Choosing a Show Heifer
It’s an exciting time of year. Time to pick out show heifers for the 2023 Commercial Dairy Heifer Show season coming up in January and February. It’s a big decision. Choosing wisely from the options dairy farmers have available will impact the season to come. Ultimately, this is a calf loan program and we are grateful for dairy farmers allowing us to borrow calves for several months, trusting us to grow them up and take care of them correctly. Some criteria to think about are below.
Commercial dairy heifer shows follow the rules set forth in the 2022-2023 Georgia 4-H and FFA State Livestock Shows Rules and Regulations book available at https://www.georgiaffa.org/docs/
Heifers shall meet the following requirements to be eligible:
A. Heifers must be born between March 1 and September 30, 2022.
B. Commercial dairy heifers may be of mixed dairy breed or any dairy breed that are not registered at the time of entry. The animal cannot be registered or shown as a registered animal through December 31st of the current year following the State Commercial Dairy Heifer Show.
C. Heifers weighing less than 250 pounds and more than 850 pounds at the time of weigh-in at the show will be disqualified and considered under or over-conditioned for their age.
D. All heifers must be dehorned. Heifers not dehorned will be disqualified.
A good place to start is finding the appropriately sized heifer to match the exhibitor’s size and experience. Although a student can succeed with any size heifer, a well-matched heifer and exhibitor flow together the best in showmanship, and more importantly contributes to a good or struggling experience for the student.
Earlier dates such as March and April will end up being the largest heifers, closer to the upper vs lower weight limits. These larger heifers are best suited to taller/larger exhibitors, those with prior show experience, or high school students. These heifers are taller and stronger, so older, more experienced students have better abilities to handle them. August and September heifers will be the smallest and more appropriate for smaller exhibitors or those in younger grades. This helps these exhibitors be less likely to be overpowered by their animals throughout the season. March 1st to September 31st is quite the range and offers many options for a variety of sized/experienced exhibitors.
Conformation, of course, is the main focus when separating one heifer over another. This is where dairy judging experience comes into practice! Some basic traits to watch out for are:
Tall/long for her age, with width through her chest floor and pins
Deep heart girth and rear rib with spring of rib
Clean through the throat, angular over the shoulders, and sharper in the hooks and pins
Well angled legs and feet that she tracks straight on
Of course, this is not a comprehensive list of what to watch out for! Refer to the resources at the end for more information on dairy conformation. Most of all you are looking for a healthy-looking heifer who will handle the clipping and rigors of the show season well.
One can’t overlook personality. Having a friendly heifer can be one of the most fun things about showing. Dairy heifers are known to be calmer, but they don’t come tame. Work must go into getting to know the heifer and gentling her. With the correct amount of effort, heifers’ tameness will level out and their personalities will shine even more. Still, it helps to identify the more skittish ones early, so pay attention to how the heifer responds to you as you look through the groups.
Finally, listen to your ag teachers or extension agents. They have years of experience in matching heifers with students and have developed an eye for what works and doesn’t. Also take in what the dairy farmer says. They know more about how their cows turn out than anyone else and they may have more knowledge about a heifer’s personality than you can get in a short visit.
There are many things that go into choosing a show heifer. Between size, conformation, personality, and recommendations, there are plenty of variables to consider. Choosing a show heifer can be overwhelming so hopefully this article helps explain criteria and never be afraid to ask for help from your teacher or the dairy farmer!
To learn more about dairy confirmation read:
University of Wisconsin heifer scorecard - https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/dairyyouth/files/2014/03/Heifer-Scorecard2011.pdf
University of Kentucky - https://afs.ca.uky.edu/livestock/dairy/judging
Holstein Foundation - http://www.holsteinfoundation.org/pdf_doc/workbooks/Dairy_Judging_Workbook.pdf
PDCA scorecard - https://www.holsteinusa.com/pdf/PDCA_Scorecard.pdf