This article was featured in our 2020 Spring issue and is written by Kathleen O’Keefe.
You couldn’t miss Showdown Justine in 2019 – Grand Champion of the Royal Winter Fair Jersey Show, Reserve Grand Champion at the International Jersey Show, and Unanimous ABA All-American 4-Year-Old – she cleaned up awards and banners for her owners, Vierra Dairy Farm of Hilmar, CA. Justine is housed at the Triple-T establishment in Ohio, and was bred by Mike & Ronnie Rider of Rider Jersey Farm in neighboring Kentucky.
Though you may not realize it, Justine is only the latest in a string of champions bred by the Rider brothers over the past few decades. Sticking with an old tradition of naming their cattle just with the sire name and a given name, the Riders never established a farm prefix.That lack of ‘branding’ hasn’t hurt results in the show ring though, as the two brothers have a stack of champions to their credit, most sold to other exhibitors before winning the rosettes.
Mike Rider credits their dad, Ernest Rider,for allowing them to get hooked on showing cattle. “My dad had kind of a mixed, grade herd, but when my brother and I wanted to join 4-H and show cattle,we went out and bought three registered Jersey heifers. It was 1967 and I was nine years old and Ronnie was thirteen. Those heifers cost $65, $85, and $105. It turned out to be a good purchase as one of our foundation cows – Special Jade EX-91% -descended from that group.”
The boys started showing at 4-H shows,then moved up to exhibiting at the Kentucky State Fair. The farm, located in Upton, Kentucky, is only an hour south of Louisville and the Kentucky Expo Center- home of the State Fair, the Kentucky National Show, and the North American International Livestock Exposition,where the All-American Jersey Show takes place each November. Mike has nothing but positive memories of their youthful showing experiences. “It’s just amazing. I’m 62 years old and in the 53 years I’ve been showing, people always took time to help us and teach us – even when we were just kids! Lew Porter was the manager at Happy Valley Jerseys in those days – one of the all-time great Jersey show herds – and even he would come over to help us.”
The Rider family has been on their current farm for almost 100 years. They built a parlor in 1972 that they still use, and a free-stall barn built in 1978 is used more for heifers than cows today. They used to milk about 50 cows, but after uncertainty with the milk market in the region, they’ve cut back to milking 20 good cows that they house in a pack shed. They consign cattle to sales, but sell many of their best privately off the farm.
Mike tips his hat to Norman Nabholz for putting them on the map of national recognition.Norm came to the farm in the early 1980s and selected a senior calf that eventually topped the sale and placed second at Madison.
In that same time frame, the Riders took the aforementioned Special Jade to the All-American Show.There they got to know Lorne Ella of Rock Ella Jerseys in Ontario. Lorne admired the cow and wanted to buy her, but the Rider brothers wanted to keep her to breed from. From that meeting, Mike grew to have a real appreciation for the Canadians. “In those days, we always tied in with the Canadians. They had everything down to a science as far as taking care of cows in the string and they really had a passion for the breed.”
In the late 1980s, the Riders bred a very nice calf named Ultimates Brandy. Brandy was sired by Titles Ultimate, a son of Special Jade. Brandy went on to do very well at the shows as a heifer and as a young cow, and eventually scored EX-91%. Bred to Hollylane Renaissance, she had a son, Renaissance Dustin that made a lot of show winners for them over the decade or so.
By the late 1990s, it was getting harder and harder to make a living milking a relatively small number of cows. Mike remembers thinking, “We have to get more into the breeding and genetics if we’re going to survive this.” In 1998, Mike met a young man at World Dairy Expo that would be instrumental in the next two decades in helping the Riders fulfill that goal. Nathan Thomas was still in high school, but had a clipping job in Madison where he hit it off with the Rider brothers.
Mike’s goal was to return to Madison with a bang in 1999, and that’s what they did. They brought a Curtsey Duncan Jude daughter named Judes Kim and she topped the Milking Yearling class that year. They sold her at All-American Show time to Waverly Farm and Norman Nabholz, and for them she was named Intermediate Champion at both World Dairy Expo and the All-American Show in 2000. She would eventually score EX-94% at Waverly, and her Amedeo son, WF Amedeo Kan Do, would in time sire more show winners at Rider Jerseys.
By now you see the pattern – the Riders are always willing to use a bull that returns a good maternal line to their herd. Many of their pedigrees are crisscrossed top and bottom with cows they’ve bred and sold on, but they bring back a son or grandson.
They also took a winter calf to that 1999 World Dairy Expo who stood third in her class, but went on to write a big resume north of the border. Premonition Grace was purchased by Rapid Bay Jerseys and Edgelea Jerseys, and she had a monstrous show career in Canada – six times nominated All-Canadian and named the All-Canadian Senior 3-Year-Old in 2002 and the All-Canadian 5-Year-Old in 2004. Eventually purchased by Bridon Farms, she scored EX-95-2E and was a 7* brood cow for the Sayles family.Her Iatola daughter, Bridon Iatola Polish is EX-95-5E, and was the All-Canadian Lifetime Components Cow in 2018.
