Many people’s image of a dairy farmer is someone who sticks close to home most of the time. Cows have got to be milked, calves delivered, and crops planted, tended and harvested. That all happens at Liddle-Holme Farm in Argyle, New York, but farmer Adam Liddle also spends a fair bit of time traveling all over the world as an expert judge of cows that are so valuable they might fetch as much as $150,000.
Adam grew up on his family’s dairy farm until his parents sold their herd in 1986 when he was 13. There was never any question in his mind that he would pursue dairy farming when it came time to choose his own career, Adam recalls: “That’s all I ever liked, all I ever wanted to do.” When he and his wife, Nicole, started their own farm in 1999, “We knew we wanted to build a high-quality, registered herd so we could sell animals for a second income stream.”
With meticulous attention and care, the Liddles have developed what is called a “Top Type Herd,” which means it is among the best in the country. Their Holsteins come from “exceptional families,” Adam says, and earn top prices all over North America. “They’re like the Rockefellers or the Kennedys of cows,” he explains with a chuckle.
As the reputation of the farm’s herd developed, Adam became a judge for the New York Holstein Association and then served four years on the World Dairy Expo cattle committee. The Expo, which is held annually in Madison, Wisconsin, is known for being “the greatest dairy show in the world,” Adam says. As East Coast representative, it was his responsibility to “make sure it stayed the best show in the world, to offer an ear to everybody.”
This October, Adam reached the pinnacle of the judging hierarchy. He was nominated as one of three possibilities to be the single judge for the World Dairy Expo and then received the final vote. Over two days, Adam judged 458 cows. “It was pretty awesome. These are the best animals of their kind in the world,” he said. “It’s like the Super Bowl of cow shows and it was my job to decide who won.”
Twenty-five family members including Adam’s wife, kids and parents drove 1,000 miles to witness him doing this very important job. He jokes that he was kind of like Tom Brady, but it was more like he was the solo referee. “It was a really big deal for the whole family,” Adam says. “It was a pretty cool experience for the kids to share with their friends in the community.”
The Liddles’ two oldest children, Anthony, 24, and Brock, 21, are fully involved in the business and Hailee, 16, does chores, milks and shows cows around her school schedule. The young men are already following in their dad’s footsteps building knowledge as serious cow experts. They work as “cattle fitters,” traveling to farms where they get cows ready for show or sale: washing and clipping them and teaching them to lead, Adam explains. “Just last week,” their dad says proudly, “one was in Toronto and the other was in Louisville. They get to meet a lot of people and travel a lot of places.”
Adam has traveled just a bit more broadly. His involvement with the World Dairy Expo has led to opportunities to judge national shows in Argentina and Brazil. In January, he will go to Italy and Switzerland. Adam says it’s very special to fly around the globe and meet people with the same passion and excitement for cultivating the best, healthiest animals possible. “It’s neat just to see how it’s done around the world,” Adam says, “how it’s all different but also all the same.”
Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming, and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).