Agriculture Student Knows Her Heifers

Farming and 4-H experience helped Ashley O’Hara groom a winner

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Ashley O’Hara with Rockymountain Goldwyn Trisha

Like any runway model, Trisha knows how to strut her stuff. She gets primped before every show, she follows a strict diet to stay in shape, and her entourage helps keep her looking her best.

But Trisha isn’t a runway model; she’s a dairy cow. A grand champion heifer, to be precise. Her good genes come from an impressive lineage of “very good” and “excellent” ancestors, earning her the top spot at several livestock shows last year. If there was a TV show called Canada’s Next Top Heifer, she’d probably win that too.

But Trisha wasn’t always the belle of the ball. Her Cinderella story has humble beginnings. Ashley O’Hara, a second-year agricultural science student at U of G’s Ontario Agricultural College, was working at a sale for Rocky Mountain Holsteins in Cochrane, Alta., when she first spotted four-month-old Trisha in July 2009. O’Hara paid $4,000 for her and brought her back to her family’s farm, Dandyland Holsteins, in Schomberg, Ont.

When Trisha started competing in livestock shows in 2009, her performance was lackluster, says O’Hara. Little did she know that 2010 was going to be Trisha’s year. Trisha was crowned grand champion heifer at several livestock shows, including the Canadian 4-H Classic Junior Dairy Show, where she defeated 356 other competitors, at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.

But Trisha’s path to stardom wasn’t easy. A lot of hard work goes into a prize-winning heifer. Ashley had to train Trisha to walk gracefully by her side with minimal guidance. Trisha’s coat was washed twice a day (using cool water in the summer to make the hair grow faster) and trimmed regularly. “You want them to be in good condition so they look their best,” says O’Hara.

She also worked with Dr. Len Stewart, a Brampton-based veterinarian who graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1964. He provided dietary and medical advice to keep Trisha in top shape. “He always emphasized how important it was for a heifer to have a balanced diet,” says O’Hara. “He’d always make sure I was giving her the right amount of protein and minerals.”

In March 2010, O’Hara sold Trisha to Terry Beckett of Beckholme Holsteins based in Sunderland, Ont. He has since received multiple offers for the heifer, one as high as $100,000 from a group of Spanish buyers, which he turned down, but he allowed O’Hara to continue showing her at livestock competitions.

Aside from her pedigree, Trisha’s other qualities include a long neck, sturdy body and well-shaped legs. But she isn’t just another pretty face. Unlike some supermodels, she’s more docile than diva. “She’s really easy to work with,” says O’Hara, who grew up on a dairy farm and is a 4-H member in South Simcoe.

4-H is a national organization for rural youth between the ages of 14 and 21. O’Hara chose to work with Trisha as part of a 4-H dairy project. “You choose the animal at the beginning of the year and see how they turn out at the end of the year,” she says. “They change a lot in that time period.”

O’Hara also applies her agricultural background to her studies at Guelph, where she has taken courses on animals, plants and soil. And she uses knowledge gained in the classroom back on the family farm. After graduation, she plans to continue working in the dairy industry, possibly with breeding, genetics or nutrition. “I love cows, and I definitely like the people in the industry. They’re always there to give you a helping hand.”

Trisha’s modeling days are on hold now that’s she’s expecting a calf of her own in June. Perhaps her offspring will follow in her glass-slippered footsteps. O’Hara plans to buy another heifer this year.