Dodge County youth who plan to show dairy cattle at fairs and breed shows this year gathered at the Nickels farm in Watertown on May 3 to learn about show animal health care, nutrition and preparations for the show.
Preparing dairy animals for the show ring is a bit like preparing for a beauty pageant. Weight and body condition are important, and proper hair care makes the animal look her best as she parades before the judge.
Nick Uglow, Watertown, described sound management tactics that allow the animal to achieve its genetic potential. These begin with proper newborn calf care, including clean bedding, ventilation, clean drinking water and consistency. "Calves should be born in a clean, dry maternity pen with no manure," he said.
He outlined the procedures for caring for calves in each stage of their life, stressing the importance of keeping them clean and dry.
As they grow and develop, it is important to monitor their body condition so they will be just the right conditioning at show time.
"Corn is usually a dirty word in feeding show heifers," he said. "Offer high quality protein sources such as soybean meal, expeller soybean meal products, blood meal or canola meal."
He does not recommend feeding the show heifers silage, noting that it limits rib development.
Hay is the most important feed, but be careful that it does not have any mold.
He suggested grass mixes that are lower quality without sacrificing palatability. Some mixtures with alfalfa can work in younger heifers.
"Watch the maturity of the hay," Uglow added. "Early-maturity, high-quality hay can increase body condition. Fiber is like a carbohydrate."
While watching the heifer's weight is important, these animals still need to have proper mineral and vitamin supplements.
"Prevent the animal from getting too heavy by monitoring her condition and watching carbohydrate offering and forage quality," he said. "Start feeding palatable hay one week prior to the show to develop the rib area or body depth."
He also had some advice on how to feed the show animal the day of the show: limit water until just before entering the ring; start with hay and offer different varieties; feed beet pulp (wet) for bloom; and do not feed new pelleted fill feeds.
"Offer everything in small amounts, and watch animals that have a weak top for too much fill," he said.
While most of his calf-care advice is routine procedure for all calves, he said show calves are special when it comes to hair care.
He suggested keeping the body hair short and working with the top-line hair often.
"Wash hair frequently to improve the hair quality and increase the animal's comfort level," he said.
Veterinarian C.J. Haase stressed the importance of providing a comfortable place for show animals to rest. He said soft, dry, clean bedding is important, and animals do not like to lie on concrete.
"Any person who stands on concrete all day on the job will have legs and joints that hurt at the end of the day," he said. "The same is true for animals.
"Whether raising an animal for a show or not, it is important to provide a dry, clean place for them to lie."
Hoof trimmer Ken Guenther talked about hoof care for show animals. While he recommended routine trimming three times a year for commercial cattle, he suggested four times a year for show animals. "Make sure their feet are trimmed early enough before the fair so they have time to recover," he added.
"If legs hurt from foot problems, it interferes with their hips and the way they stand and develop," Guenther said.
Haase added, "If she has a foot problem, take care of it right away. A cow with a foot problem won't eat or drink and won't produce."
Dairy advisers Mandy Sell and Linda Behling offered further advice about preparing for a show.
They listed items to include in the show box and talked about ways to do last-minute grooming before the animal enters the ring. This includes the use of special grooming products to set the top line and make hair look its best. There are also special products for shining the hooves and making the udder look its best.
They also talked about the importance of the appearance of the show person and the exhibit area.