Fitting a heifer for show can be difficult and is tricky in many cases for beginners. It is an important part of exhibiting cattle; not only does it make the heifer look cleaner and fit for the showring, but it also shows off the style and overall appearance of the animal. Fitting is an art of sorts and takes practice to master. Here are a few basic tips to get started.
There are a few pieces of basic equipment needed to begin fitting an animal. Keep in mind that by taking good care of your equipment to will last longer and work more effectively. Keep a show box that will hold the equipment and keep it safe from damage.
There are two types of clippers needed to fit an animal correctly: large and small. Large clippers are used to clip the majority of the body. The smaller pair of clippers is used to clip the hair shorter. Use the smaller clippers on the tail, ears and to perfect the topline.
Although it is not necessary, it is a good idea to have two sets of blades for the clippers. Having a spare is convenient for breaks or a dull blade.
As a fitter becomes more experienced, more blades will be used to further fine tune the hair to a specific length.
To keep clippers from wearing out quickly, keep some kind of blade lubricant in your show box. WD-40 is one example that will help keep the blades cool and sharp.
The next few items to put in the show box are a blow dryer and a topline brush. The blower will help shape the topline and lift it straight up and the brush also will help train the animal's hair to stand up. A hair dyer will work fine, but if you plan on fitting many animals, investing in a blower for livestock is recommended.
The last item is hair adhesive. It will be convenient to have an adhesive to keep the topline hair erect and in place. But, hair adhesive should be used sparingly. It is extremely strong and should be applied the day of the show.
Before turning on the clippers make sure you have enough time to clip the entire animal. Always clip against the grain of the animal's hair in long steady strokes. Keep a hand on the animal to keep it calm and begin by clipping one side of the animal completely and then move the other side. Keep in mind that the animal may need some time to adjust to being clipped, so be patience, but persistent.
When choosing a spot to clip the animal, select an area with a lot of good lighting. Also, the heifer's head will need to be clipped and a halter may become an inconvenience. Access to headlocks may be helpful when clipping the head.
The tail and rump is a good place to begin because it will give the animal time to adjust to the sound and feel of the clippers without being near her head. Starting with a smaller clipper, clip the tail to give the animal a lean look. Be careful not to clip too high; stop once the top of the tail where the hair begins to blend with the topline. You will need to blend the hair with the topline, so be careful not to clip too high. Clip the reset of the rump with the larger clippers.
Next, clip the legs and body of the animal. This can be difficult for an inexperienced heifer so work with caution and keep a hand on the animal's leg to keep her steady. This will take some experimenting to find the best and easiest way to reach all the areas of the animal's leg with clipper. Make sure to clip the animal's entire underbelly and the insides of the legs all the way up through the brisket. In hard to reach spots it may be easier to use a smaller clipper with blades the same length. As you move along the body make sure to make slow and long strokes. As you reach the top of the animal, make sure to leave about two to three inches of hair for the topline.
Once the body and legs of the animal are clipped, move on to her neck. Most animals that have not been clipped before will not like have the clippers on their head, so having someone else help assist is a good idea.
Using a large set of clippers, start at the point of the shoulder of the animal and continue against the grain of the hair up to the shoulder blade. Continue at the same angle, but do not go so far as to ruin the topline.
Move up towards the neck with your clippers against the grain until you reach the head. Start by clipping the throat of the animal and then move up the head, still against the grain of the hair. This may mean moving the clippers in many different directions to catch all of the hair. Be careful not to clip the heifer's eyelashes but clip off all the whiskers on her face.
Working with the Topline
The topline can be the trickiest part of fitting an animal, but it is key in the preparation for a show. A well clipped topline will give the animal a sharp and straight look that is ideal for show. Since it is difficult, it is recommended to practice clipping toplines on animals that are not being shown and to have some help from an experienced fitter.
To start, find a level, well-lit area and someone to help hold the animal's head at the correct height. Clip your show heifer's winter coat away as soon as possible and begin training the topline hair to stand up. Bush it with the topline brush and use a blower to work the hair.
To do this, take the blower and hold it at an angle against the topline. Work the hair from the sides to a standing position. Be careful not to burn the heifer by pointing the hot air straight down on the heifer's back. Using the topline brush, brush the down the animal's back with the blower following and push the hair into a standing position. The cleaner the animal is, the easier it will be to accomplish this.
Once the hair is standing well, use the clippers to trim a straight line across the heifer from her rump to her withers. Go back and fine tune with a scissors if need be.
Next, blend the topline with the body. To do this, create a wedge shaped topline. Keep one finger under the clippers as a guide to blend the standing hair into the body on the side of the top line. Make sure to clip the entire topline into a wedge shape and clip by both sides of the tail head. This will require an only a light touch from the clippers. Once the hair is gone there is no getting it back. Go back a second time if more hair needs to be taken off.
If needed, re-blow the topline hair to make sure the hairs are standing. Once you have finished brush off the animal and check for any missed spots. Have someone lead the heifer after you have finished clipping to assure the topline will look sharp in the show ring.
Once the topline looks satisfactory, wash off the heifer to remove any dirt, adhesive or loose hair.
The topline may take a long time to accomplish so have patience. For a first time trimmer, there will be much trail and error. Fitting can be difficult, but with practice mastering the art is possible.
For more information or to read more on these basics visit www.holsteinfoundation.org/pdf_doc/workbooks/Showring_Ready_Workbook.pdf .