Premonition Grace remains one of Mike’s all-time favorites. “She was just a super cow – balanced, dairy, modern with a great udder. It’s too bad the border closed right in the middle of her career – I would have liked to see her come back to the US and show. A bull out her could have done a lot of good,’” he thinks.
In the mid 2000s, their Renaissance Dustin bull made some good heifers:Dustin Sharon EX-92% was the Reserve All-American Winter Yearling in 2004,the same year that Dustin Izzie EX-93%was the Reserve All-American Summer Yearling. Dustin Lilly was a several time winner at the KY State Fair and developed into a beautiful mature cow for her owner, Amy Green. Lilly was nominated ABA All-American Aged cow in 2011.
The most famous cow to come out of the barn at Upton in the 2000s was a Piedmont Nadine Extreme daughter named Extreme Electra. Michael Heath purchased her privately, and she changed hands and partners a few times before landing permanently in the ownership of Entourage Cattle, Cybil Fisher, and Triple-T, where she was housed. Undefeated as a Senior 3-Year-Old in 2006, she was the Intermediate Champion at World Dairy Expo and the Reserve Grand Champion at the All-American Jersey Show that year. Overthe years, she tallied numerous All-American wins, and more All-Americanand All-Canadian nominations. Her daughters and granddaughters have brought home their share of titles, and this year’s AJCA All-American Senior 2-Year-Old – M-Signature Estancia VG-88% – has Electra as her 4th dam.
Just when you think that was a once in a lifetime experience, along came Gillers Georgina EX-93%. Sold as a milking yearling in 2007, Georgina had an undefeated season in 2008 as a Senior 2-Year-Old for fellow Kentuckian, Katie Gibson. Intermediate Champion at Harrisburg and Madison, she won her class in Louisville as well. Known for her outstanding mammary system,in 2009 she returned to be named the All-American Senior 3-Year-Old and was the Reserve Grand Champion at the All-American Junior Jersey Show.
Mike appreciates the people who have contributed to their success. “We wouldn’t be where we’re at without Norman Nabholz, Michael Heath, and Nathan & Jenny Thomas. They’ve really marketed a lot of cattle for us over the years. We’ve been really pleased when those cows have gone on to do well for others,” he comments.
Slide forward a few years to 2017,when Mike & Ronnie take two head to the Kentucky State Fair, one of them being a green junior 2-year-old named Showdown Justine. (The other cow, Showdown Electra now EX-91%, would go on to be the AJCA Reserve All-American Junior 3-Year-Old in 2018.) Following the show, Nathan Thomas drove to the farm and fell in love with Justine. “He told me that she was good enough to be Grand at the Royal or Madison one day. He is a hell of a cow person. Then he called me six times wondering when he could get her!” Mike recalls.
They showed her in partnership at Madison, where she was 2nd in the junior 2-year-old class. Then she went back to Ohio where she really began to fill out at Triple T. “I don’t even have the words to describe how much Nathan and Jenny mean to me. How they do everything right and the cows do so well and develop for them,” says Mike. The partners sold Justine to Vierra Dairy the week of World Dairy Expo, and she was nominated ABA All-American Junior 3-Year-Old in 2018.
We all know how she continued to develop and how she grabbed the spotlight as a 4-year-old in 2019. She still lives at Triple-T, and the Riders are still delighted with how she has come on for her new owners. “I’ll never forget the good advice that Norman Nabholz gave us many years ago,” Mike recalls.“He said that people will remember when you sell one that does good for someone else more than they’ll remember one that you show and win with yourself. I’ve found that to be very true. You need to get them into the right hands and those cows will go on to do great things.”
Mike acknowledges the industry has changed quite a bit over the decades and especially in the past ten years.Sexed semen has ended what used to be a fruitful replacement heifer business,but the market is never cold when you have a good one in the barn. Because ofthat, they keep on breeding cows with pretty much the same philosophy they have always used.
“I learned from the best – Max Gordon -and tried to always match up the good cow families. I really try to follow the maternal side of the bulls and tie into those great cow families and high-scoring cows as much as I can. I want a bull out of a high-scoring cow – at least EX-94% if possible,” comments Mike.
“There’s not a lot of herds that do it that way anymore. A lot of herds won’t really take a chance on a herd sire, but there are some that still breed that way by paying attention to the maternal lines – herds like Spring Valley and Heath, Avonlea, Pleasant Nook – I admire how they breed cattle.”
“We’ve had good luck following that philosophy. Justine is out of a herd sire -Showdown is a Tequila out of an EX-95-2E All-Canadian – and we find that the herd breeds pretty true. Grace was probably the best Premonition, Electra was one of the best Extremes, and Georgina was one of the better Gillers. When you emphasize the maternal lines, the cows seem to breed pretty consistently.There’s nothing more enjoyable than what we do. I love going to a show – it gets the adrenaline going – you go home and want to make a better one yet!”
And while we all like to sit around and talk about fancy cows, when it comes right down to it, the Rider brothers appreciate most the people in the show business. “It’s been my whole life. I so enjoy the people involved with it,”proclaims Mike. “I’m not a rich man, but if I had the chance to live my life over, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d want to do it all over again!”