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 27, 2017

Cattle Hair Care

     How do they get that hair? This is a common question I hear around cattle jackpot shows and fairs. The short answer is genetics, environment and hard work combined. The long answer takes a little more explanation. Here are some tips to help grow the best hair your calf can.


     Every calf has their own DNA built on the genes passed down through generations of breeding. Cattle breeds developed all over the eastern hemisphere and were selected for traits, including hair coat, that made them survive and thrive in different areas. Many Bos taurus breeds developed in the cold damp areas of northern Europe and hair was important for staying warm through the winter. Bos indicus cattle lived in hot and tropical areas like Africa and the Indian subcontinent, where hair is not necessary for staying warm.

     If you show a Bos indicus influenced breeds such as Beefmaster, Brangus or Santa Gertrudis, the genetics to produce lots of hair are probably not in their DNA. Angus, Hereford, Maine Anjou, Shorthorn and Simmental do have the genetics and should produce more hair.


     Hair growth can be greatly influenced by the environment cattle live in. By nature, cattle have more hair in the winter months, so creating a winter like environment should help increase the amount of hair.

     Most people around cattle shows have heard of cool rooms, where show cattle are kept in  cooled air or air conditioning, and out of the sun during the daytime. It is cooler than the outside conditions in late spring, summer and early fall. It does not allow in UV light from the sun, which some people feel also limits hair growth.

     Most youth do not have the money to build a cool room, so what can you do to change the environment? Shade is the first thing that can be provided. Cattle absorb sunlight and get hot the same as we do. Keeping cattle in the shade during the day helps to keep them cooler. It is also out of the UV light as well.

     Cool, damp, moving air helps keep cattle cool as well. A cheap box fan with a mister from the local garden center or hardware store can bring the air temperature down.  According to various mist system manufacturers, temperatures can be dropped from 5 to 15 degrees depending on air temperature and humidity.

Hard Work
     Genetics and environment can give you the amount of hair you want, but proper care and management of your show calf is what will make it look great. If you want the fluffy and shiny show calf, you have to do the work and give the proper care.

     The most important part of the care starts from the inside. Proper nutrition is a key to growing and maintaining hair. Hair growth is not needed by the calf to help keep it alive. This is why we see sick or under nourished cattle have rough hair coats or even loose hair. Proper nutrition will allow the calf to be healthy, grow in size and grow hair. Nutrition levels must be high in energy and protein to help maintain healthy hair growth.

     The real hard work comes with grooming. Grooming includes washing, rinsing, drying, combing, conditioning and clipping the hair. Let's look at these grooming actions and why they are important.
  • Wash your calf with a mild soap for livestock.
    • Washing removes any dirt which makes the hair heavy and dull.
    • Dirty hair will not train well when combed.
    • Washing loosens and removes dead hairs, leaving only the healthy hair.
    • Washing should be done once and up to three times a week.
  • Rinsing calves wets the hair and allows for it to be combed and dried.
    • Rinsing without soap keeps the natural oils on the hair to keep it healthy.
    • Wet hair can be trained with the comb and blower to stand away from the body.
    • Rinsing can be done daily.
  • Combing up, lifts the hair away from the body and its natural state of laying down.
    • Combing helps loosen and collect dead hair.
    • Combing can be relaxing to your calf just like rubbing them with the show stick is.
  • Drying hair helps to train the hair to stand up away from the body, giving the "fluffy" look.
    • Drying with a blower will help remove the loose dead hair.
    • Drying should be done from the rear and legs first, moving up toward the head.
  • Conditioning hair with a conditioner for livestock helps replace the natural oils that are removed during washing.
    • Conditioned hair does not dry out, becoming brittle or dead hair.
    • Conditioned hair looks healthy and "shiny".
    • Conditioned hair is easier to train to stand away from the body.
  • Clipping the hair helps to show the shape of your show calf.
    • Clipping should be done to show the best of the animal.
    • Clipping removes the ends of the hair and is the oldest hair growth. Older hair growth is usually dull and not shiny.
Additional Resources

     There are several great online resources about how to grow, maintain, groom and clip show cattle hair. There are many vendors with great products for sale to help with hair care. I would suggest you visit with someone who has shown and cared for those fluffy and shiny calves. They can help you decide which grooming practices and products may work best.

Here are a few resources on cattle grooming and hair care:

 California State University, Chico, Sheep and Goat Unit
University of Nebraska, Lincoln Extension

Good luck with getting your show calf fluffy and shiny.

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

Breaking Calves to Lead

    Once you have your calf broke to the halter and to standing tied, it is time to try leading them. At this point, after tying to the fence, your calf does take a few steps when you pull them up to tie. Now the goal is to teach them to walk with you. Calm, quiet and patient are still part of the new learning, but we are going to add building trust to the list.

