By Tom Collins
VAUGHAN — The secret to owning a winning cow is to not be focused on one aspect of the cow but to look at the overall conformation.
That’s the advice of some of the perennial winners of Ontario dairy shows.
“It’s really all about her conformation, from the tip of her nose to her the tip of her rump,” said Ari Ekstein of Quality Holsteins at Vaughan. “Some (qualities) are more important than others for sure, but if you’re looking for the one that has the chance to win, truthfully, she can’t have very many faults at all.”
Ekstein, who has co-owned the grand champion at the Spring Discovery Show for the past five years, said his show cows are taken care of differently once show season approaches. They are kept in separate pens, washed three to four times a week and fed a different diet.
“Part of trying to develop a great show cow is making sure she has the depth necessary to give her the balance in the show ring,” Ekstein said. “That cow will be fed more hay than the normal herd and, at times, will be fed a little bit different protein to make sure that she milks well and does put extra weight on. The most important thing is that she has a good appetite and a will to milk so she gets full of feed and she gets full of milk.”
Ekstein said he has a large network of people throughout Canada, some of whom have an eye for cows. If someone sees a cow he thinks is special, Ekstein will get a call and go have a look. While he has purchased many cows that turned out to be winners, he has also bred champions as well. Quality BC Frantisco was a home-farm bred winner named grand and supreme champion at the 2004 and 2005 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
“Our goal is to own and show the best,” he said. “So we would prefer to breed the best but sometimes we have to go out and buy them.”
Ekstein, who co-owns the majority of his show cows with Beckridge Holsteins at Keswick, Ont. and Agriber Societa Agricola SRL of Italy, along with Oscar Dupasquier at Guleph, Ont., said that a good leadsperson is important to success but “can’t take a bad cow and make her good.”
Herb Henderson, of Hendercroft Holsteins at Ashton, southwest of Ottawa, has been a perennial winner at Eastern Ontario/Western Quebec Championship Show, winning the premier breeder banner 12 times.
Henderson estimated that up to 95 per cent of the cows he shows are home bred.
“It probably boils down to, a lot of times for us, certain families tend to produce the cows we end up showing,” he said. “More extreme in their frames and more extreme in the quality of their udders.”
Henderson milks in a tie-stall, but as show season approaches, he segregates heifers from the rest of the herd and also changes the feed. The show cows are let out of the barn for a few hours each day to get more exercise. He figured he probably spends a couple of hours a day on show cows during the season.
March calves are still babies, and “you’re kind of star gazing and hedging which one you think might have potential. You can only do so much. As long as she’s uddered properly and her body’s filled properly, the judges assess that. They have to be made right. You can bring out their qualities, but you can’t do miracles.”