It’s time for spring weigh-in and you realize that your calf is not as broke as he should be. Maybe the winter storms kept you from training, or maybe your calf is more stubborn than expected. Getting a nervous calf calmed down and cooperative can be hard when you are on a deadline. But don’t worry. There are many tips and tricks to ensure a calm demeanor by show day.
Cattle are naturally headstrong animals.
In other words, they are stubborn, and they almost always follow wherever their head is going.
For this reason, one of the most important tricks to showing is to keep the head high and controlled. Issues, such as the animal lowering its head and running away, may occur if we lose control of the animal’s head. To combat a headstrong animal, you can tie its head up for a small amount of time each day, usually one to two hours. You will want to tie the animal at a height similar to how you would hold its head in the ring. This will strain the large muscle on the back of its neck, eventually weakening it. This allows the calf less power when attempting to get away. It also forces it to cooperate in orderÂ to regain its normal routine. This method also prepares a calf for the many hours it will be tied at shows.
Jon Gevelinger breaks down the halter-breaking process in his video “Tips on Breaking Cattle to Lead.”
But what if the calf doesn’t fit into the headstrong category? Maybe it walks too quickly, or maybe it won’t stand still and is easily excitable. The ideal solution is practice. The calf will become better behaved with more time dedicated to training.
However, more time is not always an option, or the calf is just the excitable type. In this case a showman may look to supplements that will temporarily relax the calf. These products use herbal extracts that calm a calf’s nervous system. They may come in the form of pastes, liquids, pellets, or a top-dress for feed. Popular supplements include Focus Calming Liquid, Calf Calm paste, and Peace Pellets. All these products are to be used prior to entering the show ring as a way to improve calf behavior.
Be mindful that some shows do not allow these supplements. Also know that calves react differently to these products. You will definitely want to purchase and test the product on your calf before counting on the product’s help on show day. Plus, by using these calming supplements at home during the training process, you will likely find your headstrong calf to be more cooperative. This will reduce the amount of necessary training time and makes things easier on all of you.
It can be frustrating to prepare and practice with your calf, only to be stuck with a calf that still is ill-behaved at a show. Safety is key when deciding if the calf should participate in the show. As a general rule of thumb, your calf should probably stay home if it does not easily load in the trailer. The calf will be even more agitated in a new environment.
It is always important to keep in mind the safety of yourself and your fellow showmen.
If the calf does make it in the trailer, be prepared for how the calf may act coming off the trailer into a new space. You may want to clear the area if it is open to public access. Or you may unload the calf into a pen or have a helper close by in case you cannot handle the calf yourself.
Once off the trailer, always be mindful of how small things may spook or excite your calf. If you don’t feel completely confident in how the calf is leading, ask for someone to walk alongside you. This person can also make the public aware that you need ample room for your calf to walk. If you have brought multiple animals, it can help to keep them together as much as possible. They will stay calmer with their own herd.
To prepare your calf for the excitement of a show and the new surroundings, expose them to as many new things as possible at home. A loud stereo, a variety of pets and animals, and especially noisy kids, can all be introduced at home in order to prepare the calf for similar activity at a show.
Having a rambunctious calf can be a struggle. Each calf possesses a unique personality. Some are more difficult than others to break for show. It is important to always go slow, reward good work, and be mindful of the calf’s behavior. But it is possible to break even the most difficult calf if you remember to keep its head up and use supplements.
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Below you’ll see a fun graphic showing the progress that my oldest son, TJ, made as he was halter breaking “Thunder” a potential show steer.
The first pic is on Day 1 when Thunder was haltered and tied for the first time. (And I need to point out that TJ should have had him tied a little differently.Â It’s preferable to tie to a post with a flat wall behind it, rather than a pipe fence that a calf could possibly stick their feet through.)
TJ was leading Thunder by day two, though granted, he wasn’t exactly a willing partner yet. The bottom photo shows the progress made by Day 5. TJ could approach him at the bunk and scratch him all over without Thunder bolting away from him. (No pun intended!) He never used a calming agent of any kind. Just spend lots of time talking to him, scratching him with a brush, and working with him. Lots of time you’ll find that all they need is love and patience. LOTS of patience!
That’s Sadie in the middle photo. She fell in love with Thunder and took him on as her show steer last year. Here they are together at the county fair. She got along GREAT with him!
And, of course, if you’ve followed our blog posts you know that we here at Silver Barn Cattle recommend the Stierwalt Breaking Halter to make halter breaking a breeze.
As a side note, you may have heard some folks recommending the use of a training donkey or a tractor. While we acknowledge that these certainly are options, we believe nothing can replace the handling method of breaking a calf with a real person on the lead. This method also instills a trusting relationship between the calf and the handler, which can pay off in the show ring.
Check out “Preparing Calves for the Show Ring” to pick up a few more techniques.
Do you have a story about breaking a headstrong calf? We would love for you to share it in the comments below.