Today’s show cows are commercial cows and it is something every dairy farmer should have at the forefront of their mind when they are watching show class judging.
That is the opinion of breeder and showman Mark Nutsford, of the Riverdane Holstein herd, Cheshire.
He says: “Show cows are now coming into the ring straight out of life in cubicles and they go back into cubicles after the show.
“They are cows which have been bred for type as well as for production, but first and foremost they are cows which are earning a living as commercial milkers – and anyone leaning on the side of a show ring must never forget that.”
He believes after the initial success of the inaugural UK Dairy Day, this year’s event will be a great opportunity for commercial dairy farmers to see the real benefits of breeding for type as well as for milk.
“When you look at the average yields of some of the top show cows they are way above what a lot of commercial cows are giving – and they are achieving it from being run within commercial herds.
“For a long time dairy farmers have been brainwashed into believing they need the wrong type of cow – a cow which simply milks. They end up buying lower-priced semen from bulls which are high on production but low on type. High production bulls are 10 a penny, but using them is a short-term saving because ignoring type means jeopardising longevity and ultimately lifetime production.
“Semen from bulls with high type and high production will cost more but will produce the balance and the longevity that is so important,” says Mr Nutsford.
With no shortage of show cows giving up to 15,000 litres – and two cows in the UK currently heading towards lifetime yields of 200 tonnes – he says this level of production is clear proof of what can be achieved from cows which are kept commercially but have also been bred for type traits.
The Riverdane herd, run by Mr Nutsford and his wife Sue, has shown a host of top Holstein cows over the years and stood grand champion at this season’s Western Spring Show with Riverdane Talented Rose. They also took the intermediate and junior titles on the same day.
So when Mr Nutsford moves into the centre of the ring as a judge what is he looking for in a modern show cow?
“I want balance, width, good udders, good legs and feet, and plenty of dairy character,” he says.
“And whether you are a breeder who shows or a commercial milk producer, that is what we all want.”
He says the ‘tall and narrow’ Holstein is a thing of the past.
“But there are still a lot of commercial cows being milked which are narrow and do not have the strength of functional traits needed for profitable production.”
As the cost of producing milk comes in for intense scrutiny in every herd, breeding cows which will last longer has never been more important.
But Mr Nutsford says commercial milk producers must never forget profitable milk production is about having cows which can convert feed into milk as economically as possible.
“Forage and cereal by-products remain the cheapest inputs so it makes sense to breed strong, capacious cows with the ability to cope with these feeds.”
“It is imperative commercial milk producers start to recognise the financial value of using bulls which will improve the type and functionality of their cows.
“And there are some very interesting results to be published later this year by Holstein UK which will show the massive correlation between high type and production,” he says.