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5 tips for great-looking show heifer hair, from top to bottom

Katie Coyne for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 May 2019

As I travel around the country working with youth to hone their fitting skills, the one area everyone wants to know more about is how to get a straight, full topline and how to complement that with just-right belly hair.

There is no shortcut: Achieving great hair on your heifer takes time and effort. Make a commitment to both right from the start, and you’ll grow thick, manageable hair.



Washing and rinsing

  • When you wash, begin by wetting your entire animal down with a good soaking. Be sure to get the belly saturated too. This will help distribute the soap better when you begin the soaping process.

  • Always spray the water front to back and top to bottom. This will help remove the first dirt and grime from your heifer.

  • There are many mild livestock shampoos on the market formulated for cattle; these are your best option for a great hair coat. You wouldn’t use livestock soap on your clothes or dishes, so using a livestock shampoo on your heifer is the best option. Place a handful in a bucket and fill the bucket with water to make good suds. Use a small handful and wipe it directly into the topline so you can make sure the top gets extra clean. Do the same with the belly.

  • Now scrub your heifer using the bucket of soapy water to add to the soap in the top and on her belly.

  • After you have scrubbed with a stiff brush, rinse the soap out of the hair, from front to back and top to bottom of the animal.

  • Add a handful of livestock conditioner to her top and rinse at least two times on each side.

  • Be sure all of the soap and conditioner are rinsed out.

  • Using a different stiff brush or a topline brush, brush the topline straight down so the hair is lying flat. This is a very important step to train the hair, so do not skip it.

  • Brush the belly hair straight back as well. Be sure to get right down next to your heifer so you get it all going in one direction. By taking your time and doing these two important steps correctly, you will be on your way to an exceptional look on your show heifer.

Do not wash hair with shampoo and conditioner every day, as this is unnecessary. In the evenings, you can rinse your heifer thoroughly. This gets out the sweat from the day and cools them down so they will grow a thicker coat of hair. A good rule of thumb is to thoroughly wash twice a week and rinse the other five days in the evening. During really hot weather, an early morning rinse will keep your heifer cool too.

From the wash rack

After your heifer is washed, there are two different tricks to working toward the look you want when you enter the ring. One way is to have feed ready for her when she returns to the pack. This will encourage her to remain standing while her hair dries. You can give her feed or start her on fresh hay, depending on the time of day that coincides with your wash schedule.

I prefer to take the time and blow out wet belly hair with a large blower.

  • Tie your heifer in a chute or somewhere with her head up. Begin blowing the hair out with a smooth motion so the hair dries straight down.

    Drying belly hair
  • You may have to blow in different directions to get rid of cowlicks or swirls in the hair. This takes practice and time but is well worth it in the end.

  • To assist with this step, there are several livestock hair products developed to straighten hair and make it more manageable. These work exceptionally well on belly hair.

Note: It is not necessary to blow the topline hair dry. Let it air-dry flat down.

Finally, there are several leave-in conditioning products that will promote hair growth. I like to use these when the heifer is just off the wash rack and at least one other time during the day. Spray it on and then brush it in with a soft brush.


Blowing up a topline

  • Invest in a good topline blower that will blow hair at high heat and is adjustable. Always use a concentrator nozzle on the blow dryer, or you will not be able to get all of the hair to stand up.

    Topline hair

  • Use a good topline brush. A regular hairbrush will melt if used with a good-quality blower.

  • Make sure the topline is completely dry before you start.

  • Start at the back of your heifer and blow the hair forward.

  • Hold your dryer by the handle down near the topline so that you can move your brush right in front of it.

    Topline hair has the straight-up-and-down look you need
  • Do not hold your dryer at a sharp angle to the top, as this will burn your heifer. She will let you know if it’s too hot. She’ll either move away quickly or kick you, so be sure to move the dryer with the brush and gradually use the heat to stand the hair up.

  • You may have to blow in different directions so you are blowing against the hair at all times. I’ve never seen a heifer whose hair all grew one way.

  • Before you begin clipping, make sure all of the hair is standing straight up.

All of these steps will pay off when it comes time to clip a straight topline and comb hair for an attractive belly to give the proper “look” to your heifer. Remember, there is no shortcut to great hair: It takes dedication and diligence, but it is something every showman can achieve.  end mark

PHOTO 1: This belly hair is even and hangs straight down. This was blown out when wet with a large blower.

PHOTO 2: This topline is just washed and brushed straight down to dry.

PHOTO 3: This topline hair has the straight-up-and-down look you need. Photos provided by Katie Coyne.

Katie Coyne
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