This article was featured in our February 2020 issue and was written by Kathleen O’Keefe.
We all know a variation on the quote, “I’m an overnight success, but it took twenty years.” We get the underlying message – everyone knows the name now, but it took a long time to build the foundation for that fame. It’s a sentiment that echoes through the career of Big Guns Jamaica Vanilla EX-95, bred and owned by the Fisher family of Claysburg, Pennsylvania.
Vanilla initially carried the ‘Big Guns’ prefix to prominence in the Jersey show ring, but you’ve heard it announced again and again in the past couple of years as her daughters have won at the very highest levels. We visited with Scott Fisher and Madison Fisher about the background behind Vanilla and the future of the family yet to come.
Scott Fisher recounted how more than fifteen years ago they came to be involved with the maternal family that eventually produced Vanilla. “It was at the Spring Valley Edition Sale held in 2004. I sold two heifers in that sale, and had my eye on a really good-uddered senior 3-year-old that I thought I would try to buy for my daughter Miranda to show as a junior. I ended up paying $4,100 for her and looking back, that was a good buy.”The young cow Scott purchased, Hillacres Vavoom Voomer, was a Glenamore Top Prize daughter from an established family at the Hillacres Jerseys, owned by the Arrowsmith family of Peach Bottom, PA.
Backed by five VG & EX dams, Voomer went on to place 8th (3rd junior) in the senior 3-year-old class at World Dairy Expo that year. They ran her with a herd bull from Spring Valley – PV Topgun Hercules, a Topgun son out of Pleasant Valley Prime Heather EX-96 (making him a maternal brother to Hired Gun) – and in March 2005, Voomer had her only heifer for the Fishers. “I didn’t have the money to flush her then, so we had one calf at a time from her – all bulls except for the Hercules.”Voomer would eventually top out at EX-93%,making her a 6th generation VG or EX cow.
When it was time to breed Big Guns Hercules Veranda, Scott ruminated over a few popular sires,including Comerica, Excitation, and Bridon Jamaica(a Glenholme Counciller son). Breeding for good udders has always been his priority, and he had always admired the Counciller daughters. He called Andrew Vander Meulen of Avonlea Genetics to get his thoughts,and Andrew told him, “if you can sacrifice a bit of size, you can make good ones with Jamaica.” Scott bred Hercules Veranda to Jamaica and with one service made the only heifer she would ever have. “Vanilla was Veranda’s first and only calf – we lost Veranda during her 2nd calving. We thought Vanilla was special as a calf. She was really pretty and we showed her and won with her locally as a calf.
Vanilla calved in as a very nice junior 2-year-old, eventually placing 4th at Harrisburg that fall. But it’s when she calved in as a junior 3-year-old that the Fishers thought she really might develop into something special. She was Grand Champion at a local show judged by Chip Savage, who asked a price on her. Under Ryan Lancaster, she was 1st junior 3-year-old and HM Intermediate Champion at Harrisburg. They thought it was worth it to put her on the truck to World Dairy Expo, where she stood 12th in the open class and was 1st junior.
After some challenges in getting her bred back, she missed campaigning as a 4-year-old. Looking back now, Scott doesn’t think that was all bad. “We had a little trouble getting her pregnant, so she didn’t show as a 4-year-old, but in that time, she really matured and built out her frame. She really grew into being a show cow that year.
By the time she calved as a 5-year-old in June 2012, Madison Fisher was working as an intern at Butlerview Farm in Illinois. As the pictures started coming across the cell phones, the excitement started to build. “I showed some of the pictures to Willy McKay (also employed at Butlerview at the time), and he said he would love to buy in on her,” recalls Madison. They moved Vanilla to Butlerview for the fall show season, and she started to ring up the big titles that year.
Big Guns Jamaica Vanilla was Grand Champion of the International Jersey Junior Show in 2012 (Madison’s last year as a junior exhibitor) and also placed 3rd in open show 5-year-old class. She got on the truck to Toronto along with the rest of the Butlerview string, where she was 1st place 5-year-old and Reserve Senior Champion at the Royal Winter Fair.Named All-Canadian 5-Year-Old and ABAReserve All-American 5-Year-Old in 2012,she gained many, many admirers from her campaign that fall. She kept her form throughout the winter, and emerged victorious at the New York Spring Jersey Show, where she was the winning aged cow and Grand Champion in 2013.
