1st of May has been and gone and the summer shows are upon us, a ‘window shop’ opportunity to show off your stock whilst socialising and meeting fellow breeders. This is the only time of year where my regular spray tan, cut and colour, and trip to the nail salon will be replaced with numerous hours of shampooing, blow drying and clipping the all-important show team.
I have grown up showing cattle; my first experience in the showring was being dragged around Bath and West by a temperamental Dexter calf! However, there must have been something I loved about it because I am still attending as many agricultural shows as I can rather than jetting off on hot holidays abroad.
The prep for the shows start well in advance, in my case as soon as I have a calf that I think will be good enough to for the showring. I have had previous experience with numerous breeds, starting with Dexters, moving to the British Blue, and also helping various breeders with Limousins and Simmentals. I have now begun to establish my own mini herd of Beef Shorthorns.
I purchased my first heifer, Meonside Highness (aka Hilda) from David and Tom Bradley-Farmer, Hampshire. Most girls save their hard-earned money for shoes and handbags, but not me, I decided to ‘invest’ in a pedigree heifer. She is my pride and joy, I’m pretty sure I’m known in the village as the crazy cow girl, taking Hilda for evening strolls (anything to save on the foot trimming bill), whilst my younger sisters hack alongside on their ponies.
As with anything, it is all dependent on the breed. Different breeds have different characteristics and it obviously depends if we are talking beef or dairy as they both have different sources for production! But let’s talk of a pedigree native beef heifer, such as a Shorthorn.
First thing I look for is a pretty smile and twinkle in the eye (only joking), style is the first thing on my criteria list, she must have a small, feminine head that will catch the judge’s attention as soon as she walks in the ring. Secondly, light over the shoulders, the judge won’t be best pleased if she is broad, therefore, passing the trait onto her progeny. Next, we look for length, and width throughout nothing too appealing about a lean carcass. The spring of rib is important in all female ruminants enabling them to eventually have the capacity to carry numerous offspring. Following on from the ribs we look at the loin; needing to be as long, deep and wide as possible. If she was to breed commercial offspring that would be used for meat, we want a succulent substantial sized sirloin. Next the rear; as a native animal they shouldn’t have excessive muscling, however, I am partial to a bit of shape, everyone likes it peachier rather than a pancake. Moving on from the hind quarter we look at the udder; ideally, four evenly spaced teats that would make any newborn happy, and finally, legs, feet and mobility. In the cattle industry we aren’t looking for supermodels, height is no issue as long as she can parade well on all four with ring presence and style.
I have spent endless hours being dragged from one end of a pen to the other, however, patience and persistence will eventually pay off. I find training an animal to be halter led at a younger age is generally far easier and they never seem to forget. Everyone has different ways of halter breaking and I have a preference of leaving them tied up and rewarding with feed and water, whilst running a comb through them several times throughout the day. When you feel like you have gained the animal’s trust you will be able to attempt a small walk in an enclosed pen to start with (never make the mistake of using the farm drive, only to find someone has left the main gate open) I always recommend the use of a bulldog/snip/humbug as an extra form of control, even if you have the quietest animal, something at a show and a different environment may spook them and even the strongest of us will struggle to hold on using just a rope halter! I also recommended having a helper for the first couple of times walking about, just for a form of gentle encouragement.
Daily feeding, grooming and general maintenance…
Hilda and her fellow show mates live the life of luxury when it comes to summer showing. I often feel a bit guilty when Hilda consumes a bag of cake to herself which would have normally been shared amongst ten others. There are so many rations out there targeted upon different breeds, some breeds would need extra protein for fleshing whereas I’m lucky enough that Hilda would gain weight from the smell of fresh air!
As I said before, when it comes to the grooming of the animals for show season, my general beauty regime goes out the window. First, she is treated to a weekly shampoo and blow dry, the water and electricity bill increasing week by week for Dad. Once the hair is clean and worked well to stand on end without the assistance of products I become a talented hairdresser (if I say so myself) for a couple of days – doing an all-over grade 1 on the head and a gradual fade on the belly (Dad still won’t trust me to do a short back and sides on him).
Being a cow, and eating her body weight in food, you can imagine some of the states I find her pristine white markings in. She is lucky enough to have a bed deeper and probably comfier than mine and is regularly skipped out in an effort to prevent waking up to those stains.
This is a brief overview of my show prep please look out for my next blog following me at a show and hopefully some success stories to go with it.