Dairy cattle showmanship

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Halter breaking

Showing dairy cattle provides the dairy farmer a means of buying and selling their cows or heifers and selecting foundational cows for their dairy herd. Shows can be social events in addition to serving as important business opportunities, and ages of those who show and attend cover a broad range. Dairy shows are also an important tool in sparking the interest of young people to become involved in the dairy industry. The six breeds of dairy cows that are shown are Ayrshire cattle, Brown Swiss cattle, Milking Shorthorn, Guernsey cattle, Holstein cattle and Jersey cattle. In order to register for a show, payment and the registration for the cow or heifer must be submitted. The registration would include the breed, birthdate, dam and sire of the animal.[1]

Young show heifer

Selecting a heifer for show[edit]

Functional dairy traits or dairy strength is the most important area to consider when selecting a calf, heifer or cow for show. Calves are the hardest to select due to the fact that their dairy traits are not developed and therefore harder to evaluate. Heifers should be strong chested, with a visible frame and should have evenly distributed teat placement. Milking cows should have a securely attached udder and a visible but strong frame and good teat placement. Cows should have a strong rear udder suspensory ligament that blends and smoothly attaches high and tight to the rear end. Rumps are also examined closely since they are the main support for the udder and serve as a roof.[2]

Halter breaking and training[edit]

It is best to train the calf, heifer or cow to be shown as young as possible and this should be done in continuous short sessions. Rope halters rather than leather halters are usually used for training and treats can be used to reward correct action. The animal should be trained to hold its head high and walk slowly, not running the showman over and responding to their pressure applications on the halter. When standing still, the animal's front feet should be squared with each other while it's back legs should be open to whichever side the judge is on to show the teats if the animal is a heifer. If it is a cow, then the animal's legs should be closed to whichever side the judge is on to offer a full view of the cow's udder.[3]

Preparing for the show[edit]

The cows and heifers must be moved by slant trailers, and should be moved one or two days in advance of the show so that the animal will not be stressed right before the show. This will also allow time for touch ups and spot washing. In order to prepare for the show, the animal will need to be clipped and washed two days prior to the show date. Body clipping is standard with all hair being removed except on the topline and under the belly. The tail should be braided after washing to promote maximum volume and fluffed with a brush before entering the show ring.[4] The topline hair that runs along the spine should be left standing and should be groomed with hairspray and blended to give the animal a longer and sharper appearance. Feet should be trimmed prior to the show date to prevent foot rot and to make the animal's appearance nicer. In the barn at the show, the animal should be offered plenty of water and should be fed according to its normal habit in order to not upset the heifer or cow's stomach. Beet pulp can be offered as a filler to give the animal a bigger body appearance. If the animal will eat the beet pulp dry this is the preferred way for them to eat it since they will eat more of it before they become full. Bedding should be monitored and should be changed whenever is needed to keep the animal clean and dry. Animals should not be tied with show halters for long periods since pressure from the chain shank will be applied to the cow's chin and will cause irritation. Also, rope halters used should be tied with a quick release knot to enable the showman to quickly gain control and prevent the animal from harm.[2] Preparation clipping of dairy cattle consists of clipping the whole calf except the belly hair which should be blended to provide a fuller look going up to the heart/girth area to give a wider more capacity look. the topline should be left to be done on show day, this is done by using a brush and high voltage hair drier and blow hair against the grain to make it stand straight up, then on the sides angle the hair to form a prism shape the whole length of the cow. the topline begins at the tail head and ends where the shoulders and neck meet. if you have a cow with a short neck it is important not to go too far with the blend into the neck providing a long neck look. The topline is held into place with adhesives. The topline is then clipped to be as straight across as possible with a slight uphill look to it. On show day there is a lot of prep-work to be done such as touchup clipping baby oil application to make the cow more shiny and look more angular, proper milking times of each quarter to give a fuller looking udder and ironing of the show whites.[5] It is important to wash your cow after the show to get all of the chemicals off, using a product that breaks down the adhesives applied to the topline.[5]

