THEY came for the cows and they weren’t disappointed, as a popular agricultural showcase returned to Carlisle.

The struggling dairy industry left its troubles behind when farmers turned out for what is regarded as one of Europe’s top dairy cattle shows.

Thousands of visitors travelled to the Borderway Mart last weekend for the fifth UK Dairy Expo, bringing a financial boost to the city.

Among them were a Cumbrian contingent struggling to survive after nearly two years of falling milk prices.

“We’re here for the cows and the genetics,” said Ainstable dairy producer Robert Craig.

“There’s a lot of frustration bubbling under the surface. Farmers can’t see an end in sight to the current crisis.”

But that didn’t stop dairy farmers from bringing out the best of the best to compete on what is regarded as a world-class stage.

Animals from leading dairy producers ended up in the top three in many of the classes, with the Hodgson family from Burgh by Sandstaking one of the top prizes.

After gaining second, third and fifth placings in the Holstein classes, the family took the Holstein Best Udder in the Show with their pedigree Holstein Feizor Knowledge S Melody 3, an animal shown in conjunction with the Morley family from Southwaite.

The judge said he had a hard time choosing the winner from his top three, and described them as “tremendous, tremendous, tremendous udders”.

Another Cumbrian winner was the Bland family from Abbott Lodge, Clifton, near Penrith, who picked up two special awards in the Jersey classes, Premier Breeder and Premier Exhibitor.

Brian Richardson, chief executive of organisers H&H Group, described the event as key for the industry and for them.

“Although uncertainty surrounds the dairy industry,” he said, “today’s breeders and exhibitors demonstrated faith and confidence, going forward.”

Alister and Colin Laird’s Holstein cow Illens Atwood Austrialia, part of the Blythebridge Holsteins, won three championship awards, including champion of champions.

She was bought by Alister and Colin Laird in May 2015 from Swiss herd Illens Holsteins, Fribourg. She gave 12,000 litres in her second lactation at 4.2 butterfat and 3.2 protein.

The five-year-old is out of Illens Lheros Nancy and is by Maple Downs-I GW Atwood. She will head to the French European Holsteins Championships in June after giving 63 litres a day after calving in October.

Holstein judge Michael Heath, from Maryland, said the depth of the show demonstrated a high calibre, with the top end being at an exceptional level.

“The winning animal was a very balanced angular cow of a good size, not over big,” he said.

“In the championship class she pulled it all together, feet, legs and free moving made her really stand out. This is definitely a cow that anyone, anywhere in the world, would want to have.”

Mr Laird was also the recipient of the prestigious John Dennison Lifetime Achievement Award.

Now in its fourth year, it is awarded in memory of the highly regarded breeder of the Denmire Holsteins, John Dennison of Scales Park Farm, Ulverston.

Commenting on receiving his award Alister said: “I have won several in my life, but this one tops them all and means so much to me and my family. This is a very emotional moment for us as this award also bring with it great sadness because it is in memory of such tremendous person and stalwart of the dairy industry who was taken from us too early.”

John Dennison was a renowned pedigree breeder, judge and a showman, he was also a great ambassador for the Holstein breed and a mentor for the younger generation of Holstein breeders.

Following his death in 2012 his family were honoured to be invited to initiate and present an award by Glyn Lucas of Harrison and Hetherington.

An “incredible” showing from the Brown Swiss class got the judging underway, as Carlisle welcomed more than 350 entries.

Scottish breeders T Lochhead and sons, Dumfries, led the Brown Swiss sealing the Grand Champion and Reserve title. Champion went to Old Mill Wonderment Sunset.

Sired by Top Acres Wonderment out of Old Mill E Snickerdoodle, this senior cow was by embryo transfer from the world famous Snickerdoodle.

The reserve went to Kedar Rhapsody, an August 2013 born daughter of Kedar TD Reia by Vetsch’s Nesta Calvin.

David Marion Holliday from Burgh by Sands saw the family’s Jersey heifer, Monument Riley Canderal, a two-year-old home-bred animal, pick up a third placing in the Jersey heifer classes. The animal’s mother was third at Agri-Scot and picked up several wins at local shows.

“The standard today is fantastically high,” said David Holliday.

Around 60 rising stars in the young breeders world competed in the Youth Showmanship competitions.

The overall winner was 24-year-old James Doherty from Shrewsbury, but it was an event that saw Cumbrian young people shine too.

The competition’s youngest entrants four-year-old Amelia Graham and her three-year-old sister Felicity of Chapelknowe, near Gretna, took a fifth and fourth placing respectively in the junior section with her calves Carole and Roxy from Belle Genetics, Glassonby.

Mark Holliday, sales specialist and marketing manager from Carrs Billington, both an exhibitor and sponsor of the event, said: “This really is a tremendous show of dairy cattle, one of the best in the country.

“It is a very important part of the UK showing calendar, and from a business side it is a good time to have a show.”

Speaking after the event, David Pritchard, operations director for H&H, said feedback from the event indicated that there was confidence in the long-term for the UK dairy industry.

The show, he said, exceeded all expectations in the terms of the quality of the animals on show.

“Testament to the excellent display of entries and trade stands was the international crowd, with people attending from as far afield as Canada and Scandinavia.”