SACRAMENTO — When Innisfail Herd arrived in California in 1914, no advertisements jingled about California’s happy cattle — household televisions didn’t exist.
The line of award-winning milking Shorthorns celebrated its 100th anniversary at the California State Fair this year, all the while earning Stuart Rowe, at 83 years old, Premier Breeder, Premier Exhibitor and a host of other accolades.
Under whirling fans in a convention center smelling sweetly of hay, Rowe, a daughter, son, granddaughter and friends who might as well be family led freshly groomed brown and white cows and heifers around the show ring on Tuesday afternoon.
Seventy-four years ago, Rowe placed ninth out of nine in his first showing; now, the Innisfail herd rarely leaves the State Fair without a first-place ribbon or five.
Innisfail was founded in 1914, debuted at the 1915 California State Fair and was acquired by a young John O. Rowe in 1919. The Rowe family has birthed, fed, milked and sold them from their ranch south of Davis ever since, and an Innisfail cow has been exhibited at every single State Fair since, barring the six years the fair was canceled due to hoof-and-mouth disease in 1924 and World War II from 1942 to 1946.
Stuart Rowe took over from his father in mid-century, earning fame within the dairy industry for declaring that his farm would either have to change breeds, or change the breed. He chose the latter.
“This family is the heart and soul of the making shorthorn breed throughout the world,” declared Hank Van Exel, a dairy farmer from Lodi, to a crowd gathered after the judging to celebrate the Rowes’ and the herd’s longevity.
Two cakes were served after hugs, hand-shaking and an outpouring of gratitude and congratulations. An older man in a straw hat fed his wife a bite, and one lucky girl walked off with a giant corner slice.
And to wash down the cake? Guests popped open cartons of milk and cheered to a century of success.
[This article has been updated to properly reflect the difference between cow, heifer, and cattle.]
— Reach Elizabeth Case at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabeth_case