. New barns and other buildings including the Exhibition Hall join the iconic coliseum in holding events, animals, guests and vendors.

Will people wear masks? Will they even attend? I’d guess. yes.

The must attend

For decades World Dairy Expo has served as the forum for dairy producers, companies, organizations and dairy enthusiasts to come together to compete, and to exchange ideas, knowledge, technology and commerce.

As their vision states: World Dairy Expo is the must attend event for everyone in the global dairy industry.

Ready for the show ring.

Until last year, that is, when the pandemic closed Dairy Expo and nearly all other such gatherings of every kind, everywhere. The question now is: Will the people come back to view the commercial displays and cattle, especially in light of the fact that the pandemic is still ongoing as the virus is still alive and spreading.

In 2019, 1,642 owners exhibited 2,331 head of cattle from 34 states and 7 provinces.  A recent new change is that entries for the 2021 Dairy Cattle Show are exclusively online!  This transition allows exhibitors additional ease in managing entries and streamlines the late entry process. 

Bringing animals to World Dairy Expo is hard work what with the feed and supplies needed over about a week's time.

More than money

The online entry system opened July 1, 2021 and closed Sept. 6, 2021 with a fee ranging from $43 for a heifer calf to $50 for a cow but with a higher entry fee beginning September 7, 2021 ($100). Increased late fees will apply Sept.17 through the show ($250).

What about prize money? Do top animals get premiums?  A common question and the answer is yes. For example: a Brown Swiss heifer calf class has premiums ranging from $110 down to $10. A Five-year-old Holstein cow class has premiums ranging from $200 down to $60. 

The commercial exhibitors need crowds to make their displays money makers.

The exhibitor of the Supreme Champion – the top animal of all – also receives a $2,000 cash prize presented by BouMatic, of Madison, WI. In addition, a royal blanket that is draped over the grand champion is presented by Agpro, Inc ., Paris, TX, as well as a custom director’s chair presented by International Protein Sires, Rock Springs, WI.  

Although the premiums at Dairy Expo are higher than those in most dairy shows they do not begin to pay the costs of bringing an animal to and feeding and fitting it at the show. 

Again, it’s not the money. it is the dairy cattle and the honor and prestige of being among the “best of the best.”

John Oncken can be reached at or 608-837-7406.