HAIRCUTS are important for cows. In an industry in which reputation is everything, dairy farmers of today often use Facebook to post images for potential buyers, and the Jerseys and Holsteins need to look their best.
Hence the care being taken at the National All Breeds Dairy Youth Camp at Melbourne Showgrounds this week, as 38 mostly teenage students from around Australia study the feeding, leading, cleaning and clipping of cows.
The average cow sells for about $1500, but camp co-ordinator Alex Walker said good genetics could push prices as high as $8000.
A straight back and correct bone structure can signify a well-supported udder, which promises a longer supply of milk once the cow begins lactating around 24 months. So after a morning scrub for their assigned heifers, students go to work with some mean-looking clippers, seeking as much symmetry as possible.
''They are helping to accentuate the good parts and minimise the negative parts,'' Ms Walker said. ''We are helping these kids prepare their heifers for what is, in essence, a bovine beauty pageant.''
The 25-year-old grew up on a dairy farm in Canada, moved to Australia for an agriculture degree six years ago, and now runs a farm with her boyfriend in Gippsland while working for Semex, the world's largest artificial breeding company.
Ms Walker said the camp was just as important for networking as it was for acquiring skills, which many people wrongly assumed were passed down by osmosis on family farms.
''Most of these kids are from farms and they fully recognise that they don't listen to their parents,'' she said.
''Farming can be a very lonely job at times. You are on the land and there are long hours … so it is really important for these networks to happen.''
The camp has been running since the 1970s (more than one married couple met here) and is backed by industry sponsors keen to engage the next generation.
The chairman of the Australian Dairy Farmers' Board and National Council, Noel Campbell, said the lack of young blood was partly due to bigger farms employing more casual labour, which meant workers were less attached to one place. ''It is quite important for kids with similar interests to get together and see they are not the only one.''
The story Bovine beauty pageant gets heifers looking their best first appeared on The Age.