Welcome to The Blue Ribbon - Youth Livestock Projects blog. The purpose of this blog is to provide information, advice and suggestions for improving youth livestock projects from multiple sources. The information, advice and suggestions in this blog come from professional agricultural educators who have multiple years of experience working with youth and their livestock projects. If you ever have a question or a particular subject you would like addressed, please feel free to contact Scott Stinnett via email, or leave a comment and we will do our best to assist or address the subject. Should the question or subject be more technical, we will help direct you to an appropriate resource for the best possible answer.

Thank you,

Scott Stinnett and The Blue Ribbon Contributors

Friday, January 19, 2018

I Want a Fuzzy Calf! - Part 2

     Let's review what it takes to grow the right hair to have a "Fuzzy" calf:
  • Light exposure - Hours of daylight determine winter or summer hair coats
  • Temperature - Along with less daylight, cold temperatures help increase the amount of hair
  • Nutrition - Proper nutrition equals good hair growth
  • Health - Sick or unhealthy calves have coarse hair coats
  • Genetics - Some breeds and bloodlines produce more hair than others
     Now to the part that requires the most work, conditioning hair. It is winter, you are feeding right and have a healthy calf with favorable genetics, so all the conditions for growing hair are right. What you are trying to achieve is to take the hair you have and make it be that soft, shiny, and fuzzy hair you want.

   You and your calf are about to spend a lot of time in the wash rack and the grooming chute. Keeping hair clean and groomed is important. Think about your own hair. Have you ever been on a camping trip where you couldn't, or didn't wash your hair for a couple of days? How did it look and feel? The same thing happens to a calf's hair. If left dirty, it gets heavy with oil, dirt and manure, and loses its softness and shine.

     I recommend a good wash with mild soap three times a week. There are lots of soaps out there specific for washing you calf. They are made specifically for calf hair and skin. Use them if you like. I prefer a cheaper soap: Dawn liquid dish soap. It is safe enough for calf skin and hair, but can remove the worst dirt and oil. Think about all the critters they wash with it after an oil spill!

    When it comes to washing, remember these things.
  • Start with water down low on the legs and slowly wet up the animal's body. This will prevent a cold shock that your calf will not appreciate.
  • Use low water pressure. Although it seems great to crank the water on all the way and be able to blast dirt and manure off your calf's toes, it will not feel good on their body.
  • Do not spray into their face or ears. Use a sponge or cup filled with water to gently wet the face and around the ears.
  • Wet the entire body and then use your hands to work the soap into a lather over the whole body. This will ensure you have washed every part of their body from their head to their toes.
  • Rinse from the top down. Water flows down and will carry the dirt and oil with it. Starting at the top rinses everything down and off their body.
  • Once everything is washed and rinsed, use the back (the side without teeth) of a cattle comb and squeegee excess water off the body.
     After your calf is all washed, rinsed and squeegeed off, head to the grooming chute. I like to tie calves without their head in the head gate. This allows me to use the blower on all the body without the head gate blocking the blower air. You do not need to use a grooming chute. If your calf will stand still tied to a fence or panel, by all means, dry them there. I prefer using a chute, so they are used to it when I want to groom them in one.

     Before you turn the blower on, use your calf comb to comb all the body hair straight up. This is part of training the hair to not lay flat against the skin. If you have not been working the hair long, it will want to lay back down pretty quick, but after several comb outs and blow dries, you will be happy to see how easy it will comb up and stay up. Combing out also helps to remove loose dead hair. You may need to clean your comb several time of loose hair the first few times you go through the process, but a few weeks later, you may not clean out the dead hairs until your done combing.

  Once it is time to fire up the blow dryer, I go to the front of the animal and start drying the neck, shoulder, ribs and back to the rump in a quick five minute first pass. This tends to blow out a large portion of the water. While doing this, I always blow at an up angle to help train the hair to stay up off of the body. After this pass, a quick comb up of the hair and then go back to the front and start a slower drying of the entire body. How do you know when your calf is dry? I look to see if any mist is blowing out of their hair. Then I take my hand and rub their hair. If my hand gets wet, then they are not done. If they feel damp, but your hand does not get wet, they are dry enough.

     After all the hair is dry, it is time to condition the hair. Why? Soap not only removes dirt, but the natural oil that coats the calf's hair. Without this natural oil, the hair will become dry, brittle and loses its shine. Since it takes some time for the natural oil to come back after a wash, spray on some type of conditioner for calf hair. Comb the hair up to work the conditioner in, and then give it a blow dry if needed.

