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19 May 2017

What can we learn from competitions?

Andrew Swale of the Classifier team gives his take on how we can all learn and benefit from competitions.

There are many ‘sayings’ about how we never stop learning and that every day is a school day, but have we ever stopped to think about how we all absorb different elements from the activities we see as pastimes and hobbies as part of our learning.

As members of HYB look towards National Competitions Day, taking place this year at Joseph Heler Farms (The Parkes) in Cheshire at the start of July, minds turn to stock judging and linear assessment. The importance of these skills should not be overlooked as they hold you in good stead to be able to assess the animals before you, wherever you may be. It is a great skill to be able to identify an animal’s strengths with a view to how she will perform within your herd. Additionally, if you are able to recognise any areas of weakness within an animal, you can go on to make informed breeding decisions by mating the cow with a sire that is known to help improve those traits in the next generation. 

Many people who have travelled through the ranks of HYB are now making informed decisions on cow selection themselves or are employed in the industry advising others on their breeding decisions. The additional skill of reason giving translates for many into being able to talk before a crowd with confidence and have belief in the words they are speaking; I was once told that you don’t always have to be right but you do have to believe in what you are saying in case the judge questions your placings, if only for a split second.

The learning does not stop when we become ‘too old’ for HYB; many of us attend our Club judging evenings and local shows, all with the view to seeing what animals are presented and how we would place them if we had been asked to ‘be in charge of proceedings’. Every time we do this we are increasing our knowledge of the breed, often alongside learning about the wider industry and, indeed, ourselves as we take a walk around the host farm/event. How many of us have gone home from an event and looked up the pedigree of an animal on the Holstein webpage, reviewed their ancestry and clicked on the factsheet to look at her linears? Before you know it you have reviewed half a dozen cows in the herd and spent some time learning without even realising it!

Social media is making things more accessible to all of us, but we need to have been grounded in the skills in the first place, to allow us to understand the information presented to us via all these different routes. We can then use the skills and knowledge we have acquired to make informed decisions, which will benefit not only our own herds but, in turn, the UK herd as a whole.