One of the most sinister practices of our age, revealed.
Surprisingly, there's quite a bundle to be made in dairy shows... if your
is a winner, that is. The prize offered is not high, usually ranging between $50
and $100 and not even covering the costs of preparation and transportation of
the cow. If you win, however, the money just starts piling up. First, there's
the sale of the cow. People are willing to pay as much as $600,000 for a winner,
just for the sake of owning a truly magnificent... cow.
Then, if the animal is not sold immediately, there are the offspring. A healthy cow produces about 40
embryos at a time, and if that cow is a champion
the fertilized embryos are flushed out and frozen so that they can be sold
later. A single embryo from a winning cow can bring $5,000 or more. Not bad for
a few cells.
Now, if you're like me and have never participated in a livestock show, you should be aware; it's all about
udders. The shape and feel (yes,
feel) of a cow's udder can account for as much as 40% of her final score, simply
because it is the most important part of the bovine body. Remember, these are
cows, and no points are awarded for nice personalities. So when farmers are sprucing up their prize heifers, they have to pay
particular attention to the udders. Not that an udder is an easy thing to
There are two types of udder care, the first being general attention. This
includes all the procedures a prudent farmer practices with his milk cows;
giving them a clean environment, feeding them well, and flame-clipping
regularly. There are endless numbers of products available for udder care,
including Lanovet Ointment, Nitro Ointment, Petrolatum, Red Udder
Ointment, Sulfa Urea Cream, Teat Dip, Udder Budder, and B.B. Jelly
Udder Balm. Now, what does one do with a product called 'B.B. Jelly Udder
Balm'? I suggest that we run, screaming.
And flame-clipping? Cows are vulnerable to several diseases of the udder,
including mastitis, and removing the hair from a cow's udder, or flame-clipping,
can help prevent these. How do you flame-clip an udder? Well...
Gather your materials:
The flame-clipping process:
- First, limit the cow's movement by locking it in a row of stanchions,
making sure to keep the flame out of its sight (astonishingly enough, cows
are not too fond of open flames).
- Then move the flame quickly beneath the udder, keeping it about two inches
from the skin. The flame should be yellow in color, and less than six inches
high. Several passes will have to be made to finish removing all the hair.
- Hint: never flame-clip around any combustible material (because that
would be bad).
But the judges demand more than 'healthy' when it comes to their favorite
40%. The judges want to see udders that are firm, round, and evenly proportioned. They want their winners to be truly
superior. And farmers want their
cows to win. The result? The darker side of dairy shows. A crime so heinous that
even in these enlightened times, it chills honest Wisconsin farmers to the core.
Udder tampering crime wave!
Oh, the humanity! This is the second, more sinister variety of 'udder care.'
Our story begins with, and I quote, the "groundbreaking"
Livestock Show Reform Act, passed in Ohio in 1995. It was the result of a
scandal at the Ohio State Fair, and the first law to make livestock
tampering a felony. The state, as a result, now spends between $150,000
and $200,000 on investigations, and has sent several people to prison. For
One casualty of the new law, a Georgetown resident by the name of Ryan
Daulton, was quoted as saying, "Sheep were my life. It basically ruined
everything." Daulton's lamb had taken home a blue in
2003, but that December the state accused him of giving the lamb ractopamine,
an illegal performance-enhancing nutritional supplement. It's a cautionary
Now, a certain amount of preening is to be expected at a dairy show. This
can include measures such as washing, grooming, trimming, and even rubbing
shoe polish into the hooves of the cows. Some people even sprinkle talcum
powder on the discolorations of white cows. But the first, most easily
detected form of udder tampering is the administration of drugs such as
steroids or injections. Urine tests, now routine at fairs, caught many of
these, but some overly determined criminal found a way around that. The
injection of gas into the udder, for instance, is a threat only recently
Each cow has one udder, which is divided into four sections. Often, cows
are born with discrepancies in the size of the different sections. By injecting
an antibiotic for mastitis, a disease that results in the inflammation of
milk ducts, into healthy cows, these small imperfections and asymmetries
can be corrected. A newer trick is the injection of 'silver protein,' also
causes a small, localized inflammation of the udder that can be used to correct
shape of the udder.
In order to combat this threat, veterinary radiologist Robert T.
O'Brien from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a colleague who chose
to remain unnamed, began developing ultrasound screening tests that could be
used to detect injected gas in the udders of competing cows. They were
successful, as it turned out that distinctive black streaks and bubble
patterns could be seen deep within the tissue. A truly shocking figure: the
instance of tampered udders, among the winning cows, was between 30% and 40%
before these techniques were developed. O'Brien and Shy Colleague were dubbed
the "infamous udder-ultrasound dudes," and have already begun
training a cadre of eager youngsters around the world to test for udder
tampering. The future looks bright.
The instances of cheating, it is reported, have decreased dramatically
already, but new udder tampering techniques are developed daily. A recent
favorite is the injection of saline directly into the udders to 'pad' them,
which cannot be detected by ultrasound. It can, however, be seen in a
dramatic reduction in glucose concentrations in milk. "We never get
ahead," O'Brien says bravely, "but we do try to keep up."
Consider yourselves warned, folks. This is no laughing matter.
Science News, July, 2003. pg. 24.
Website on flame-clipping: <http://eesc.orst.edu/agcomwebfile/edmat/html/em/em8755/em8755.html>
Website on udder care: <http://www.domvet.com/udder.html>