For many young cattle showmen, summertime is game time. County fairs are sprinkled throughout the summer months. These provide the opportunity to show off a finished livestock project. But youth showmen prepare for these summer fairs in the snow and frigid temperatures. They load up their cattle to take them to late winter and early spring preview shows. Showmen and their cattle are better prepared if they are able to participate in a preview show.

If you have never been to a preview show, you may be wondering what these events are all about. In all honesty, it can be a bit intimidating when you go as a first-time competitor. State beef expos and university previews are much different from the county fair. We’ve identified seven of the main differences and provided helpful tips to help you be better prepared for a preview show.


#1: The Weather

The difference in weather between summer shows and winter ones may seem obvious. But there is a huge difference on preparing for, attending, and showing at a preview show.

These shows are often held on big state fair grounds. Cattle stalls and tie-out areas are sometimes quite a distance from the show ring. This may require walking outside in the cold, snow, or ice. Snow and ice are slick for cattle (and showmen) to walk on. If cattle walk well on the halter, that can alleviate some of the risk. Ensure that trailer loading and unloading areas are free of snow and ice.


#2: The Preparation

Getting cattle ready for a preview show means getting cattle show broke earlier in the year. It also means that working hair should be done inside a heated area. Cattle should be completely dry before returning them to outside temperatures. Conditioning hair during this time is also critical because of how dry the air can be. Check out our post “Four Rules for Daily Hair Care” to learn how to properly condition hair.

Attending a winter show also means preparing yourself. It is often chilly inside the barns, so plan to pack layers, warm wash pants to wear over jeans, and hand warmers.

You might also need to bring a few additional items for the showmen and cattle. Showmen often appreciate heaters for the fitting areas. Extra buckets are handy for heating water with an electric heater. This can keep aerosols working well. Bedding is also different for preview shows. Cattle in concrete stalls should be bedded down in deep chips, or flakes of straw beneath chips. Straw will need to be brought along for nighttime bedding. Calves will likely be tied out in the trailer overnight. They may also be tied in designated tie-out areas.


#3: Long Lines and Crowded Areas

Barns at preview shows can be fairly crowded. Wash bays tend to be busy, so it is critical to plan enough time to get cattle washed and dried. You can spend a great deal of time waiting for a spot in the wash area. It is important to plan accordingly and give yourself plenty of time.

Even makeup areas outside the show ring tend to get crowded. Showmen don’t want to stand outside in the cold with their animals, so they crowd inside. Livestock that are calm and well-worked can prevent challenges in these crowded areas.


#4: The Competition

Expos and other preview shows tend to have stiff competition. Families often travel long distances to compete at these shows and perform at a high level. Success at a preview show may not necessarily be defined by the placing in the class. Instead, success can be measured by the experience gained by the showman and the calf. This is an opportunity that will prepare you for a great summer together.

#5: The Time Commitment

Winter and spring shows are often a smaller time commitment as far as number of days at the show. Cattle are usually brought in for check-in late in the week and leave on Sundays, making for a 3-day weekend. However, these shows are likely to be farther away. Some expos even have sales that occur in conjunction with the shows that may be held earlier in the week.


#6: The Show Structure

Unlike many county fairs, expos and preview shows have two rings showing simultaneously. For example, heifers may show in one ring and steers in the other, with a separate judge for each. There are also shows where a single location hosts two different shows. Ring A is one show with one champion, while Ring B is a second show with another champion. Cattle are shown twice in these situations, and each ring has a different judge. This means there may be additional wait time in the ring before the judge gives reasons on a class.

We encourage you to enter both Ring A and Ring B if you encounter this scenario. The additional entry fee for the second ring is usually minimal. It is definitely worth it to have the opportunity to introduce your calf to the ring an additional time.


#7: The Environment

Your surroundings will be noisy, and the barn will be filled with lots of activity. This will all be new to your calf, so be patient with him. As you lead the calf in the barn and down the aisles, let him take his time. Give him time to take it all in and adjust.

Don’t forget to find some time to introduce him to the indoor show ring. This may mean staying in the barn later than everyone else before heading to tie-outs. Or perhaps you get up extra early to visit the ring before the show begins. It is worth the time to let your calf experience a dress rehearsal before you go in for the show. The calf (and you) will be much more at ease.


Winter and spring preview shows can be a great experience for the cattle, the showman, and the show family. These preview shows are a great way to spend a weekend, even if you aren’t competing. The quality of cattle and showmanship make a preview show an educational opportunity.

With proper preparation, some warm clothes, and a willingness to try something new, we are sure you will find preview shows to be a fun way to add a new dimension to your show experience.

Have you competed in a winter or spring preview show?

We would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.


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