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HERd Management: Don’t be afraid to look stupid

Morgan Kliebenstein for Progressive Dairy Published on 01 December 2020

As adults, we prefer to feel and look as if we’ve got it all figured out, especially in the eyes of our peers. It pains us to appear vulnerable, inexperienced or at a disadvantage when in pursuit of success.

Usually, we’d be more comfortable to “fake it ’til we make it” before having to ask for help. It’s simple human nature; we are terrified of “looking stupid.”



At the ripe age of 29, I decided it was time to get into showing cattle. I thought it would be an enjoyable hobby to share with my family and close friends who also show. Typically, if you show cattle, it’s something you grew up doing, something your parents likely did, and so on and so forth. I’ve sat and listened to many a judge give his or her final speech prior to selecting their grand champion that, more often than not, involved them sharing something to the effect of “Ever since I could walk, I’ve loved showing cows” or “When I was 5 years old, my dad bought me my first show cow. …” Up until that point in my life, the only thing I’d been on the opposite end of a show halter of was a horse, and the likes of a show cow was not something that had ever graced our barn full of modest commercially bred Holsteins. Talk about an instant disadvantage.

Because they were cheap, looked cool, and some of my close friends had them, I chose to play around with Milking Shorthorns – and thus began the Na-Mor-Dale show string. Being a sire analyst for 10 years, I was familiar with genomics, pedigrees, linear scores, etc. But that was in a Jersey and Holstein world. Delving into Shorthorns felt like going back in time. I knew nothing of good cow families or what bulls and dams transmitted, let alone what I should be selecting for or how to even get some of this semen. I had to get educated and caught up, and fast.

In order to do so, I had to ask a lot of questions and ask for a lot of advice and input from the fellow Shorthorn breeders I had the pleasure of knowing. It was a hard pill to swallow to appear so uninformed and inexperienced in front of so many well-known peers. But I persevered the best I could and ignored the voice in my head telling me I looked stupid and was bothering everybody with my questions.

The next thing I had to learn was how to feed these darn creatures. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of getting show heifers ready for the season, let me tell you: Feeding them right is about 90% of being successful in the show ring. You could have a heifer that is the picture of perfection but, if she wasn’t fed properly, you can kiss that purple ribbon goodbye. So much trial and error.

I hunted down every nutritionist who was willing to come look at my heifers and look at my hay and tell me about the latest protein pellet. I did not anticipate having innumerable pictures of stemmy grass hay on my phone so I could share them with somebody and ask them if they thought it would be the right stuff. I walked through the barns at shows and looked at the hay just as much as I was looking at the animals. I would lure people back to my string to have them look at my hay and my animals and get their feedback. I’m sure I looked crazy, obsessed, annoying … stupid, maybe all of the above. Those who know me well know I have even been known to scavenge leftover round bales after shows so I could take them home and see how they fed out to the show pen.


The shows themselves were another intimidation entirely. I am so incredibly thankful to the friends who have taken me under their wings and allowed me to tie in with them at the shows we attend. They have helped this one-woman show get her animals to the ring in good fashion and have taught me the tricks of the trade along the way. I’m still clumsy and slow with the clippers, and I’m a far cry from an expert showman in the ring, but I have continued to observe, learn and (of course) ask 1,001 questions from my peers – always at the risk of appearing stupid.

Last year marked my fourth year of being involved with showing cattle. Everything I took to the ring that summer was under my own prefix, was born on our farm and got show ring ready under my own care and supervision. I came away with a state fair Junior Champion and a pair of sixth-place heifers at World Dairy Expo. Modest results according to some – but not a bad start for the new kid on the block. And at the end of the day, I’m confident my daughters saw their mother not let anything get in the way of meeting her goals, even if it took looking a little “stupid.”  end mark

Morgan Kliebenstein
  • Morgan Kliebenstein

  • Dairy Producer
  • Darlington, Wisconsin
  • Email Morgan Kliebenstein