Where to Start

     The best place to start learning to lead is that small pen where they learned to be haltered. Halter your calf as you have been doing. This time pick up the lead and do not let it drag.

     ***Never wrap the lead around your hand or arm. If your calf spooks and pulls back, they can pull you down or even possibly drag you!***

     With your calf haltered, pick up the lead and give it a light pull forward. If you calf gives in and takes a step, reward them immediately by giving slack in the lead. This is using pressure and release to reward your calf for doing what you asked, taking a step. If a light pull does not work, add more pressure to the lead until you get a response. Even if they do not take a step, but lean forward and stretch out their head and neck, they are at least giving to the pressure.

     Every time you ask them to take a step, be sure and reward them with the release and give them a few seconds to think about what just happened. If they are not calm, or you ask to much, or to often, leading will seem like a punishment and not a reward.

     After a few days of single steps, try asking for a couple. Some calves will figure it out quickly and start walking forward within a few days. Others will take more time and want to balk. Try pulling a little to the side. The calf will feel they are getting off balance and tend to take a step.

Get Going

     When your calf starts taking those little walks in the pen, reward them with a rub from the show stick. This will add incentive to taking the steps.

     Turning needs to be practiced and taught as well. I encourage youth to always turn calves to the right, moving the lead across the face. This is the direction they will turn in the showring. It also helps the calf know what you are asking because your body is blocking them from going forward, the lead prevents going left, leaving going right the only choice.


     When you feel comfortable your calf will lead and turn, it is time to leave the little pen. Take your calf for a walk in a bigger area if you have one available. If they trust you and seem calm leaving the pen, be brave and go for a short walk around. While walking, practice stops and turns as well.

     Continue walking and working on that trust. Lead your calf by distractions and obstacles they may see around the farm. Curious calves may balk at something first, or want to smell of it to investigate. Let them. Once they decide it is okay, they will not worry about it much more in the future. Try going through gates, barn doors and any other obstacles they may encounter.

     Introduce them to the trailer as well. Open and close the trailer gate so they learn the sounds it makes. Tie them to the trailer and let them stand while you go in and out of it. Lead them to the back of the trailer. Let them smell the floor and ask them to take a step up in the trailer. Give them time to think about it and with some more practice you will be able to teach them to load and unload.

     Every calf is different and these tips may not work for you and your situation. Remember to be calm, quiet and patient. Learning to lead is the hardest of the three processes since it involves the most trust building. Once it clicks, a calf will follow you just about anywhere you ask them to go. If you are having troubles, ask someone who has experience breaking calves to lead for help.

Good luck with your calf.

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

Training Calves to Stand Tied

     Halter breaking calves to accept having the halter put on and taken off is the first step. Teaching them to stand tied and to lead are the next steps. The processes involve the same quiet, calm and patience as did teaching them to accept the halter.

Pressure and Release

    If you have been allowing calves to drag their halter leads so they step on them, they have learned a little about pressure and release. Pressure is the feel of the halter tightening on their head when they step on the lead rope. The pressure is not severe, but calves notice the change of the halter's fit when the lead rope is stepped on. Release is what calves then notice when the lead is not being stepped on. The halter goes from being tight to its normal fit once the calf steps off the lead rope.

     As you watch your calf move around the pen dragging the lead rope, you should see them given to the pressure when they step on the lead. Calves learn that the pressure goes away when they duck their head toward the lead rope. Learning to give to the pressure is needed to start learning to stand tied.

Getting to the Fence

     Standing tied is possibly more important than learning to lead.  The basic idea is to teach the calf to stand still while tied to a solid object and eventually stand still while being held by a youth exhibitor. A calf needs to stand still during grooming and when being shown. Teaching them to stand sounds simple, but involves paying attention to some basic signals from your calf.

   In the pen you have been working your calf, find a solid section of fence to tie your calf to. Make sure they have plenty of space to move side to side. I advise youth to get a little help for safety. Take the lead rope and hand it to someone on the outside of the pen. Go to the outside of the pen and help them to pull the calf to the fence. Being on the outside of the pen will keep you from being mashed against the fence by your calf while tying them up. If you do not have someone to help, go outside of the pen and grab the lead rope with the hook on a show stick.

Tying Up

    Now that the calf is next to the fence, tie them at head height, with 1 foot to 1 1/2 feet of lead using a quick release knot. This is done for several reasons. Having their head at normal height allows them to look around without feeling trapped. The short lead length prevents them from being able to lay down when you want them to be standing. The quick release knot is for safety. If your calf panics, you can quickly pull the end of the lead and let them loose.

Standing Tied

     Once your calf is tied, step back and let them test the new situation. Every calf reacts differently to being tied. Observe their reaction to being tied. If you feel they are panicking or could possibly hurt themselves, let them go. Most calves will test being tied to see if they can get away, but given some time they will calm down.
     ***Never leave a tied calf alone. They may be acting great, but any sudden loud noise, motion or other scare may cause them to panic. You need to be there to turn them loose if needed.***

     When you see they have calmed down, take the show stick and give them a rub and see how they react. If it seems to help keep them calm, continue rubbing. If not, stop and let them calm back down.

