If you work in the Registered Holstein industry, either as a professional that works off the farm or a producer/breeder, chances are high that one cow played a special part in making the decision to have a career in agriculture. This month, WHA continues the #OneBlackandWhite campaign, focusing on that one black and white Holstein cow that had an impact on one young breeder’s life.
Those that have ever met Lea McCullough know that her first love was none other than Rock-N-Hill Knucklebuck. A Skybuck daughter from EX-91 Tab (Knucklehead) x EX-90 Festor (Knotty) x VG-85 Rockman (Knothead), Knucklebuck’s memorable name was given by Lea’s dad, Mike, and was always one that caught people’s attention.
As a young girl, Lea always played with the hutch calves and led them all over the farm and in the barn. In the spring of 1997, she laid claim to Knucklebuck from a group of heifers Mike sorted for the kids to show. That spring Lea and her brother Pat each got a calf, and Lea, not knowing much at the time, picked the smaller calf (Knucklebuck). It took some grit to get her leading, but she eventually led like a champ and made her show ring debut at the Midwest Spring National, where she was second place winter calf and first junior.
From that point on, if the McCulloughs took cattle to a show, Lea made sure that Knucklebuck was on the trailer. As a calf and yearling, Lea took her to spring show, Harvard Milk Days, Green County Dairy Days and the Green County Fair, State show, State fair, Boone County fair, and World Dairy Expo (as a calf). Knucklebuck was Junior Champion or Reserve Junior Champion nine times as a heifer. Lea continued to show her in milking form as a two and three-year-old, and took her to shows several times as a dry cow.
Good old Knucklebuck was often the go-to showmanship heifer and was the kind of animal that loved to show. Lea remembers miles of walking, leading and cold baths that didn’t bother Knucklebuck, in addition to the poking and prodding of clipping that never seemed to phase her. When Lea and her cow entered the ring, she knew it was show time. The combo went to over 65 shows in her career – so many that Lea still has every piece of Knucklebuck’s registration paper memorized, from her birth date to her registration number.
Through her career, Knucklebuck gave Lea a lot of pride and joy, but there are unfortunately not many descendants left in the Rock-N-Hill herd. Her first calf was by One&Only Aero Arsenio, a March calf that Lea showed. She went VG-87 as a two-year-old, and she and Knuckelbuck were Reserve All-Wisconsin Dam and Offspring. The Arsenio had a Durham son that produced an EX-94 daughter for Lea’s brother, Chris. Knucklebuck had two full sisters, natural born calves named Knuckie and Knucklebun. Knuckie produced three daughters: a VG-87 Champion, an EX-90 Dundee and an EX-91 Stormin Norman. Knucklebuck herself had a Linjet son (KnuckleJet, VG-86) that was used as a jumper bull on heifers and produced one EX and two VG daughters. Knucklebuck’s lifetime production totals include 129,830 Milk, with 4.3% 5636F and 3.1% 4078P pounds.
The McCullough family always said, ‘with a name like Knucklebuck’… As it seems to go with the best cows, Lea was close to losing Knucklebuck three times. She was on a first name basis at the local veterinarian office, having surgery three different times. Lea learned at a young age how tough it was to have a sick cow and almost lose her. She spent many days and nights in her pen watching over Knucklebuck, and many tears, too. The cow was tough, and Lea truly believes she wasn’t ready to be done – that she had more plans in store for the duo.
On October 31, 2005, the McCulloughs had to put Knucklebuck to rest. She calved a few weeks early with a bull calf, and was all set after the evening milking. The next morning she was down and never got up again. The McCullough family has only buried two cows on the farm, and Knucklebuck was one of them. The entire family was attached to the cow, who now rests out in the pasture next to the farm sign and one of Mike’s 5E favorites.
The following spring show season wasn’t the easiest for Lea, and it was a few years before the McCulloughs used Knucklebuck’s #4 barn number.
Lea admits there were many life lessons learned during her run with Knucklebuck. “She taught me to never give up. She was sick, but she pulled through. She may have done well, but she also got beat a few times pretty good! I was disappointed, but she never did anything wrong. Knucklebuck was my ticket to some of the bigger shows, including state show and expo, which gave me the chance to meet a lot of people. Most importantly, she taught me that hard work at home paid off in the show ring. She was a little chunky, so we walked a lot of miles. She was black, so we spent a lot of time on baths trying to grow hair. Knucklebuck was always my sidekick at the shows, and we were always associated as a pair.”
As much success as Knucklebuck has brought to Lea through the years, her involvement across the industry has helped shape her as a professional as well. Lea has worked as a dairy cattle photographer with Cybil Fisher Photography for nine years. As a youth, Lea was involved with Junior Holstein and 4-H, where she not only showed, but was active in dairy bowl, judging and other activities. Judging, especially, has helped Lea in her career when deciding animals’ strengths and faults, and getting them set in front of the camera accordingly.
Lea’s travel through work led her to working different show strings through the years, and eventually led her to meet her fiancé, Steven. After spending a year and a half in Ohio, the pair has moved back to Wisconsin and are planning a December 2016 wedding. Lea has also taken her niece Rachel to some shows, allowing her the chance to travel, meet new people and see great cows.
Lea’s Wisconsin roots pulled her back home, and she now lives just 2.5 miles from her parent’s farm. She continues photographing full-time but has a lot of time to spend at the farm, helping whenever she can. From filling in for milking during field work to unloading straw or hay, Lea and Steven enjoy getting to Rock-N-Hill whenever possible. The McCullough family doesn’t show as much these days, but Lea still does when she can – it’s her project that she just can’t give up. In fact, she still takes care of the breaking, washing, and going to shows. The entire family helps out with everyday feeding and care, and doesn’t mind if Lea ‘cherry picks’ a few head to mess with for the summer.
Lea is excited to pass her knowledge and passion for the show ring on to her nieces and nephews, and admits the shows allow her more time with family. She hopes to teach them to do well and have fun, and so far the family has enjoyed a good time and success in the ring.
“Registered Holsteins, and especially Knucklebuck, has continued to keep our family working closely together. I have a career I love and an incredible man in my life, and Knucklebuck helped to lay the path. She was my one black and white.”