     Repeat this process over and over again until your calf is done with show season. You will be amazed how much their looks and hair will change into the "fuzzy" kind you want. A good clip job will then shape the hair and body to make the calf look their absolute best.

     When it comes to working calf hair, you only get out what you put into it. So, work hard, wash and rinse consistently, and be ready to be rewarded with a fuzzy calf in the end.

Scott Stinnett
Extension Associate
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension

Friday, January 12, 2018

I Want a Fuzzy Calf! - Part 1

     Every summer during our county fair, I hear it. "I want a fuzzy calf!" In our part of the world, most livestock shows occur during the spring and summer months. This is not the most ideal for growing and keeping hair on a project calf. There are grumblings of jealousy about the claves who have access to a cooler or cool room. True, they have some advantage to growing and keeping hair when living in a cool room, but the true secret to hair is starting now.

     To produce a fuzzy calf, you must understand you need hair growth and it needs to be in the proper condition. Hair growth is the length and type of hair the animal has. When we think of a fuzzy calf, most of the hair is winter type hair. The hair is very fine and dense, which helps to keep the calf warm in winter. A winter coat also has some longer, coarse hairs. These tend to help the calf shed moisture, like rain and snow. Once late spring comes, calves naturally shed the winter coat for a summer coat that is less dense and cooler.

     Hair growth is based on five things: light exposure, temperature, nutrition, health and genetics. In winter, there are less hours of daylight and colder temperatures. The calf will grow the winter hair coat described above. Light exposure is more important than cold temperatures. You can have a week of cold early in the fall, and calves will not suddenly hair up. For the same reason, it can be unusually warm in March or even January, and calves will not suddenly shed hair. If less light exposure is combined with consistent cold temperatures, then the best winter coat possible can be grown.

     If you have access to a cool room or cooler during the late spring and summer, great. If you do not, you need to try and create an environment that can help keep them cool and out of the light. What has worked best is to have three things available: shade, moving air and moisture.

     Shade can be provided by a shed, barn, tarps or shade cloth. The main point is, give your calf a place to get out of the sun. No matter where the shade is, keep air moving. It can be as simple as a cheap box fan, an old ceiling fan or a large blower fan. Just make sure it is blowing hard enough to make the calf's hair move. Moving air helps to blow away the body heat the calf is producing, keeping them cooler. Adding some moisture to the air also helps the cooling effect. Dry is always warmer than wet. Adding a mister to a fan or using a swamp cooler can help cool the calf and the air around them.

     One of the best environments I have seen for calves was a three sided shed, built on the north side of a barn. This kept the calves in the shade all day long. The shed had 16 foot square pens for each calf to stay in during the day. Each pen had two fans with misters that blew during the daylight hours. The calves had their hair worked every night and were then turned out to pasture for the night. By the time of their summer fair, the calves had almost as much hair as those in a cool room.

     No matter how little light they get, and how cold it is, hair will not grow without proper nutrition. There are several supplements claiming to promote hair growth, but essentially, they are only filling in any possible missing nutrients. If you feed you calf a balanced ration (a subject for another blog), they will grow hair.

     The health of the animal can also have an effect on hair growth. Sick or unhealthy calves will not grow the best hair. The animal's body will put the nutrients it would normally use to grow hair to work fighting whatever is making them unhealthy. It could be an infection, parasites or a disease. Sick calves can be identified by their coarse and unhealthy looking hair coats. If you keep them healthy, they will have healthy hair coats.

    Genetics is the final factor in hair growth. Some breeds naturally have great hair coats, like the English and continental breeds: Angus, Hereford, Maine-Anjou, Shorthorn and Simmental. Other breeds, like the Brahman and all the breeds with Brahman blood, will not have much of a winter coat. Even some blood lines within a breed will produce more hair than others. There is no great way of knowing what the genetics will be for hair growth, so the most you can do is provide great nutrition and keep them healthy.

     Hair condition is different from growth. There are plenty of calves with tons of hair standing in pastures across the country. For the hair to look great on show day, it must be conditioned. Condition is made by consistent hard work. Conditioning the hair coat is about keeping it clean, training it to lay a certain way, and getting rid of dead hair. This does not happen the week before fair! Work with the winter hair they have now! (I will write about how I teach youth to work hair in the next blog).

