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It's That Time of Year Again: Preparing your animals for show

Published on 11 June 2015

dairy cow show

It’s time to dust off those white pants and load up the trailer for summertime shows and fairs. Whether a youth is exhibiting their 4-H project heifer or a breeder is showing off their prized milking cow, getting ready for competition requires preparation and dedication.



Crystal Siemers-Peterman is no stranger to the show ring. She spent her youth exhibiting cattle as part of her family’s dairy, Siemers Holsteins, Newton, Wisconsin.

crystal siemers-peterman

At all levels of shows, from the county fair to the International Holstein Show at World Dairy Expo, she has earned many accolades for both her high-quality cattle and showmanship skills.

Siemers-Peterman shares some tips to help you take home a blue ribbon this summer.

Preparing your animals for show

Getting ready for the show is a year-long process. There are many steps to getting your animals ready to be presented and looking their best come show time.


  • It starts at home with walking and leading your animals numerous times until they are comfortable carrying their head high and smoothly while walking gracefully on their feet and legs.
  • Introduce them to different noises and environments so when the fair or show arrives, they aren’t timid.
  • Rinse heifers and cows with cold water each day. This helps grow healthy hair and keeps hair follicles strong. Applying cold water on a regular basis helps grow long quality hair for their topline.
  • After rinsing, use a skin-conditioning product to keep skin supple and smooth. However, too much of this product will make hair produce extra oil.
  • Before the show, have them on a strict diet and introduce them to feeds you might be feeding at the show in order for them to get a good fill. A couple handfuls of dry beet pulp over their grain is a good idea.
  • A show environment can be stressful for some cattle, so anything to remind them of home will keep them happy and eating. While at the show, start them on a coarser type of hay. This hay should be introduced at home so you know they will eat and enjoy it. Overnight, it’s important to have plenty of fresh hay in front of them. Change your hay 48 hours before the show to keep progressing and fill their cage.
  • Watering heifers can be one of the hardest tasks at a show. Many heifers are very picky about their water, as it most likely tastes different than at home. Many hardware stores sell water filters for hoses that can help eliminate foreign tastes.
  • When watering heifers throughout the day, it’s crucial to watch the amount of water intake on smaller calves. Some heifers drink so much they don’t feel like eating the rest of the day. Additionally, if you have access to warm water, cows prefer drinking warm water over freezing cold water.


Showmanship has the simple goal of showing off your cow or heifer to the best of her ability. Here are some show ring guidelines to keep in mind:

  • First and foremost, confidence is key. When walking into the ring, it’s important to stand tall, be alert, make lots of eye contact with the judge and keep positive the entire time. Confidence in anything you do goes a long way, and in the show ring it isn’t any different.
  • During a showmanship contest, owning a crisp white show shirt, white pants, proper footwear and a belt is very important. Cleanliness on a person is just as imperative as a clean cow. It shows the judge, your friends and fairgoers you take this seriously and you want to portray a positive image for the dairy industry.
  • While walking into the ring, begin by walking forward. Many judges have different opinions about either walking forward or backward for the remainder of the contest, but it’s important to pick one and stick with it. However, walking sideways is highly discouraged.
  • Make sure to find or buy a halter that fits. This helps control the heifer and keeps you and your heifer looking tidy.
  • Walking at a steady pace is important. Showmen who walk too leisurely may slow the entire show, while those who walk too fast create an awkward pace and can make their heifers walk without ease.
  • When the judge pulls you into the line, turn and swiftly walk forward to the center of the ring.
  • Setting up feet and legs at a show is an important part to making your heifer or cow look her best. When setting up, people who show heifers should have the leg that is closest to the judge back, while those who show cows should have the leg closest to the judge slightly forward. Keeping your cow’s legs placed underneath her is essential so they don’t get too stretched out.
  • Using your feet to place your cow’s front feet together is OK to do if needed. However, never use your feet to fix their back legs.
  • Many judges will ask questions about your project animal. Make sure to know absolutely everything about her. It also helps to know what her biggest weaknesses are and what you are doing to help that. For instance, if your yearling has a weak loin, you won’t want to keep her head up too high as it will make her loin look worse.
  • Before you partake in a contest, make sure to check out the PDCA Dairy Showmanship Score Card for additional information. PD

Crystal Siemers-Peterman is a junior at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cites majoring in agriculture and food business management with an emphasis in marketing and strategic communications.