This past weekend, we took three Brown Swiss heifers and a Brown Swiss cow to a small fair near us. This is the first time we’ve done a fair since our oldest daughter moved to college (she’s in a coop program with Rockwell Collins during the summer) so I was anxious to see how things would go. I was also anxious as our youngest daughter would be returned from Germany on early Thursday morning after a two week stay with her host family. That anxiety got ramped up a factor of 10 when she messaged us and said they were staying an extra night in Zurich because of “technical difficulties” on the plane. Her scheduled arrival time, midnight on Thursday.


In the meantime, I got two heifers trimmed up, found straw for this event, got the stuff needed for our couple of days (other than food, which my wife takes care of), and waited. She got home and to bed about 1:00 AM, was up at about 9:00 AM, and we were off. She trimmed the last heifer, we got the truck loaded except for a few things. We picked up the cow, got everyone up to the fair, bedded down, and all was good.

Until Saturday arrived. Our daughter started to show signs of fatigue as we walked into the barn at 7:00, not the 6:00 that she’d wanted. If we hadn’t woken her up, she’d have slept through the fair.


She finished fitting the heifers by 9:30 and got changed, but all ready complaining about being tired. The animals hadn’t been worked with much as she was gone a lot, so they were just as anxious as she was starting to be. Brown Swiss are some of the most docile creatures I’ve come across. When we got into this mess, we stalled next to a former student, Janice, who had a Brown Swiss cow aptly named “Tank”. She was ginormous in every sense of the work, yet, when Janice walked her, rarely was there any misbehavior.

Our animals, not so much.

We have a spring calf named Annabelle, and she just loves to run and jump and be a calf. Putting a halter on her is not hard, but leading her in the ring, keep her from dashing around, that was not easy! We have an almost yearling name Gertude, who’s comes from a good bloodline. The problem with her, she was never handled before we got her, and she’s real skittish. She’s gotten much better as we’ve done chore, pet her, and she’s seen our other heifer, Skittles, get petted and talked nice to. But, when you don’t work with your animals, it’s hard to show them as well. Skittles we had last year, and honestly, she acted like our 8th graders this year. One second she loved us, the next second she was dragging us down the barn and out the door! Then, there’s the cow, Ashia. She was shown last year as a “dry” cow, because she hadn’t calved yet, but this year, with her calf down the row a bit (Annabelle) we had to deal with a milking cow. She’s a very gentle soul, but as a heifer, she’s the only one we’ve had that I totally lost my temper. While Brown Swiss are very docile, they are known for locking their knees and not moving. My wife found me in a rage because of something she’d done, and just said, “Why don’t you take a break?”


So, Ashia’s milk production has been between 50 – 60 pounds per day, so the decision was made not to milk her from Friday afternoon to Saturday at noon to expand her udder and show her off a bit. Not the best idea of ideas, because it’s uncomfortable, and she let us know, in her own quiet way, she didn’t like it. She didn’t run like Annabelle or Skittle, moo incessantly like Gertuide, but she wasn’t happy. At the end of the cow show, she click our daughter’s ankle with her hoof, and tossed her head, knocking our daughter over. Now, we know this wasn’t done to harm our daughter (and our daughter’s handled larger animals than her), but it did cause everyone to gasp. To her credit, there were no tears in the ring, she righted herself, dusted off, and keep going.

After that, she went home and slept.

As we brought them back, I reflected on this event, and came up with a few things to relate back to school:

  • Your animal has to trust you. Your heifers won’t lead well if they don’t trust you and the feelings they sense in you. Your students, they won’t perform well if they don’t trust you, period. The behaviors go down as the trust grows!
  • As silly as it sounds, you have to build relationships early! Ashia, Skittles, and Annabelle, myself, my wife, and our daughter could lead them in the ring with little issue. We’ve worked with them, they know us, and they know we won’t hurt them on purpose. Gertrude, we are still working with her. After this fair, she trusts us so much more than she used to, but she needs to be on a halter every day. First day of school, build the relationships! It’s not a hard idea, but how many times have you seen the “I’m here to scare you” face the first day. No! Let them know you and trust you so you can work with them when it gets tough!
  • Work with your animals daily. My daughter just walked by me and I asked, “Which one are you getting and walking around?” Her response: “…………..” They won’t get better if you don’t work with them. Our students, they need your attention, daily. Sometimes, it’s just a good morning, a smile, a “nice job at the concert last night”, something to let them feel noticed.

It was a tough fair for certain, but it’s one day. Sunday, our daughter woke up, smiled, was in a good mood, and seemed to have left the nonsense of the previous day behind her. She’s got two, maybe three shows left this year. We’ll see if she gets out and works with her animals or if it’s a battle. Now’s the time to get better, not in the ring.

Either that, or my wife and I get to play “catch the heifer” again! 🙂