Danielle Nauman/dairy star
The Peterson family – Geraldine, Pat, Dean, Alana and Karla – of Peterson Jerseys in Viroqua, Wis., is honored during the open dairy show at the Vernon County Fair Sept. 14. Members of the Peterson family first exhibited Jerseys at the Fair in 1944, and the family has continued the tradition for 75 consecutive years.
PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
Danielle Nauman/dairy star The Peterson family – Geraldine, Pat, Dean, Alana and Karla – of Peterson Jerseys in Viroqua, Wis., is honored during the open dairy show at the Vernon County Fair Sept. 14. Members of the Peterson family first exhibited Jerseys at the Fair in 1944, and the family has continued the tradition for 75 consecutive years. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    VIROQUA, Wis. – In 1944 a Vernon County dairy farmer purchased a Jersey calf for his son to show in 4-H at the Vernon County Fair. Little did either of them know that the son’s first Jersey calf would be the building block to a long-time family tradition of exhibiting at the fair.
    This year marked the 75th consecutive year the Peterson family has exhibited Jerseys at the Vernon County Fair. The tradition began by Albin Peterson, Sr., and his son Albin, Jr., has endured over the years, with many members of their family donning white pants to parade their little brown cows before the county fair judge.
    Peterson Jerseys is currently operated by Alana Peterson and her father, Dean Peterson. They milk 60 head of registered Jerseys on their family farm n Viroqua, Wis. Dean marked his 59th year exhibiting at this year’s fair and is looking forward to entering the showring for his 60th year next fall, and Alana has exhibited for 29 years and will be marking her 30th year next year.
    Albin, Jr. and his wife, Geraldine, continued the tradition of packing up their family to head to the Vernon County Fair each fall with their children, and a few Jerseys. Dean and his sisters, Karla and Brenda, grew up showing at the fair. Dean has in turn continued the tradition with his wife, Pat, and two daughters, Alana and Jackie.  
    “Without a doubt the best thing about showing here at the county fair is all the people,” Dean said. “The camaraderie we have with our fellow dairy exhibitors is wonderful. They are our cow family. Dad showed with the fathers of the kids I grew up showing with. Then all of our kids have shown together.”
    Dean said the friendships and passion for showing cattle were not limited to showing at the county fair.
    “We all went everywhere together, all of us,” Dean said. “We’d take cattle to the Wisconsin and Minnesota state fairs and to World Dairy Expo together.”
    The Petersons and their herd of Jerseys were part of the nucleus of registered Jersey breeders that made Vernon County, Wis., known as the Jersey mecca of North America, producing Jerseys that were sought out by other breeders and show enthusiasts.
    That high caliber of Jersey cows in the area made the Vernon County Fair a competitive show each year, drawing a large audience of spectators from around the state.
    “One of the first cows I remember winning grand champion here at the fair was in the 1960s with a little dark colored cow named Bea,” Dean said. “I wasn’t very old, but I remember Dad showing her.”
    A cow family that has led to many successful fairs for the Petersons is that of a cow named Epic Design Barby.
    “A lot of our best cows go back to that original Barby,” Dean said, recalling generations of winners from not only the county fair but also many of the other shows they have participated in, including a cow named Faithfuls Barby who was named the reserve grand champion at World Dairy Expo and the Reserve All-American at the National Jersey Show in Louisville, Ky.
    The Petersons’ most-winning county fair champion, PJF Jamaica Briella, descends from that cow family, with Epic Design Barby being her ninth dam. Briella was named the grand champion seven times in eight years, from the time she was a 2-year-old until she was 9 years old, only missing her 4-year-old year after having a set of twins.
    Briella’s only daughter, PJF Tequila Barbie, was named this year’s grand champion, winning the junior 2-year-old class as a milking yearling. In addition to exhibiting the grand champion, the Petersons also took home reserve grand champion honors on their winning 4-year-old, PJF Valentino Shawna. Keeping things in the family, Shawna’s dam is sired by Tequila Barbie’s older brother.
    Many other cows that have called Peterson Jersey Farm home over the years stir the memories of both Dean and Karla, including many cows that have gone on to win at large shows for many satisfied new owners.
    Having cows that can show well successfully year after year takes a solid breeding philosophy. For the Petersons that means focusing on breeding good uddered cows, generation after generation.
    “I like cows with good udders. That has been my main thing,” Dean said. “If you have cows with good udders, they seem to last. They need to last, and they need to keep having calves.”
    Over the years, Dean has seen many changes come and go at the fair.
    “The numbers are fewer these days. Back in the day we would have 100 head of Jerseys here at the fair. We always had winners from the Wisconsin and Minnesota state fairs competing here,” Dean said. “Even though there are fewer animals, the quality is still very good.”
    When Dean started showing in 4-H, the show was held outside, and there were only two old dairy barns. He remembers being a little boy when the new junior fair barn was being built, as well as helping build the new open class dairy barns in the early 1970s.
    There are funny memories, as well, such as the time a racehorse ran through the old dairy barn before he was caught on the midway.
    While he loves showing his cattle and competing, Dean’s best memories of exhibiting do not necessarily come from the championship trophies won by the cows, but from his daughters’ years showing in the junior fair.
    “I had more fun watching my girls, especially when they would do well in showmanship,” Dean said. “I think everyone sees that. I’ve won showmanship and had champion cow, but it’s so much better watching your kids achieve that stuff.”
    Besides changes at the fair, Dean said the biggest changes he has seen are in the fitting practices, getting the cows ready for the showring.
    “You used to clip their heads, tails and udders and you were done,” Dean said, recalling the days of blanketing show cows and horn chains.
    Dean said his family did not do as much with the horns as some of the others they competed with, opting to dehorn their animals earlier than many other dairy farmers did.
    “I saw some of the other guys doing it, so I did it with a few too,” Dean said. “I still have the little tool you would screw on the end of the horn to put the wire through to train the horns.”
    For the time being, the Peterson family has no plans to end their streak of exhibiting at the fair.
    “As long as Alana keeps milking cows, we’ll be there exhibiting,” Dean said. “It might be getting time to start bringing a smaller string, instead of bringing 20 or so head each year, but we’ll see. It’s always fun to have a bunch on show day; but the rest of the week it would be nice to just have a couple so we can just visit.”