MONROE — It is not often that an adult ends up working the first job they decided on as a child, but for Carrie Ritschard, working in the dairy industry is something she had planned her entire life.
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Ritschard said. “I don’t think I could (stop breeding cattle). I really don’t think I could move to town … If I did have to quit, I’d have to do something involved with cattle or veterinarian or something livestock related.”
Ritschard grew up on a dairy farm in Monroe and never had any desire to leave the job she so loved. Today, Ritschard lives on her own farm, Heavenly Show Cattle, with her fiancé Scott Young and two sons, Brett Ritschard, 15, and Tyler Davis, 8. Ritschard bought the farm after she graduated from Monroe High School in 2003 and purchased cows from her parents to get it started.
She started Heavenly Show Cattle 15 years ago and has since broken ground in the competitive field of showing cattle. In a typical summer, the family will attend up to 15 cattle shows, two of which they put on themselves.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the shows the family would typically attend have been canceled, but they were still able to put on their own show, the Midwest Spring Show in May. This was the Midwest Spring Show’s fourth year and it brought in a total of 249 head, up from last year’s 184.
The rest of the shows Ritschard and her family attend take them much farther from home, the farthest being in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. For national shows, they attend the Big E show, the World Dairy Expo, the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE), the All-American show in Harrisburg and one put on by the National Society. The National Society’s show would have been in Wisconsin this year, but will now come next year.
When judging show cattle, there are multiple qualities that get looked at. A judge will consider a cow’s dairy quality, utter, leg strength and the straightness of the cow’s back. To breed competitive and successful cattle, Ritschard considers the parent cow’s genes and builds off of the strongest genetic pool.
Of the 200 cows on her farm, Ritschard has eight families of parent cows from which all of the heifers come. Each heifer, or cattle that is under two and has not yet had any calves, gets a name that starts with the same letter as its mother’s. That way, potential buyers can pick which family their heifer comes from and have a good idea of their heifer’s genetics and show quality.
The heifers are born between September and March and are typically purchased when they are still young, Ritschard said. When born by March, the heifers can be shown right away that summer.
With selective breeding and years of work and experience, Ritschard’s cows and heifers have become accomplished in the 15 years since Heavenly Show Cattle started.
Four years ago, the family had a heifer that won junior champion at three of the five national shows. Last year, they bred the reserve champion of open show at the World Dairy Expo, as well as the junior heifer champion of the junior show.
“We’re just proud of our accomplishments and all we’ve done showing and promoting our farm name,” Ritschard said.
While Heavenly Show Cattle’s livestock get plenty of recognition, the family themselves have also recently been recognized for their work and success in the field. The past two years, they have won premiere breeder and premier exhibitor at the World Dairy Expo.
The recognition and accomplishments that the family has received do not come easy.
The family gets up at 3:30 a.m. every morning to milk for one and a half hours and then feed the calves. Then the cows get caught, tied, fed and washed before putting them under fans on hot days.
After the cattle have all been fed and milked, they break shortly before doing it all again.
“It’s a lot of work, but we enjoy the work that we do,” Ritschard said. “I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t do this.”