Show ring showdown: Ohio gets tough with no-tolerance udder tampering policy

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SALEM, Ohio – She came onto the sawdust and dairy judge Blaine Crosser immediately knew something wasn’t right.

With one glance at the cow’s udder, Crosser mentally labeled the animal “suspect” and immediately placed her lower in the class.

“The udder texture looked unnatural and the top of the rear udder looked jiggly,” he said, recalling the appearance led him to believe the cow’s udder was filled with something other than milk.

Crosser looks over hundreds of cows as they parade through show rings at the local, state and national levels, scrutinizing each one to determine show winners. In recent years, he’s also been forced to watch for udders with signs of tampering.

But unless he’s got evidence that the udder was tampered with, there’s not much he can do in the ring.

“You do the best evaluation you can and try to watch for things that just don’t quite look right. You go with your gut reaction to her appearance,” he said, even if it means placing a cow lower in the class.

Crosser, dairy sire product manager at Select Sires, has judged dairy shows for more than 20 years and believes that as competition gets tougher at state and national levels, exhibitors stand to gain more by winning shows no matter what the cost, a fact that has made the incidence of tampering more common.

“Besides the financial rewards from selling a cow, a winner gains more recognition and prestige,” Crosser said, and that puts the cow’s future value at stake.

Escalating problem. Udder tampering is not a new problem. According to Lewis Jones, chief of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s dairy division, the issue rose to the top of dairy exhibitor’s worry lists 10 years ago and was “a full-blown problem at various shows across the nation.”

In an effort to educate exhibitors and judges to recognize signs of udder tampering, the Ohio Purebred Dairy Cattle Association, in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, will host an udder tampering detection seminar July 13 in Columbus.

Seminar presenters will include Robert O’Brien, a University of Wisconsin-Madison veterinarian who has conducted extensive research on ultrasound technology, and Ohio State University clinical veterinarian Michael Schmall.

New methods. Common tampering methods include injecting glucose mixtures and foreign substances into udders to fill quarters, but show officials are finding new methods of cosmetic enhancement every year.

“In 1998, shows came to us and asked for us to detect gas in udders. Exhibitors had the perception that infusing ‘foamies,’ common treatments for mastitis, was acceptable,” O’Brien said. “They were basically inflating udders or quarters to make them look better.”

O’Brien’s research found that traces of illegal tampering by gas are detectable by ultrasound three days after a drug or substance is administered, regardless of the amount used.

Since 1998, the incidence of gas tampering has dropped from 40 percent to zero at World Dairy Expo, O’Brien said.

“They’re basically not doing it anymore. We’ve convinced the fixers that we can see it and shows are willing to enforce the rules,” he said.

Along with gas, exhibitors are injecting substances at the fore and rear udder attachments to promote edema, the pooling of fluid between body layers, resulting in smoother contours of the udder. Edema also occurs naturally as a result of recent freshening, mastitis and overbagging.

O’Brien’s research on injection sites has also made it possible to differentiate between naturally occurring and injection-caused edema. Although O’Brien doesn’t have exact figures from the 2001 World Dairy Expo, he said this type of tampering was “very common.”

Ultrasound request. In recent years, ultrasound tests have been performed on all dairy breeds at the Ohio State Fair, Spring Dairy Expo, and national shows like World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin.

Use of ultrasound testing is becoming more common because it only requires basic equipment that most veterinarians routinely use. The key is having trained technicians to perform the tests, O’Brien said.

According to Jones, current Ohio regulations allow officials to image udders from half of each milking class, not to exceed four cows per class. Milk samples are also taken from the grand and reserve champions, with the option to milk-test at least two more animals of each breed, he said.

“By testing, we hope to catch those among the show field that really shouldn’t” be doing things to their animals, Jones said.

“Because of tampering, we’re risking the credibility of the value of shows. We’re also discouraging participation by dairymen who aren’t willing to play the games in order to win,” Crosser said.

“The saddest thing of all is the perception that any winner must have cheated to win,” Crosser said, noting a handful of fitters and showmen are using unethical practices to ruin the reputation of all.

National action. At regional meetings across the country last fall, more than 20,000 dairy producers voiced opinions of opposition to tampering, according to Ohio dairyman Jim Spreng, a director of HolsteinUSA.

The breed organization has passed a policy requiring any show wanting national designation to conform to some sort of evaluation standard by 2003, he said.

“Tampering is not good for the perception of our dairy industry, not fair for those who play fair, and hard on young people who are incredibly distraught to witness the cheating in other states,” Spreng said.

“We’re not naive and know it’s still happening, but at the same time are very proud of Ohio for taking the lead,” Spreng said. “Ohio is held up by the rest of the country for the protocol and penalties in place to enforce” fair play.

Ohio regulations currently prohibit practices that are detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of livestock including plugging teats, sealing teats with unapproved substances or for longer than 18 hours using approved substances, or injecting materials for non-medical purposes or artificially modifying the udder or teat appearance or conformation.

The state allows the use of collodion as a teat sealant for no longer than 18 hours.

Cracked down. Ohio’s enforcement of a stringent no-tampering program in all species’ show rings began in 1996 following the discovery of clenbuterol and vegetable oils in beef and sheep carcasses from the previous year’s state fair market shows, according to Jones.

Ohio was the first state in the nation to crack down on exhibitors who tamper with livestock to win competitions at the state’s fairs and other livestock shows.

Ohio’s last dairy tampering violation was detected in 2000, when investigations revealed that a state fair exhibitor from Auglaize County had diluted a mastitis treatment with dextrose and injected it into the cow to balance the udder. The exhibitor was banned from showing dairy cattle in Ohio for three years and was ordered to return all premium money and awards from this competition.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of young kids who are showing cows and competing against exhibitors with cows that have been tampered. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to other exhibitors,” O’Brien said.

For more information on the July seminar, contact Martha Turley at 740-869-4422.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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