What do cyclist Lance Armstrong, the record-breaking sprinter Ben Johnson and the prize-winning dairy cows of Yorkshire have in common? The connection sounds unlikely, but they’ve all been accused of using banned substances to lay waste to the competition in their fields.
For the past 155 years, the Great Yorkshire Show has been a quaint celebration of agricultural pursuits, but following this week’s event two dairy cows are being investigated after ultrasound scans detected that their udders had been tampered with.
The owners have been informed that they will be stripped of their rosettes and banned from future events if they’re found to have cheated.
The substances used in these cases have not been disclosed, but honorary show director Bill Cowling warned that the “heinous” and “despicable” process of tampering can take various forms.
Owners can use “copious amounts of glue” to ensure the teat doesn’t wander off-centre and risk a downgrade from show judges. Glue can also be used to seal the ends of teats to stop milk running out of one side, which can “make it look uneven”, Mr Cowling said.
David Martin, a member of the British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) ethics and welfare group, said that some owners are even more unscrupulous. “If they go one stage further they can inflate the udder with gas and then seal the teats so the udder is fuller than it should be. It’s what the exhibitors believe is wanted by the show judges.
“It’s basically the equivalent of athletes doping; they’re just doing it with cows.”
The reason the exhibitors take the risk is the potential financial reward. Mr Cowling said it “isn’t uncommon” to see top dairy cows sell for £50,000.