   To review, remember these things: Keep them shaded and cool, feed them well, keep them healthy and work the hair. All the magic supplements and hair products will not fix a bad hair coat. Only your hard work and diligence can make a fuzzy calf.

Scott Stinnett
Extension Associate
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Horse Blanket Game

     When it comes to cold, youth horse projects that have been clipped means they are not as prepared for winter as they could be. By nature, hair has properties to help hold the body heat of a horse. A horse who lives outside in a pasture and is unclipped, heavy haired, can survive extremely low temperatures, but clip them off and they are as exposed as we would be without a coat, hat and gloves. The solution is a blanket.

     Some horse owners blanket horses to try and keep them warm enough they do not try and regrow hair. Horses shed and grow hair due to the number of hours of light they receive, not the temperature. If you want a horse to have a slick, summer coat in the middle of winter, keep them warm with a blanket, but in a barn with 16 hours of light on them. For horses that are clipped, but live outside with a lean to shelter, a blanket is helpful only to keep them warm.

      A clipped horse can handle a little cold. Just stalling in the barn or providing a windbreak does as much on a cool day as a sheet or light blanket. If a blanket is needed, it should fit properly. A blanket should cover from the base of the neck to a little past the tailhead. They should also come down below the underline. The neck opening should be large enough to fit around the base of the neck, but not expose the shoulder. The straps on the blanket need to be loose enough the horse can move easily, but tight enough they cannot get a hoof stuck if they decide to scratch. A horse blanket should be checked to see if it is causing any rubs on the skin and if it is, adjust the fit or try a different blanket.

     There are several types of blankets. A sheet is the lightest type, and usually does not have any insulation.  Cooler sheets are made to keep a horse warm in the winter after they have been ridden or exercised. Turnout blankets are insulated, waterproof and made to fit on a horse who is going to be moving out in a pasture. A stable blanket is insulated, but not waterproof, and made for horses stabled in a dry barn. You will need to decide which type or types you will need for your horse.   

     For a blanket to work properly, they should be put on clean, dry horses. The blanket being put on should be clean and dry. Blankets should be routinely cleaned and checked for damage such as cuts, rips, or damaged straps. If a blanket becomes wet from sweat or precipitation, it needs to be changed.  A wet blanket can do two things. First a wet blanket is cold and can make you horse feel colder than they would without one. Second, a wet blanket can promote skin and hair problems. Damp skin and hair can be rubbed easier, and the dampness provides an environment for some bacteria and fungus to grow.

    The biggest problem with blankets is trying to match the right thickness with the temperature. Temperatures can change quickly. It might be below freezing in the morning and in the 60s by afternoon. Or the reverse, warm before lunch and freezing before dark. This is when blanketing becomes a game. You have to pay attention to the weather forecast and make decisions and arrangements to keep the right amount of blankets on. There will be days your horses will have too much blanket and others not enough. It is okay. Most of the time they will be hot or cold for a while, but be fine once an adjustment is made.

Here are some other resources to help you with the Blanket Game.

How to Fit a Horse Blanket the Horse.com

Good luck with the blanket game. I wish you success.

Scott Stinnett
Extension Associate
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension

Friday, December 15, 2017

Happy Holidays! - Don't Forget the Livestock!

     I will make this short. Happy Holidays to all you 4-H and FFA members! I hope you will enjoy your break from school. Please remember these things during your winter break.
  • You DO NOT GET TO SLEEP IN! Your animals expect to be fed the same time in the morning and the same time at night as they have been. They won't care if you are still in your pajamas, so ditch the fuzzy slippers, put on your mud boots and coat, and head to the barn.
  • You DO NOT GET TO RELAX ON EXERCISING AND GROOMING! This is the perfect opportunity to spend time with your animals. They need their exercise during the break to help build muscle, keep those rumens moving and appetite going. Breaking calf hair, moisturizing hog hair or combing out leg wool all takes time, and you have some now.
  • You SHOULD PRACTICE SHOWMANSHIP! This is your homework during winter break. Don't be the one during the county fair saying "I wish I had worked more on showmanship."
  • CLEAN UP THE BARN! You have been putting it off because of school, sports and other activities, so now is the time to really get it clean. Get the feed sacks hauled to the trash, clean up the hay stack, sweep the floor, pick up the shovels, rakes and tack you have just left out because "I use them every day."
     Two weeks off seem like an eternity, but it will go by fast and will be busier than you think. Get out to the barn and take advantage of the extra time you have.

Scott Stinnett
Extension Associate
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension