The spring show season soon will be here.
Do you have your steers and heifers ready?
Now is the time to bring in the show string to get them ready to shine in the show ring.
Let’s review a few important tips as we begin this process.
The first step is to be patient when you are breaking the calf. You can’t rush the process by cornering the calf, catching it, and haltering it. This will actually make breaking the calf take more time. Breaking a calf has to be a steady process. Building a relationship with your calf should be your goal. In the end, this will make all the difference in the world.
Building trust is key.
Take this process slow. Start by feeding your calves. Sit with them so they can become familiar with you as they eat. They may back away and not want to associate with you, but be patient. They will come around. Eventually, when you turn your back, you may hear a curious nose sniffing you or feel a rough tongue licking your shirt.
We cover the halter-breaking process in detail in this post: Halter Breaking the Easy Way. Visit this post for a quick review.
You will see improvements every day that you work with your calf. Give it time and have faith. Remember to start with a breaking halter to get the best results.
The next step is to prepare your calf for the show ring. New showmen tend to halter break the calf and then think they are ready to enter the ring. Often times, that is not enough. You will need to take further steps to guarantee that you have done everything you can to prepare your calf for its adventures in the show ring.
Make sure you introduce your calves to different settings. One easy thing to do that is always helpful is to play a radio in your barn. (My kids love this speaker because it’s bluetooth-ready so they can use their own playlists. Plus, the LED light changes colors which exposes the calves to more new experiences.) The music helps the calves acclimate to loud noises at shows, such as the announcer or the audience.
Change up your practice space to help calves adapt to unfamiliar situations. Don’t always practice with your animal in their “safe place.” Instead, take them for a stroll outside. This will benefit your calf as you travel to shows and they experience new places.
The calves will gain confidence as they practice
in an unfamiliar environment.
Make sure you always “stick” your animal ahead of time. Get them familiar with the show stick. (We love this carbon fiber show stick because it’s virtually indestructible.) But beware: A calf typically doesn’t like it when you touch its feet for the first time and will often kick.
It is also a good idea to walk your calf in the same patterns you may experience in the show ring. Believe it or not, a calf may have an issue turning one way or the other. It always helps to practice at home so you are not surprised to learn this in the show ring.
Even though you need to practice with the show stick, don’t fully rely on it. For showmanship, judges don’t want to see a showman continuously poking and moving the calf’s feet. Practice walking your calf into position at home. You can do this by stopping the calf when you see its feet are in the right position when setting up.
When doing this, don’t just stop for a second and then move on. You may stand on a profile in the show ring for five or more minutes. At home, stand with your animal set up–as if you are in profile at a show–for as long as you can. Work with your calf on increasing time. This will train your calf to stand so that you are not constantly having to circle and reset the legs. You may even want to set up cones for markers and walk your calf through a pattern.
Now that your calf can set up and be still, let’s work on how your calf is presenting itself. It is important to make sure your calf is holding its head high. You should tie your calf’s head at the height that you expect the calf to hold it in the show ring.
Tying a calf high trains it to hold its head up on its own. (This also helps a calf break the habit of putting its head down and trying to get away from you.) In the show ring, you want the calf to look extended in the neck for the judge. The calf’s neck is accentuated when its head is held high. Plus, a calf that is trained to hold its head up high leads to less arm cramps in the show ring for the showman.
This heifer is tied with her head high.
This helps the heifer become accustomed to holding her head high so she will do this easily on her own in the show ring.
Practice with your show halter on your calf. The first time you walk into the show ring is NOT the time to have the fancy halter on the calf for the first time.
Also, we highly recommend the Sure Hand Lead for younger showmen or anyone who has trouble getting the stubborn calf to walk. Our youngest son LOVES it! He uses it when he shows his steers. He typically uses his heifers for his showmanship classes and usually doesn’t need it for them. (Honestly, he spends more time with his heifers than his steers so they are more prepared for the ring.)
Remember, every animal is different.
The best thing to do is to figure out
what works best for you and your calf.
If you follow this advice, you and your calves will be ready to shine in the show ring!
What’s your favorite trick to prepare calves for the show ring?
Please share in the comments below.