Prohibited actions[edit]

Certain techniques are not allowed to be used to enhance the showing ability of the cow of heifer. Setting teats in place with a glue is not allowed. A showman cannot treat an udder with irritant to cause it to swell and match the size of the other teats. However showman can use super glue or some other sealant to seal the end of the teats to prevent the cow from leaking her milk out. The natural color of a cow cannot be altered, and the cow cannot be fed steroids before the show.[2]


Showmanship involves the showman being judged on his or her knowledge and presentation of his animal in the ring. Questions could be asked by the judge regarding the birthdate, breed, sire or dam of the animal so the showman should be prepared to answer these questions when asked. The heifers are shown in a clockwise circle with the showman walking backwards and keeping his or her eye on the judge at all times while leading the animal. The animal should be led from their left side and maintain a slow but steady pace. When the judge signals to stop, the animal should be set up and the showman should be at an angle facing the animal. The three ring practices are parading around the ring, side-by-side lineup, and nose-to-tail lineup.[6] White pants and shirt are worn in junior shows along with a belt and boots that coordinate with your cow's color. For example, a jersey showman would have brown boots and a brown belt, while a Holstein showman would wear black belt and boots. The showman should maintain a pleasant posture and expression when looking at the judge. Extra points could also be given if another showman assists a showman having trouble in the ring.[2]

Show lineup


Conformation is judged on the animal's dairy strength and appearance. when looking at a show cow the more angular the better, the angularity is known as "dairy character" [7] Dairy strength is defined as the cow's ability to convert feed to milk, or a heifer's ability to consume feed to grow. The goal in confirmation is to choose the cow that will demonstrate production and longevity. Frame, chest, udder and footing are all analyzed on the animal and given a score by the judge. The udder is the most important since this is the main dairy aspect of the animal and is measured starting at the hock. The ideal udder is high, wide and strong with teats perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other. Teats should average about two inches in length. The udder should not hang lower than the hocks on a cow to minimize filth of teat, contamination of milk and injury to a teat caused by stepping on the teat [7] The fore udder should have vein-age, since milk in dependent on blood circulation. A younger milking cow is preferred since she would be strong and show an udder in bloom compared to an older weaker cow.

When evaluating the feet and legs, a deep heel and a short toe are desirable with a moderate angle to the rear legs.[8] From  the hip, an invisible line should be estimated that would drop to touch the knee and dewclaw on the heifer or cow. This would indicate that the animal has sound footing to support the udder.  When making his or her final decision the judge must observe, evaluate, decide, describe and defend the placings of the cows. The showmen will then be called out of the line-up in the order of their placement and receive their prizes as they exit the show ring. Grand Champion winners from each breed will then compete for the title of Supreme Champion.[2]


The scorecard for dairy showmanship was created by the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association and is how the judge makes his placement selections. The judge does not actually keep score on a card but bases his decisions off of these point values. Appearance of Animal (30 points), Cleanliness (10 points), Grooming (10 points), Clipping (5 points), Condition (5 points), Appearance of Exhibitor (10 points), Showing Animal in the Ring (60 points), Leading (25 points), Posing (15 points), Show Animal to Best Advantage (10 points), Attitude (10 points).[9]


  1. ^ Wesley, Farmer. "Preparing To Show Your Dairy Animal". Mississippi Extension Service. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Spearing, Jack (1952). Fitting and Showing Dairy Cattle. Ames: Iowa State College. 
  3. ^ Dunklee, Kelli; Ed Peck (2009). "Working With Dairy Cattle". Holstein Foundation. 
  4. ^ "Training A Heifer For Show". Working With Heifers: 57–73. 
  5. ^ a b [1]
  6. ^ Adams, Dr. H.P. (2006). Dairy Cattle Showmanship Guide. 
  7. ^ a b [2]
  8. ^ [3]
  9. ^ Trimberger, George (1987). Dairy Cattle Judging Techniques. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.