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Q&A with John Gribbon: Showing cows is key for dairy industry

John Gribbon, one of the judges at the National Show being held at the UK Dairy Day, has played an integral part in the Holstein society and the dairy industry as a whole, over the last 20 years, but fundamentally he is an exceptional dairy farmer. Louise Hartley gets his thoughts on the industry.


Born and bred on a dairy farm, John Gribbon started farming alongside his father, David who was herd manager for the Faham Holstein herd in Norfolk.


He went on to manage the Sharcombe herd, Somerset for 12 years and under his care, the herd was awarded the Gold Cup on three occasions.


When the herd was dispersed in the early 1980s it sold for a record sale average of £4,600, with a bull calf making 45,000gns and the highest priced female at 32,000gns, both of which were also record prices at time.


After joining Holstein UK in 1992 as a classifier, he went on to become breed development executive and head classifier for 14 years up until 2012. He now works as a freelance consultant.


Q: Does the world of showing bare any importance to commercial farming?


A: All farmers need somewhere to go to get away from the day to day grind of their daily job, and a show gives them that chance. It also provides the industry with a platform to connect with the public and get them on its side, says Mr Gribbon.


He adds there should be a national show in the UK for all of the dairy breeds, to showcase the best of British breeding to other Europeans.


“Canada, USA, Holland, Italy, France and Germany all have a national shows, where farmers flock to see the country’s best female and male lines, with many making breeding decisions based on what they learn and seen at these shows.


“We must not let those people who hate showing set the standards of the UK herd. I firmly believe that unless we promote our cows through top shows nobody will bother coming to the UK. We need to entice the world’s dairy farmers to our country, and look after them like they look after us.”


Q: Is the industry picking the right type of show animal to promote the Holstein breed for the future?


A: Most judges nowadays are selecting a more balanced cow to head their line-up, compared to the more extreme, taller show winners of the past, says Mr Gribbon.


When judging, he says he focuses primarily on udder and legs and feet. “In the show ring and the commercial markets, rear udder goes a long way towards a winner or a top price. I also penalise cows with straight legs.


“Judges need to pay more attention to width of front end and front legs which don’t turn out. Even if the cow is tall in stature, if she has faults, she must also be penalised – but a cow with good stature and no faults should be a big contender.”


There is curently a major problem with narrow calves winning shows, adds Mr Gribbon. “In order to tackle the stigma of Holsteins lacking width and power we must be confident the calves we are singling out as the best in the breed are real ‘cow makers’, with style, power and width.”


Q: What is your stance on show fixing and should it be tighter regulated?


A: Show fixing is a major problem, says Mr Gribbon, who believes the UK must go back to the European rules which most other countries adopt.


“We must be able to compete on a level playing field at the European shows or we don’t stand a chance on the world stage.


“Our societies must be vigilant in policing the rules at Dairy Day, as everyone will be taking note. We must make the rules are correct and not just target the few top men in the industry.”


Q: Is the UK dairy industry moving in the right direction?


“Supermarkets rule the prices, AI companies decide the bulls we use, genomics is the buzz word - so maybe we can blame them for the direction we are going in,” says Mr Gribbon.


“But breeding cows is not easy; the most important thing is to breed what you like to milk every day, not what somebody else wants.


“One thing is for sure, we can’t stand prices getting any lower, maybe French farmers have it right - sticking together and fighting for their living.


“We have some great, hard-working dairy farmers in this country, both pedigree and non-pedigree – if we could bottle their DNA I would be proud to sell it.”


  • Showed and milked cows for 35 years, winning more than 200 championships at all the major shows in the UK
  • Chairman of the European judging school committee and member of the World Holstein Friesian Federation’s classification committee
  • Judged at more than 150 shows including the national Holstein, Jersey, Shorthorn and Brown Swiss shows in the UK
  • Judged at shows all over the world, including Holland, Sweden, Kenya, Portugal, Hungary, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Czech Republic France, Azores, Romania, Estonia, Jersey, Argentina and Italy
  • Biggest honour is being the only person in the world to have judged both Black and White and Red and White Holstein at the 2011 European Holstein Show in Cremona, Italy, where 15 countries competed

 UK Dairy Day

  • When: Wednesday, September 17
  • Where: Telford International Convention Centre, Telford, Shropshire, TF3 4JH
  • Opening times: 9am to 5pm
  • Tickets: Available online until September 16 at £16 each, tickets on the day are £18 including car parking.
  • Car parking: Visitors in multi-storey car parks have to collect exit pass at UK Dairy Day entrance
  • Travel: Train station nearby, courtesy shuttle bus will operate
  • More information:
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