Arrival of cattle signals the start of World Dairy Expo

John Oncken
The ID signs and farm signs are among the first jobs in getting the stalls ready.

If you want to see over 2,000 contented dairy cows and heifers, you should tour the dairy barns at World Dairy Expo. (The dates are Oct. 3-7). You’ll see cattle and their owners and handlers buzzing around spreading straw, filling feed buckets, putting up signs and doing all the hundreds of other things to get the cattle ready for the show ring while the cows are calmly and patiently watching.

The 2,000 plus registered dairy cattle traveled to Madison for the seven breed shows held throughout the five days. They began arriving by the trailer load or in a pickup or semi, four days before World Dairy Expo actually kicked off. 

They came with loads of supplies: feed, straw, equipment ranging from forks to brooms to show boxes full of everything needed to prepare for the show ring. That means clippers, scissors, shoe polish, blankets and concoctions of many sorts to make the calf or cow the most beautiful she ever was.

What do they think?

Do the cows and calves understand why they made a trip from their home barn to Madison, by trailer or truck to be brushed, washed and put on display in a strange place called the Alliant Energy Center?

Do they realize that one day during the week they will be led into a big hall called the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and walk around and around in the colored shavings with a bunch of other animals and a judge watching their every move, with perhaps 100 or even 5,000 people looking on?

Lots of bedding for cattle comfort and to keep cattle clean.

Do they wonder why they are being milked with a bucket milker or in a strange milking parlor run by a bunch of young people they've never seen before?

No one knows for sure  

The cows don't say much — but they do most certainly seem to enjoy the pampered life they are leading. And, there are those who say that these animals are like top level athletes who just love to get into the show ring and compete.

Not alone                

Of course, these elite animals didn't come to Dairy Expo by themselves. Each has an owner and caretakers who spend much time, effort and money to be in Madison by Oct. 1 and won't leave until Oct. 7th after the Supreme Champion is crowned.


Every dairy cattle owner may have a slightly different reason(s) for coming to World Dairy Expo. But, they all recognize that this is the U.S. and Canada Show of Shows, the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Final Seven of the dairy competition, (No, dairy animals from other countries are not competing because of very tight animal health regulations.)

Cattle judging morning to night for five days at Dairy Expo.

Diverse owners

A walk through the barns at World Dairy Expo will show the diversity of dairying: Big and small operations, multi-generation family farmers and industrialists new to the business; grandpas and high schoolers all devoted to dairy cattle. It is a sight to see. 

Cattle and Technology

But remember, World Dairy Expo is really two events running side by side: the cattle show and the commercial exhibit trade show (Oct 4-7). Why such a huge trade show, one might ask? Because dairying is diverse. There are the commercial dairy farmers who milk cows only to make milk. They may never exhibit a dairy animal in a show ring, except for maybe a 4-H animal or two. They attend Dairy Expo to see the products and technology offered by the 700 commercial exhibitors that can help them to more profitable dairying. They make up the bulk of the nations dairy herd.

The Trade show offers visitors an opportunity to consult with dairy tech companies.

Then there are the farmers who maintain registered dairy herds for milk and for genetic improvement. They raise cattle that are judged by milk production, appearance and the ability to transmit these values to future generations. They bring their best dairy animals to Madison to compete in the show ring, to advertise their animals and to seek future sales and perhaps buy genetics for their herd. 

World Dairy Expo indeed has it all: the cattle and the ever-increasing technology to help make dairying profitable. 

See you there!

Reach John F Oncken at