A lifetime of Jersey cattle, Barlass’ passion burns strong

Preface: This is an article I wrote that appeared in the May 1 edition of Agri-View but I thought I would share it here, too. Enjoy!

ImageWalking into George Barlass’ Janesville home, you are immediately greeted by a Jersey or two.

A quick tour around the first level of George and Shirley’s home reveals many Jersey knick-knacks, artwork and multiple collector spoons.

Moving downstairs, the basement displays an even more prized collection including Judge’s pins, awards, newspaper clippings and photos of champions cover the walls leading to shelves of trophies and silverware from 70 years worth of cattle shows.

George pulls a tarnished trophy off the shelf causing his wife of 60 years, Shirley, to smile and roll her eyes as she knows the story that he is about to tell.

He reminisces about the time he showed against her in 4-H showmanship at the Rock County Fair, and won. She came in second, just shy of the trophy.

Whether or not he tells the story to tease her, love and pride fill the room, even when the trophy was earned some 70 years ago.

At the time, George, 82, may not have known how the Jersey breed would impact the rest of his life, or how he would make his own mark. He certainly did not know the space he would need for all of the family’s awards.

During his life, George developed and bred multiple strong cow families and bulls that have sired numerous show champions at all show levels, including the first Jersey cow to ever win the Supreme Champion title at World Dairy Expo, Gil-Bar Unique Bonnie.

An Excellent 94-point daughter of Gil-Bar Valiant Betsy, in 1984, Bonnie won the Jersey Jug Futurity at the All-American Jersey Show in Louisville, Ky., the same year that she won her first World Dairy Expo championship title. Later she was exhibited by Norm Nabholz of West Union, Iowa, and won Supreme Champion at World Dairy Expo.

Well-known Ettas Master Babe, shown by George’s son Gordy, was the first cow to win back to back championships at World Dairy Expo. Babe produced Gil-Bar Gem Badger, a Master Gem son and one of George’s many bulls.

ImageGil-Bar Farm, which had been in the family since 1927, has exhibited more grand champions in the first 25 years of World Dairy Expo than any other exhibitor.

The early show days ranged from the old time Jersey shows of polished horns and blankets, to massive show strings of 35 animals.

“Oh, there have been so many different experiences,” George says about his show days.

In 1972, Gil-Bar was at the All-American Dairy Show in Columbus, Ohio, when the barn caught fire.

“The flames were whipping and everyone was untying cattle. We had a brand new sign and a friend ran back in and got the farm sign,” George recalls.

Shirley adds that the farm lost some of the tack and all of the individual cow signs but no animals or people were injured.

That same year George was presented with the Klussendorf Memorial Trophy, awarded to a showman who exemplifies the ability, character, friendliness and sportsmanship practiced by Arthur D. Klussendorf.

“That is probably one of my greatest honors,” George says. “Along with being inducted into the Ag Hall of Fame last month and marrying Shirley.”

The couple was married shortly after George returned home from the Korean War; a relationship that started with the Rock County Fair showmanship trophy.

A graduate of Farm and Industry Short course at UW-Madison, George bought Gil-Bar Farm from his parents in 1978.

“It’s been his whole life,” says Gordy. “When he was in the war, all he thought about was the Jersey herd back home.”

Gil-Bar has bred or developed 108 Excellent cows, 19 All-Americans, 29 Reserve All-Americans and 23 Honorable Mentions. But George says that “108 Excellent cows really isn’t that many but the barn only housed 30” and their steel barn, the first Jamesway steel barn ever constructed, held 20 animals.

Other breeders have taken this vision and created strong cow families of their own.

“In Wisconsin and Illinois, he has influenced a lot of breeders in breeding show cattle. He has always had a really keen eye for a bull that would transmit that show power and he has made some purchases that did fabulous things for him. I remember when he bought Sparkler’s dam, Lamberts Master Sparkette,” says Marion Barlass, George’s nephew’s wife, who recently presented George with induction in the Rock County Agricultural Hall of Fame.

The apple of George’s eye, Gil-Bar Unique Sparkler by Gil-Bar Snowlad Unique, has sired some of the better bulls in the breed for transmitting type like Furor, Giller and Primetime not to mention a few big show winners like Stephen Sparkler Vera, 2009 World Dairy Expo Grand Champion.

More recent sires that have the Sparkler influence include Hired Gun and Tequila, bulls that produce high type females.

The Gil-Bar breeding philosophy of high type cows that produce for a number of lactations is still evident today with Gordy, who bought the farm in 1990 and milks about 100 Jersey cows with his son Kyle.

Gordy and his wife Michelle have three other children, Ryan, Aaron and Ethan, who all want to return to the farm. He says that future plans include transitioning the boys into the farm and potentially adding a milking parlor at another location, while still keeping some of the higher genetic animals on the home farm.

In addition to showing and breeding high caliber cattle, George is known for his work in the middle of the ring as a judge at the county, national and international levels.

He has judged in eight countries, 26 states and numerous counties, noting that judging at the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair in Toronto, Canada, was one of the highlights. The beautiful cattle, fancy restaurants and good hospitality make this his favorite show.

Until about 2 years ago, George continued to judge.

“My memory is not as good as it needs to be and I don’t want to be like Brett Favre. I don’t want people to start telling me that I should retire,” George says jokingly. “I don’t know how it all happened but it’s been a great experience. I’ve met so many good people.”

Like many farm kids, George, received his first registered heifer when he joined 4-H in 1941. Of course it was a Jersey.

“4-H was a big part of our lives back then,” adds Shirley, a Guernsey girl.

That significant role has continued as George coached 4-H judging teams and has taken in many kids to teach them the show business and about the Jersey breed.

Both Gordy and George help young breeders get their start in the Jersey industry, ranging from youth working with project calves to Holstein breeders interested in branching out to the Jersey breed.

“Without my Jersey cows, I would have never left Janesville,” George says. With his family and cows, he’s traveled the world.