Let Them Go

      Let calves stand tied 5 to 10 minutes the first time unless they panic. Release the knot from outside the pen. Let them drag the halter for a little while and think about what just happened. Then take the halter off and let them do there normal halter free activities.

Try It Again

     If the first time is successful, repeat what you did over the next few days and weeks, increasing the amount of time they stand tied by a few minutes each day until they can stand for 30 minutes calmly. Also start approaching your calf while they are tied. Remember to walk toward their left shoulder, not the ribs or hips, and give them a good hands on rub on the neck. Just be sure not to get yourself mashed against the fence.

Additional Resources

Here is a video on tying calves from VitaFerm Sure Champ.
(This is not an endorsement of VitaFerm products. This video link is presented for educational purposes only.)

Every calf is different, and this may not work with your calf or situation. If you are having problems with tying your calf, ask someone who has done it for some help. Be sure to stay safe and know when to give your calf and yourself a break if it is not going well.

Good luck.

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

Friday, January 6, 2017

Halter Breaking Calves

     When it comes to the checklist of things to do with a calf project, halter breaking, and breaking to lead are pretty high on the list. If you are lucky, the calf you purchase may be broke to the halter and lead a little, but most are not. There are lots of ways and stories of how to accomplish breaking to halter and lead, but the best ways involve quiet and patience.

What You Need

     There are two basic pieces of tack you need to start the halter breaking process. Rope halters are the best for breaking and are made of nylon or poly rope to resist rotting. They are one piece, braided so they create 4 parts: a lead, a chin piece, a nose piece and a head piece. The other piece of tack is a show stick. A show stick gives the extra reach you made need to touch your calf.

     A small pen to limit the space your calf has to move around is best to begin trying to halter. 10 ft. x 10 ft. is the smallest size I would work in. The largest pen size I would try and work in would be 20 ft. x 20 ft.

Quiet, Calm and Patient

     These three traits will be the most important when it comes to halter breaking. Cattle are naturally quiet, and so should you. A calf will let you know if they are nervous by switching their tail, turning away from you, or facing you and lowering or shaking their head. Getting calves used to you is accomplished by days and maybe weeks of just being in the pen with them. Calves will begin to accept you as part of their world and not be afraid if you are quiet, calm and patient.

Movement and Touch

     I advise you to begin touching calves with a show stick. The show stick allows for you to remain at a safe distance while beginning to touch the calf. I begin low on the calf's brisket and belly, the areas you may rub later when they are in the showring. Make sure your movements toward the animal are purposeful, slow and never sudden or loud.

Putting On The Halter

     Once you feel confident you can get close and touch your calf, it is time to put on the halter. The biggest mistake is getting the halter on wrong. The lead rope should be on the left side of the calf's face. The lead passes though the loop and then passes under the lower jaw, becoming the chin piece. It then goes up the right side of the face, and around behind the ears, ending back at the loop. The nose piece is also attached at the loop and should go over the top of the calf's muzzle about halfway between the eyes and nose.

  1. Adjust the size of the halter big enough to easily fit over the muzzle, and around the head behind the ears.
  2. Approach the calf quietly and position the halter to fit over the muzzle.
  3. Guide the halter onto the muzzle.
  4. Place the head piece around the calf's right ear, then the poll and finally the left ear.
  5. Once the halter is on the muzzle and the top of the head, pull the slack out of the halter by pulling the lead through the loop until the halter is snug on the calf's head.
  6. Adjust the nose piece if needed to make sure it is not in the eyes or the down on the nose.
Breaking to the Halter

     Now that the halter is on, let the calf walk around the pen with it on, dragging the lead. They will step on the lead and cause some pressure to be applied and released as they walk. This will be the best introduction to pressure and release for them.

     Some people will advise you to leave the halter on for several days, but this should only be done if the pen they are in has no possible way for the lead to become caught or tangled. If a calf feels they are trapped in their halter, they may panic, and could hurt themselves. I advise removing the halter when you are not able to watch and work with the calf. To remove the halter, reverse the steps 5 to 2 from above. Learning to have the halter taken off and put on is part of the breaking process.

     After several days and weeks of having the halter taken on and off, calves learn to accept it and you can begin the process of breaking to lead and standing tied.

Additional Resources

Here is a great video from the University of Missouri showing how to halter a calf for the first time:


Every calf is different, and these tips may not work with your calf. If you are having problems with halter breaking, ask someone who has done it for some help. Be sure to stay safe and know when to give your calf and yourself a break if it is not going well.

Good luck with the halter breaking process.

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