The Johnson family getting ready for a Rock County dairy judging practice session at the farm. Photo submitted by Charlotte Heikkinen.

Once the hubbub of the holidays was over and the cold, long days of winter had slid in, the Johnson farm at Rural Route #1, Box 100, Clinton, WI, settled into a moderately peaceful, expectant time. Sows farrowing, ewes lambing, and chickens hatching didn’t usually occur until late February or March (unless there was a surprise) while newborn calves did begin to arrive soon after Jan. 1.

In the late 1940s and early ‘50s most of my brother David’s time and mine was spent at the one room country school up the road a piece. Once home from school we would do a few chores and then it was time for supper. While Dad and Grandpa milked, we kids would squabble over who had to do dishes. Of course, when David got old enough, he got to go help in the barn while I still ended up squabbling over dishes with Mother and younger brother, Duane.

Reading filled the evening

In the early evening Mom would see to it we had our schoolwork finished for the next day. After all, schoolwork was a priority for the family. The Palmer penmanship exercises were always dutifully practiced by me, but I know left-handed David struggled with this part of homework. Multiplication tables were memorized over and over, and one could usually hear us reciting some poem or another.

Life wasn’t “all work and no play for us kids.” Since our family did not have television until I was in fifth grade, we played games and read books. Mother and Father believed in having a dearth of periodicals and reading material at the farm. Grandpa and Grandma Johnson, next door, had the Milwaukee Sentinel delivered to their mailbox each day and then they would switch with us for a different periodical the following day. They also subscribed to Life.

Our family, in turn, had Collier, Saturday Evening Post, and Ladies Home Journal along with the Beloit Daily News and the weekly Clinton Topper newspaper. Farm Journal, Successful Farming, and Prairie Farmer were also found in the magazine rack in the living room. An RCA record player and radio provided serene waltzes and cowboy music in the evening, while WLS and WBEL always broadcast the farm report during breakfast and at noon.

Ag teacher promotes competition

In January and February, we all anxiously awaited one particular publication, i.e., the Hoard’s Dairyman. Our family could hardly wait to open the inside pages of this Fort Atkinson publication and find the pictures of the dairy judging cow competition. Dad always enjoyed trying his skill at choosing the showiest cow, and in turn taught us the dairy judging scorecard. However, once David and I got in 4-H with the dairy project, and later, when David joined FFA things got a little more serious.

Leonard Beadle was the agriculture teacher in Clinton at that time. He really was serious about livestock, poultry, and dairy judging, and he instilled that competitive drive and interest in his students. Sadly, girls were not enrolled in agriculture classes in high school in the 1950s nor in FFA, but Mr. Beadle was generous with his time and helped all of us out with our animal projects, and the finer points of cattle and livestock judging.

Night after night our family would sit at the dining room table and analyze those five beautifully put together dairy cattle classes pictured in the inside of the magazine. The distinctly marked Ayrshire with its well-attached fore udder and artistically curved horns, the doe-eyed, diminutive Jersey with weighted horns, the large rugged majestic Brown Swiss, the butter or fawn, docile Guernsey, and the towering, good natured, black and white Holstein classes were studied from the tip of the tail to tip of the nose on each one.

Success is in the learning

Now I would like to say that our family eventually won the family contest, one of us was high individual, or the family had received some grand form of recognition for our skill, but we never did. I always seemed to miss the placement on a cow which had terrible pasterns. Even to this day, I cannot go to a fair in the summer without taking a second glance at a winning dairy cow’s feet.

Before David completed his years in FFA he went on to represent Wisconsin FFA in the National Poultry judging competition, and I won third place in the Wisconsin State 4-H Livestock judging competition before graduation from 4-H at the ripe old age of 21. Clinton FFA had a great deal of success in the years under Mr. Beadle with its judging competitions and Gene Taylor continued the tradition of emphasizing competition in his FFA group after Beadle’s retirement. He in turn went on to instruct my brother Dennis on the finer show points and emphasized both appearance and productivity.

Judging is a challenge

Being able to justify our reasons for class placements by giving oral and written reasons was always a challenge but also good practice for later life. Using the terms mammary systems, teat placement, fore udders, extreme dairyness, hips and pins, and straight toplines filled our thoughts during the later weeks of January and into the middle of March when the results for the Hoard’s publication would be announced.

After 91 years, the Hoard’s Dairyman continues to offer its dairy judging competition. The pictures have been relocated to the cover of the magazine and are in color. The original classes of Holsteins, Jersey and Brown Swiss continue as the yearly classes while the Guernsey, Ayrshire, Milking Shorthorn, and Red and White rotate with the core group nowadays.

The quality of bovine genetics never fails to amaze me. Although changes have occurred in the overall size of the cow and the extreme dairyness, one cannot help but admire the ability of the cow to produce an abundance of milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese. After all, no matter which breed you favor, the dairy cow is a stylish winner.