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  • Writer's pictureSuzie Anne

Ready, Set, Show!

Updated: Jan 6

Champion heifer drive
Champion heifer drive at a county 4-h Fair

Splish splash, they’ll be taking a bath, long about this Saturday night! A rub dub, just getting a good scrub, cleanin’ up so they’ll shine bright. The Dairy Female shows are this weekend at the Indiana State Fair. Since I spent 10 summers preparing and showing heifers and cows for our county fair, I thought I’d give you the inside scoop on what preparing to show a dairy female entails.

The first thing to do is select an animal. The animals are broken into smaller groups by birthdate, which are called classes. For me, that meant looking at the animals we have that are within the class range and selecting the one I thought looked best. However, I shared the selection pool with my siblings, so we had to rotate through who got first pick. After you’ve picked your animal (or seven . . . you can take one in each class), it’s time to begin training.

Training will look different for every family—and even within families, different members will work through it slightly differently. My perspective will be skewed by my methods. But, the first thing for each animal is teaching them how to walk on a halter. Some take to it like a cow eating grass, others are extremely stubborn and have to be coaxed everywhere at first, and others—the fun ones—do their best to take their handler for a ride.

Heifer on a rope halter
Kara on a rope halter

For my family’s setup, we kept the animals tied up from the first week of June through the end of the fair. We fed and watered them at least twice a day, more on the hotter days, and took them on walks around our farm. During this adjustment period we would also spend time brushing them, getting them clean while we got them used to interacting with humans. After a relationship had been established, the next phase began.

Heifer on a show halter
Wanda and me practicing with a show halter

Learning how to walk on a show halter and stand correctly in the show ring is the next objective. Show halters are made out of leather, and have a chain that runs under the animal’s chin. Rope halters are used for all other times, both for ease of tying, and because they’re cheaper and more durable In addition to the show halter, there is also a certain way the animal should stand. Each species, and males and females, have different qualities that are looked for. The animals are presented in different ways to best exhibit those desired characteristics. The desired features can even differ by breed, which is the case for dairy females.

Cow and heifer in correct position for showing
Top: Correct position for a cow. Bottom: Correct position for a heifer

One thing is the same throughout all the dairy breeds, though. For both heifers (females that have not given birth) and cows, the front feet are always set squarely. The back feet, for both, switch back and forth, depending on which side the judge is on. For heifers, the back foot of the side the judge is on is moved back. For cows, the back foot of the side the judge is on is moved forward. Once the animal and handler work well together, the last step is taken.

Heifer getting a bath
Washing set-up we used for at our farm.

The last part of preparing for the fair is a bath (several, actually) and a haircut. Ideally, two to three weeks before the fair, the animal will have their hair trimmed all over their body. This makes them look sleeker and more presentable—and carries the added benefit of helping them stay cool in warmer temperatures. Then it’s just continuing to work with the animal while you wait for fair week—though with the number of animals I showed each year, there was never enough time to just continue working while I waited.

Heifer in the show ring
Wanda and me in the show ring

Finally, on show day, the animals will be given one last bath, have their ears cleaned, and hooves shined. A polished leather halter will be put on them, and animal and handler will go into the ring, confident in their relationship and ready to do their best.

Have questions? Let me know in the comments below.

God Bless and Keep magic in the mundane,

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