Passion, guidance yields dairy championship title

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I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with a fine young man by the name of Ryan Lewis, a 22-year-old dairyman. 

He has the distinct honour of winning the EastGen Challenge for 2018, becoming the Grand Champion Showman. 

You might ask what this challenge is all about, well I will tell you.

The challenge has to do with cattle, dairy cattle in particular. 

Ryan has put a lot of work into producing and training a winning beast. He has been into showing dairy cattle since he was a boy of just 12 years old. 

He has been guided by not only his love of dairy cattle but by the expertise given by his Uncle Colin Walker and Auntie Tanya Walker. 

He has spent many hours on their dairy farm helping with the daily care and milking duties. 

Colin and Tanya have run the 4-H section of dairy cattle during the summer months to a legion of kids wanting to be involved with the farming experience, even if they don’t live on a farm themselves. 

Ryan got involved with 4-H and even won Top Senior Showman at the Collingwood fair and got quite far at the Royal Winter Fair.

The training of a show calf starts when the calf is only three months of age. By the time the animal has reached 16 months, it has much experience in the show ring. 

It isn’t just the animal that is on the testing grounds though. The exhibitor has to be in top show form as well. There is a required uniform, usually a white shirt, white cap and black pants with safety footwear (it hurts if you get stepped on by a few hundred pounds of cattle beast). 

The show cattle get used to being shampooed and blow-dried (the coat has to shine and sit the right way), brushed and clipped to highlight the body features that are being judged. 

Things that the judges look for are: confirmation (how the animal is standing, and yes there is a stance that is required for show), nice straight back (no sway backs), a long neck (all the better for the stance), nice straight legs, and big expanding ribs. As the dairy animal gets older and is female, the udder and milk vein play an important part in the judging process. 

When Ryan is showing, his day usually begins around 3 a.m., a good bath for the show animal, touch up clipping and blow drying. Tails are fluffed and back combed just enough to look lovely and full. Every part of the animal must be kept spotless. Show animals are fed a wholesome diet to keep them healthy. Signs that an illness might be brewing are coughs, cold ears, snotty noses and trouble walking. If an animal shows up with any of these symptoms, generally checked over by the resident veterinarian, they are not allowed anywhere near the show grounds. It is a very serious and competitive business. 

Market value for these dairy cows can be anywhere from $1,500 (very young calf who shows promise for a great milking career) up to $1.3 million. Animals that are in that price range will be bred and the DNA cultivated to pass on to other high-end cows.

So what is next for Ryan? Well, he now has a herd of 11, some are milkers and some are just calves. His winning heifer, Zadie, is going to be a mother in March, so much excitement in what kind of off spring she will produce. 

Ryan exhibits in at least six fairs and shows in the show season, the furthest away being in Ancaster. 

Not only is Ryan busy with his herd of cattle and helping his Auntie and Uncle on the farm, he also attends business school and works part-time at Hanna Ford in Stayner, a busy young man to say the least. 

When I asked Ryan what he thought 4-H did for him, he replied, “A sense of what hard work means and that you have a responsibility to the animals that are in your care.” 

As with any competition, whether it be for sports or animal exhibitions, there is a huge commitment involved not only from the competitor but also from the people who help train and guide the participant through all the dealings of competing. 

Some of the biggest challenges are the costs involved in getting to the shows and accommodations. 

We have several sponsors in the area, Hanna Ford, Steer, Lewis Motors, Huron Tractor and Town and Country, just to name a few. 

If your business would like to help with a sponsorship to the 4-H or any other program, please contact me and I will put you in touch with the appropriate parties. 

So here’s to the continued success of Ryan and Zadie as well as all the other young participants in the showing of their animals. When you are at the fairs, take time to watch and cheer on these young exhibitors, they will certainly appreciate it.

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