Judging, Memories and World Dairy Expo 2023 - A Chat with Lynn Harbaugh - Cowsmo

Judging, Memories and World Dairy Expo 2023 – A Chat with Lynn Harbaugh

No stranger to standing center ring at the big dance, 2023 just might be Lynn Harbaugh’s most memorable World Dairy Expo yet. He’s gearing up to judge the 2023 International Holstein Show alongside his friend and Associate, Jason Danhof.

Tell us about your background and how you got started in the registered dairy cattle business.  

Lynn Harbaugh and his family raise show heifers of all breeds under the ‘Bella-View’ prefix in Marion, WI.

I was born in Northeast Iowa, but my family moved to Southwest Wisconsin when I was six years old. My parents milked 60 registered Holsteins and my father always had great appreciation for high type cattle. It didn’t take long for me to catch ‘the bug’ too!

Growing up, I was very involved in 4-H, FFA and Junior Holstein activities. We showed some at our county fair, but judging was my favorite of all. I was fortunate to be brought up in a strong 4-H judging program with good coaches. One coach in particular, Julie Larson, was very instrumental throughout my high school judging career – practicing with us for hours on end and making sure we were descriptive and comparative in our reasons.

I spent my high school years working at Crest-View Acres before and after class. I also picked up some herd clipping during this time that continued throughout my college career. I had the privilege of working with and learning from some incredible local breeders – Dream-Prairie Holsteins, Lirr Farms, Rabur Holsteins, Debello-Hills Holsteins and Kinyon Holsteins, to name a few.

The ability to network with successful breeders through those hands-on experiences really fostered my interest in registered dairy cattle as a young kid. Many of those same breeders are mentors and great cow people I look up to still to this day.

Right out of college, I worked as a Herd Analyst in the A.I. industry which opened up a lot of opportunities to meet people across the U.S. and internationally. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I missed working hands-on with cows though. 18 months later, I started as the herdsman at Debello-Hills Holsteins, where I would stay for the next six years until taking a job as a sales rep for an A.I. company.

My wife, Sara, and I were also partners in a dairy operation for seven years alongside Willis and Carla Gunst. We really focused on combining the best of both worlds – high production and high type – through our breeding decisions and investments. At the time of our dispersal in 2009, we had the highest lactation average for all herds in the nation over a 112 BAA. We sold some bulls to A.I. and marketed embryos internationally in that time as well.

In 2010, I went back to being a sales rep for what is now called CentralStar Cooperative and have been with the company ever since. Sara and I started Bella-View Holsteins around that same time.

Today, with the help of our three children, Jacob (17), Logan (15) and Madison (12), we focus on developing show heifers of all breeds with a focus on Holsteins. We have been very fortunate to have bred and/or developed over 70 junior and open show All-American nominees across all breeds. That includes seven banners for Junior or Reserve Junior Champions in the open and junior shows at World Dairy Expo.

Describe your first judging gig. 

My very first judging opportunity was at the BIG 4 Fair in Postville, Iowa. My 4-H judging coach got me the job. I was only 19 years old and incredibly nervous. I judged all seven breeds and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. You never really know if you are going to enjoy something until you give it a try. And, what made it even better was that I got to go back to the area I was from to judge my first show.

Did you have any key mentors early on in your judging career? 

My 4-H coach, Julie Larson, and college coach, Jim Armbruster, had a large influence early on in my judging career. As I was able, I also started traveling to watch shows – analyzing the cattle and learning from other judges.

I was always impressed with Bob Fitzsimmons as a judge. He’s professional in his ringside manners and very articulate on the microphone. Bob was actually the person I called for advice the first time I judged at World Dairy Expo in 2007. I remember him saying to be honest to myself and that when the show was over, the sun would rise again tomorrow.

That advice has stuck with me my entire judging career. I believe judging shows is as much pressure as you let it be. If you just go out, be present and judge the cows the way you see them that day, you can’t go wrong. I will always appreciate that conversation and how much it calmed my nerves.

I would also add Mike Deaver and Callum McKinven for judges I enjoy watching and listening to.

Most recently, Lynn officiated the 2021 International Brown Swiss Show at World Dairy Expo.

What are some of your best judging memories?

Each of my Expo judging experiences have been special in their own way. The atmosphere is second to none and it has given me the opportunity to judge alongside some of my best friends.

I would have to say one of my favorite judging experiences at Expo was being Chad Ryan’s Associate for the International Holstein Show in 2019. When your best friend asks you to assist them on that stage, it’s a memory that just can’t be beat for me. We have a similar eye for cattle and that’s part of the reason the Quest for Success sales have been successful. We see cattle the same.

The memory that tops them all though was when I was judging the 2016 Premier National Junior Holstein Show and saw Reese Burdette walk into the ring for the first time after her accident. I remember the hair standing up on my neck and tearing up when I saw her leading her heifer. The determination and passion of Reese and the entire Burdette family will always hold a special place in my heart.

Do you enjoy judging any one breed in particular?

I enjoy judging all breeds – placing high-quality cattle never gets old. People often ask how difficult it is to judge at Expo, but I personally think it’s easier to judge great cattle at a show like Expo compared to smaller shows where you are sorting through cattle with more faults. Officiating the International Holstein Show at World Dairy Expo 2023 will be extra special to me since these are my roots in the business. But regardless of breed or show size, it’s always an honor to be selected to judge by my peers.

Tell us about your relationship with your associate for the 2023 International Holstein Show, Jason Danhof.

I met Jason about 30 years ago when I was introduced to him at a show by mutual friends. He is incredibly talented with a set of clippers, an international genetics marketer and one of the hardest working people I know.

My family and I owe a lot of our success to Jason for his help at the shows. He works well with everyone and is great to our children – I appreciate and respect his professionalism most of all. I know he will take the job of being my Associate very seriously and bring an open mind with no agenda or affiliation to any of the exhibitors. I can count on him for his honesty and that’s most important to me.

What is something the registered dairy cattle business has taught you that you’d like to share with others in the industry? 

I would say to be appreciative of purebred dairy cattle in general. No matter what color they are, a good one is a good one.

I would also add that the registered dairy cattle industry is a small business and we all need one another to make it work. Sara and I have worked overtime to expose our kids to all breeds. I believe we are all going to have to network beyond our breed circles to ensure the industry remains strong.

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