Don't Forget Quality Assurance While Preparing for Summer Fairs and Shows

Ms. Laurie Winkelman, Dairy Program Specialist, The Ohio State University

With the summer show season in full swing, youth throughout Ohio are washing, clipping, training, and showing dairy projects at many shows and county fairs. With sights set on the prized blue ribbon, youth diligently work in the moments right before the show blowing up toplines and fluffing tails. Besides those last minute details that give the finishing touch, exhibitors and youth must also keep quality assurance in mind, not only at the show, but during the entire project year.

Before the show

Success with dairy project animals and quality assurance starts long before the animal ever steps foot in the show ring. Proper care, nutrition, housing, and management of dairy project animals early in the year and throughout the spring and summer will all add to the success of the project. Though this article is a little late in the year to fully address proper care and management of project animals, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when working with dairy projects animals at home.

1. Provide clean, fresh water for your animals. Water is the most important nutrient for dairy cattle. Also, water is very important during hot weather to keep animals hydrated and prevent heat stress. Heat stressed animals do not perform to their best.

2. Ensure proper feeding and nutrition. Heifers easily gain weight and become 'too fat' for dairy shows, so youth and exhibitors must carefully monitor the nutrition program to keep animals at the desired condition. It is never acceptable to completely restrict feed from heifers or cows to make them lose weight.

3. Provide dry and clean bedding. Clean bedding not only keeps the animal healthier and cleaner, but also reduces the amount of scrubbing and washing the exhibitor needs to do!

4. Stay up to speed on health needs. Work with your veterinarian to ensure that vaccinations are up to date and health requirements are met. Many state and national shows have specific health tests that each animal must pass. Check the entry book for each show to make sure that the cattle will meet the health requirements. If antibiotics are given to an animal, be sure to carefully follow the instructions on the label.

At the show

All of the guidelines discussed above apply to care for animals at the fair, too. However, preparing for show day also brings more guidelines to attention. Though all exhibitors want their animals to look their best on show day, quality assurance must be kept in mind at all times.

Showing a milking animal presents some unique considerations for quality assurance. Taking cows to new places often affects their milk production and general contentment. Try not to disrupt the normal routine for the cow, and keep milking times as close to the regular herd schedule as possible. Always be sure to practice proper milking routines at the fair. Milking parlors at almost all fairs and shows are community parlors, with many cows from many different farms using them. Therefore, it is important to properly dip and disinfect teats and milking units to prevent the spread of mastitis organisms.

To make cows look their best, many exhibitors 'bag' their cows to make sure the udders are full of milk at show time. Overbagging can cause discomfort for the cow, increases the risk of mastitis, and displays a poor image for the public and the consumer. While cows can tolerate a little more than 12 hours of milk in their udders, it is best to avoid extremes when preparing your cow for the show and have no more than 18 hours of milk in a cow's udder.

Despite an exhibitor's best efforts to prevent sickness or health problems, it is not uncommon for heifers or cows to become ill at a show. If an animal becomes sick, have a veterinarian check the animal. If the veterinarian prescribes any medications, be sure to follow the instructions on the label, paying close attention to milk or meat withhold times.

More than just cow care

Above and beyond basic animal care at the show, exhibitors should also do their best to maintain a positive image for the dairy industry. For many people, a fair or show is the only place they see dairy cattle. Therefore, your display, actions, and animal care heavily influence the thoughts of those people. To keep a positive image for the dairy industry, follow these guidelines:

1. Keep the animals neat and clean. Picking up manure, having adequate bedding, sweeping aisles, and making sure the animals are fed and watered are essential to maintain positive perceptions about the dairy industry. Strive to keep the animals clean at all times.

2. Be courteous and well-behaved. It is important for exhibitors to dress appropriately when working with your animals at the fair. Avoid clothing with rips, holes, and tears. Also, if fair-goers have questions about the animals or the dairy industry, be sure to politely answer their questions. Excessive horseplay is strongly discouraged because it not only may scare the animals, but also does not put forth a good view for the public.

3. Have an educational exhibit. Sometimes a county or state fair is the only place people come into contact with dairy animals and learn about them. Educational displays are great tools to educate the general public. The display does not have to be elaborate and should be kept simple and clear. Besides the educational display, be sure to have a sign for each animal in your exhibit that gives the vital information about the animal, such as name, birthdate, sire, dam, and production records.

Ask yourself one question

Quality assurance in youth projects is a broad topic that extends beyond the show-ring. Defining what is right or wrong in dealing with project animals can sometimes be difficult. As you show your animals this summer, you can ask yourself one question to make sure you have the best interest of the public AND animal in mind. Ask yourself "Would the consumer of this product be upset if they knew about what I was doing?" If you say 'yes' to that question, you should find another way to manage or work with your animal. Consumer acceptance and production of high quality products should be the number one priority, regardless of whether you are taking care of 3 animals at a show or 300 cows in a herd at home.

After the show

Even after the show is over and the cattle return home, exhibitors still must keep quality assurance and animal health in mind. Cattle exhibited at fairs and shows come into contact with many animals from many different places and disease backgrounds. Though the cattle may not have signs or symptoms of a disease or problem after a fair, they could carry it home and risk infecting other animals in the herd. To prevent the potential spread of disease to the cows and heifers that stayed at home, it is a good idea to keep the show animals in a separate area for 3 weeks after they return home from the show. While this is not always easy to accomplish, exhibitors should strive to protect the health of all their animals.