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What in the world is a “classifier”?

By Patricia Grotenhuis

A love for cows can lead someone to many different jobs and places.  For Abbie Medwell, it led to a career of travelling around Canada going from one dairy farm to another.

How does this cow measure up against her herd mates? A classifier could tell you.

Medwell works for Holstein Canada as a “classifier”.  She has had the job for 10 years now, and loves the opportunities it gives her.  She also appreciates being able to see cows from all different breeding programs and genetics.

So what is a classifier anyway?

Classification is a system where dairy cattle are given points based on their appearance, with the main focus being on traits which will impact their longevity and performance in the herd.  Points are given as follows: 42 points for mammary system, 26 points for feet and legs, 22 points for dairy strength and 10 points for rump.  The total points that a cow receives places her in a class – Fair, Good, Good Plus, Very Good, or Excellent.

Farmers can use the classification records to identify which of their cows’ areas needs improvement.  They are then able to use data from various bulls to determine which mating will give a superior offspring.  For example, some bulls produce offspring with strong mammary traits but are lacking in feet or leg traits.  A farmer would match a bull like this with a cow that has strong legs.

Classification is an important tool both for management purposes, so the cows will have better traits to pass on to their offspring, and for marketing purposes while selling breeding stock.

Classifiers are specially trained people who travel from farm to farm classifying the cattle.  Because of their training and the fact there are only 22 in all of Canada, the classifications are standard. 

“I chose to be a classifier because of my love for dairy, and the opportunity to see Canada.  No two days are ever the same, and I meet lots of great people,” says Medwell.

Being a classifier was not Medwell’s original career plan.  Raised on a dairy farm in England, her family came to Canada in 1994.  She attended agricultural college, and then found herself working on a dairy farm in western Canada.  After several months, she moved back to Ontario to work on a farm outside of Guelph. 

Medwell had been on the farm for four years when she was approached about applying for a classifier position.  That was 10 years ago, and she couldn’t be happier with her chosen career path.

“When I started the job, I thought it looked glamorous,” says Medwell.  “I find it very fulfilling.”

As a classifier, Medwell visits, on average, five farms each day and is on the road for approximately 240 days of the year.  She classifies approximately 60 cows each day, but will see more than that.  She generally visits farms from eight in the morning until four or five in the afternoon.  At the end of her day, she returns home or to her hotel and spends the next few hours scheduling farms for the following week.

It is not a job for everyone, but if someone has a keen interest in dairy cattle and is able to be gone for long periods of time, it might be the job for them, said Medwell.  Applications are always accepted at Holstein Canada, with applicants being tested on how they judge cattle.

Half of the 22-member classification team is based out of Ontario, while the other half is based out of Quebec.  Medwell says although the job can be challenging and keeps her away from home most of the year, she sees many advantages to being a classifier.

“There are times when you go to a farm and see how excited the farmer can get.  You know you’re part of helping farmers achieve their goals,” says Medwell.  She adds that the interactions with farmers and seeing exceptional cows are highlights of her job.

For more information on classification, visit www.holstein.ca.  Click on the link titled Classification.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on May 2nd, 2012 :: Filed under Canada,careers,Dairy cattle,milk
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One Response to “What in the world is a “classifier”?”

  1. veterinary technician training
    September 23rd, 2013

    WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for What in the world is a

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