Her temperament and attitude made her a much-loved member of the show string. “She was the easiest cow I’ve ever worked with,” recalls Madison. “You just fed her and put milk in her and she was ready to show. Low stress – not a ‘project’cow at all. Out in the ring, you just had to walk along side her. She pretty much did it herself.”
In 2013, McKay made the move to Australia, so Madison bought out his share in Vanilla. She moved to the care of Nathan and Jenny Thomas at Triple-Tin Ohio, and that’s where she calved her next (and last) two times. Fresh again as a 8-year-old, she was 9-00 when the classifier came to call and appraised her at EX-95%. She won the Aged Cow class both at Madison and at Louisville, and was HM Senior Champion at both shows.The 2016 All-American Aged Cow hit retirement and entered an aggressive flush program that leads us to the second act of the Vanilla story.
If you like to follow the shows at all,there’s been no missing the presence of Vanilla’s daughters in the show ring the past couple of years. Most notably, her Andreas daughters have been claiming rosettes and accolades for numerous people across the U.S. “My dad always liked Response, and we were hearing good things about Andreas, a Response son. It came time to flush Vanilla, so that’s the direction we went and it turned out to produce a number of really good heifers,”comments Madison.
That remark is almost understated when one starts ticking off the results from the Andreas x Vanilla cross.
BIG GUNS ANDREAS VEGAS BOMB
Owned by Frank & Diane Borba, CA
– AJCA All-American Spring Calf 2019
– ABA All-American Spring Calf 2019
BIG GUNS ANDREAS VIENNA
Owned by Lillian Finke, OH
– AJCA Res. All-American Winter Calf 2019
– ABA Jr. All-American Winter Calf 2019
– 1st Winter Calf & Junior Champion,Mid-Atlantic Regional Show 2019
BIG GUNS ANDREAS VALENCIA
Owned by Lady Lane Farm, OR
– Reserve Junior Champion, Western National Show 2019
BIG GUNS ANDREAS VINTAGE
Owned by Pacific Edge Genetics, OR
– 2nd Spring Calf, Western National Show 2019
BIG GUNS ANDREAS VIRTUE VG-87
Owned by Glamourview, MD
– AJCA All-American Spring Yearling 2018
– Unanimous ABA All-American Spring Yearling 2018
– Junior Champion, All-American Jersey Show 2018
– 1st Spring Yearling, International Jersey Show 2018
– Unanimous ABA All-American Spring Calf 2017
– 1st Spring Calf, International Jersey Show 2017
BIG GUNS ANDREAS VANISH
Owned by Sabrina Clark & Madison Fisher, PA
– Nom. ABA All-American Summer Yearling 2018
– Junior Champion, All-American Junior Jersey Show 2018
Vegas Bomb, Vienna and Gentry Vegas made up the winning Junior Best Three groups at the All-American Jersey Show and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Show in2019 for Madison Fisher. Vanilla’s five daughters at the All-American Show enabled the Fishers to take home the Premier Breeder of the Heifer Show banner in 2019.
Needless to say, Vanilla heifers have been in demand in the sale ring as well. Big Guns Andreas Virtue, coming off of her All-American titles in 2018, sold for $26,200in the Franchise Kind III Sale in Columbus,OH. In 2018, a 1st Choice Andreas sold for$10,300 in the Arethusa Avonlea Summer Splash II. The resulting heifer was Andreas Voodoo, who was then the 2nd high sellerat the 2019 Eastern Elite Sale in Harrisburg,PA. The first choice female from Andreas or a Chrome/Applejack pregnancies was purchased for $8,500 at the recent Music City Celebration 3 Sale in Nashville, TN.
Sadly, Vanilla passed away in February 2020. She had been struggling with somejoint deterioration in her hips and thurls for the past year. Madison had been ableto flush her periodically in that time, andthere are pregnancies still coming and embryos in the tank by VIP, Andreas, and Colton. Her 6/19 Andreas daughter is selling in the Best of Triple-T & Heath Sale,and there are plans to sell a few more of her daughters in time. Madison says they would like to keep a couple to breed on from, most probably a 9/19 Applejack heifer and a 12/18 Gentry daughter, Big Guns Gentry Vegas, who was 2nd winter calf and Reserve Junior Champion at Harrisburg last year, that he now owns in partnership with Max Petitclerc.
To date, Vanilla has 22 registered daughters. All seven daughters that have been classified are VG or EX, with her oldest daughter, Big Guns Remake Vodka, being the highest scored at EX-93%. With many of her fanciest daughters due to calve this year and next, and with the calves still to hit the ground, there’s no doubt Vanilla’s brood cow journey is far from over.