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Fitting show cattle

Proper grooming techniques will help your animal stand out
Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska

I raised cattle in 4-H for nine-years. On show days, our calves were so well-groomed and pampered it was like one big bovine beauty parlor. They were washed, blow-dried, trimmed, and the hooves were painted. My mom’s job was to rat the ends of their tails into a perfect, round, ball of fluff.

Josh Elder is with Sullivan Farms in Iowa and offers clinics for folks who show cattle. He says the whole idea of spiffing up a calf is to bring out its qualities in the show ring.

"Nowadays cattle have to be structurally correct so you fit their legs to make them look smooth, enhance their bone size a little bit, give them a little more substance, make them look sound," says Elder. "You can clip that leg to make the leg structure look correct, you’re adding some flank and some body into them by utilizing that hair that you can build up with some of those powders and adhesives. Just make the calf look more presentable and a little crisper, if you will."

Soft brushes help remove dead hair on the animal and train the hair to go where you want it to. Most exhibitors also like having a couple of Scotch combs -- one for grooming body hair, and the other for using with adhesives on leg and tail head hair. A gentle soap is needed for washing your calf both before and after the show.

We had what’s called a “show box” that held all the grooming tools. You can spend a lot of money on a lot of products, but Sullivan says fitting cattle doesn’t have to be complicated.

"Basically if you have a comb and some adhesive, you can get that hair to work the way you want it. And of course, clipping them at home, getting the hair worked the right way is a major player in this in fitting the cattle," says Elder. "It makes it a lot easier when you’re getting the cattle fit on show days. A nice metal-toothed comb works real good for fitting, and a pair of clippers to get the legs clipped and smooth the way you want them."

It’s important to practice fitting as much as you can to hone your skills and keep up with new techniques.

Learn more:

Basics of grooming and showmanship for beginners

Tips from the experts

Find cattle grooming supplies

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