Now that it is summer, everyone is busy getting ready for fair season. Fair season is an amazing time of the summer. I look forward to all the tasty treats and my kids look forward to all the rides and games. As a kid, my 4H and FFA friends would be getting their animals ready to show, and I would love to visit them during the fair to see how they did. I always marveled at how effortless they made it all seem, not realizing that the work started months before the fair season even approached.
Selecting a Dairy Calf for Showing
The first step in getting ready for the fair is selecting a calf. You need to consider the breed, age, and size, not just a calf that is your favorite. The pedigree and physical correctness are more important and desirable than personality. Also, when selecting the calf, you need to make sure that the size of the animal isn’t too big or too small in comparison to the person showing it.
Caring for your Show Calf
Caring for the calf you have selected for showing at the fair, is a little different than the rest of the calves on the farm. You should keep this calf separate from the rest of the herd to be able to monitor and work with them easier. As always, you will need to keep the area clean and dry. Making sure that you practice proper hygiene protocols. Provide them plenty of shade and well ventilation with a separate designated area for feed and water. Keep bugs like flies, ticks, lice, and mosquitos away, as they cause unneeded stress for the calf.
You should maintain consistent feeding times and feed appropriate amounts to prevent unnecessary weight gain. Also as the fair approaches, you should gradually transition the calf to the diet that they will have during the fair. With a gradual transition, you prevent any stomach issues during their time at the fair.
It is important to keep health records, you will need these when it comes time to submit the paperwork to enter the calf in the fair. You will need a health check and make sure all vaccinations are current and up-to-date. Have the records for when the dehorning and vaccinations took place. You will want to monitor that the calf is meeting health and growth benchmarks. Also, it is important to have the hooves trimmed by an experienced person about a month before the show. Also, you will want to make sure that your calf has no other signs of ringworm or pinkeye, as these will cause them to be ineligible for showing.
Working the Calf
Start working with the calf as soon as it is possible, at least 2-3 months before the fair. This will help to build a good relationship between the calf and the person showing them. Take your time building this trust. Start by spending a few days getting them used to being touched. Talk calmly while working with them so they will not only learn your voice but will learn to be calm when hearing it. Once they are used to be touched, you can introduce a halter. The first several times, when you are introducing the halter it is a good idea to have another person with you to help catch them and place the halter on properly.
When they are comfortable getting the halter on, then you can start tying them up for a few hours at a time. Make sure that their head is at a comfortable level with some slack in the rope but not too much where they could get tangled. When you are tying the calf to a fence, do NOT leave them unattended. Next, you can start leading them around the pen before leading them to the washing station.
Next, you will want to get them used to be pampered, washed, blow-dried, and brushed. This is a timely step in your preparations for showing a calf. It may take several days to get the calf used to being groomed. When blow-drying the calf, it is a good idea to start at the back end of the calf.
You will want to practice leading the calf around the pen daily to learn good habits. Never hit the animal, just give a gentle tug on the lead. Always give gentle loving pats on the neck, for a job well done. Work in twenty-minute increments to fine-tune your training.
Finally, you will need to work on how to show the calf. You will need to hold the halter in your left hand with the lead loosely in your right hand. Walk in a clockwise direction in the pen, even practice with another person, so the calf can get used to someone approaching them in the ring and touching them as a judge would. Practice having the calf stand properly, you will need to stay to the left side of the calf, while facing them at an angle, in a position far enough away to see the stance of the feet and topline. When posing the calf, the front feet should be squarely placed with the rear leg closest to the judge’s back.
Getting the Calf Ready for Show Week
Time to get beautiful! Work with an experienced person when you are first learning to trim and clip your calf. It takes a lot of time to develop your style of clipping. You will want to know how the hair grows to ensure that you are naturally clipping the hair. You will want to clip against the grain with long steady strokes of the clippers. You will want to take your time and careful not to startle them, especially when working around the legs.
It’s Nearly Show Time
Now the real excitement begins. As the days grow closer, you will want to make sure all of your paperwork is in order and all of your supplies are handy. Start thinking of how your display in the stall will look. Many people visit the animals at the fair and making your area and your animal, neat and clean not just for the show ring but for the passerby is a great display of herdsmanship.
For those of you that are experienced in the show ring, please head over to our Facebook page and share your tried and true tips for getting your calves ready for the fair. Also, feel free to tag us in a picture of you and your prize calf. We love to celebrate all that you do and achieve!