Dairy Judging Team Makes Trip to Switzerland

Dairy Judging Team Coach and Dairy Program Specialist, Bonnie Ayars, shares her thoughts on the Dairy Judging Team's trip to Switzerland.

The experiences of the last few months has brought me to  a unique twist on the theme of “being thought of.” 

Prior to the contest at Madison, one of the last quotes I shared with the OSU team was that “luck is what happens when skill runs out.” Little did I know or understand how those words would come back to us as we won by one point.

Promise fulfilled

Just days earlier, I had casually promised that if they were victorious, we would take them on their dream trip to Switzerland. As luck would have it, New Generation Sires was taking their trip to the home of Brown Swiss once again the end of November. 

You may call it luck, fate, divine intervention or the power of a promise, but we managed the trip and have returned with all sorts of tales and memories. Our journey lasted seven days and we never found a dull moment or time to rest. We were too busy being caught up in the culture, the cows, and the cuisine of Switzerland. 

Farm visits

Under the direction and contacts of Dan Gilbert (New Generation Sires), we visited 14 farms, the Swiss Breeders bull stud, a major heifer sale with a top of $24,000, and a phenomenal cow show attended by over 1000 people. 

Our eyes and ears were wide open and receptive to the breeders, their farms, their management styles, and their incredible hospitality. At farms, pedigrees rolled off of their tongues rapidly and with pleasure. Cows were paraded before us and almost every farm had their cows “bagged” and ready for the presentation. 

We were in awe of youthful udders, high and wide rear udders, and cows that were aging beautifully with over 10 lactations and bred back. We could hardly believe what we were observing and hearing as our interpreter (Werner from Swiss Genetics) translated their language. 

After the visit, food and strong coffee was offered as we warmed our hands and souls with their genuine enthusiasm and honor that we had come to visit their herds. We exchanged the universal, non-verbal communication of smiles and handshakes. 

Swiss farm life

 Herd sizes varied from 20 to 50 cows and if you were in that upper range, the farm was considered commercial. Government subsidies offered much to support their lifestyle in a country where agriculture is serious business. Older homes were attached to the barn and newer ones may have set off by themselves. 

The standard Swiss chalet was built to support lots of snow and was generally three stories. Each story of their home was for a different purpose. 

A highlight of our adventure was to be invited into a home (a newer one) for an evening of food and fellowship. With hearty appetites, we were entertained and the language barrier was conquered through our meal and common experiences. 

Mountain trek

One of our trips took us a mile high up into the mountains where it was snowing and yet down in the valleys, grass was green. There were narrow roads and homes were dotted along the country side. Winding roads provided interest and some scary moments. 

Cows are revered and such a part of the country’s traditions. Many make their way into the mountains for the summer months and this milk becomes a part of the Alpine Cheese. The trek up and down is celebrated with the everyday cow bells. 

Cow bells earned at shows are usually on display in a barn’s special room where guests are invited and entertained. Every farm had a slightly different interpretation and style of how this hospitality/office area was located and used. 

We were also amazed to view how animals, of all ages, were housed in one barn. Calves and cows were easily viewed in different areas of a central barn. 

Cow show

The glamour of a cow show completed our trip. Our group was honored to be hosted as VIP guests. We sat at special tables on the arena level and throughout the course of the show, we were served a meal, snacks, “beverages,” and desserts. 

Prior to the show, the young judge came over and exchanged some banter with us. We had already met him at his farm. Although he would give all his reasons in his language, we cordially teased him about how close we would listen to pick up his terms. Can you imagine how special we felt?

At this show, there were no heifer classes, only cows. Birthdates were not the determining factor, but the number of lactations was how animals were entered. They ranged from one lactation up to a class of 10-11 lactation cows. 

Each canton could send an entry for each class and those were nominated, inspected, and approved prior to the show. There were no more than 15 animals per class and the ring was crowded once they all entered. The ambience and display was impressive and they were just as serious and passionate as the American show “warriors.” 

Being thought of

There is so much to share, but let me go back and use that theme of “being thought of.” 

These travelers of the next generation received this gift in so many ways. Donations came from AI groups, individual businesses, local hometown support, judging team alumni, and our Animal Sciences department here on campus. We were and are blessed with support and respect.

 Just like that centuries-old newspaper column that assured Virginia there was a Santa Claus, the giving spirit lives on for this very fortunate OSU dairy judging team. It is in the hearts and souls of our contributors, our followers, and our families who believed in these four kids and every young person who dreams of being on a winning team.