Mercersburg farm family breeds prize-winning cow the ET way

October 06, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER |
  • Justin and Claire Burdette of Mercersburg, Pa., and their daughters Reese, 4, and Brinkley, 1 1/2, pose with their award-winning cow, Pledge.
By Roxann Miller, Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — A Mercersburg dairy family walked away as big winners last month at the 48th All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, Pa.

During the competition, James and Nina Burdette's Holstein, Pledge, was selected as Grand Champion Holstein.

Not only did Pledge emerge as top cow at the show, she also was selected as Senior Champion and first-place cow in the 125,000-pound production class.

Pledge — or Pledge-ET as she is formally called — is the product of superior genetics, the family said. The ET stands for embryo transfer.

The goal of ET is to produce the best genetic specimen for the times, said the Burdettes' son, Justin, who with his wife, Claire, and their daughters Reese, 4, and Brinkley, 1 1/2, help farm Windy-Knoll View farm on Corner Road in Mercersburg.

Pledge's daughter, Panini-ET — also born through ET at the Burdette farm — was selected as Reserve Intermediate Champion at the All-American Dairy Show.

"That's the second-best cow in the show," Justin said. "So, she is the cow that we will begin selling embryos from."

Pledge's victories at the dairy show at the Farm Show Complex from Sept. 17 to 22 seem to make a point. During the event, more than 2,400 animals were shown by 935 exhibitors from 24 states and Canada.

State Agriculture Secretary George Greig said the show, billed as the world's largest dairy show, gives the public an opportunity to see firsthand the strength of Pennsylvania's $1.96 billion dairy industry.

"The All-American Dairy Show features the best dairy cows shown by the best exhibitors in the nation, and for 48 years, Pennsylvania has been proud to host this premier event," Greig wrote.

As the second generation of Burdettes to farm the 600-acre tract, Justin and Claire have made a few changes to ensure the family farm continues for generations to come.

"This isn't the dairy farm of the past. This isn't mom and dad milking 40 cows," Justin said.

Today's cows are not bred the way cows used to be, Justin said.

"It's pretty rare to mate a cow and a bull the old-fashioned way. Everything is very scientific on our farm," he said.

Pledge has been a "cash cow" for the Burdette family.

"She is priceless to us," said Justin, who estimated the farm has sold more than 100 of Pledge's embryos for an average of $1,500 each.

Justin said the family travels to about four shows a year showing off its genetically engineered cows.

"We don't make money at the shows. It's the after-effects from the shows that makes money for us," Claire said.

People see cows from the Burdette's farm and purchase embryos from their cows.

Pledge, with offspring all over the world — including in Canada, Europe, Japan and Argentina — "is world-renowned," Justin said.

He said farmers from England and Holland have traveled to Mercersburg to see Pledge and hopefully tap into her bloodline.

While the breeding of cows has changed over the years, the Burdettes' love of farming has not.

Even as a youngster, Justin knew he wanted to continue working on the family's dairy operation.

"We (Claire and I) were both given the opportunity if we wanted to do something else, we were more than welcome to do it, and both of us came back into farming," Justin said.

Claire graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in dairy science.

"It's a lot of work, a lot of investment, but you are your own boss and you raise your own family," Justin said.

He and Claire milk their 110 cows twice a day, usually from 4:30 to 7 a.m. and again from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

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