Showing Dairy Cattle

Includes detailed information on clipping an animal, preparing for show, show ring etiquette, tips from a dairy judge, and show photos.


How to Clip a Dairy Cow or Heifer – Part One Video:Clip Video 1

How to Clip a Dairy Cow or Heifer – Part Two Video:


Copy of an illustration found online:


Tips on Showmanship from a Dairy Judge (in no particular order):

  • Be in charge – Let both the judge and animal know that you are confident and experienced in what you are doing (even if this is your first time showing!) Many showmen like to be either first or last to “catch” the judges attention. Some will briefly greet the judge, “Good Morning” etc. or at least politely respond to the judge if the judge speaks to them. Keep in mind, though, your primary goal is to present your heifer or cow to the best of her abilities – work at getting the judge’s focus on her rather than on you.
  • Have fun – the judge will often place someone higher if they are smiling the whole time, enjoying themselves, and having a positive attitude.
  • The show person typically wears all white clothing* – a button up white shirt with collar, tucked in to white pants. Cleanliness is more important than type of fabric.  Leather boots and a belt (hard sole, lace up) are ideal. If your hair is long, tie it up out of the way so the judge can clearly see your face. Do not wear a hat! Many dairy shows use a show harness – which is a nylon strap that goes over your white shirt and has plastic slots for your number(s) so the clerk can keep everyone straight. *Note: FFA dress may be different, such as the wearing of a FFA jacket and tie.
  • The animal should have on a leather show halter and lead. The lead can be rolled or looped and held in the hand that does not have primary control of the halter.
  • Know your animal – assume the judge WILL ask you questions. The judge may ask:
    • Breed of animal (If you’re in a class of Holstein yearlings, you better bring a Holstein and know it’s a Holstein.)
    • Age of animal or birthdate
    • Sire of animal
    • What farm the animal came from
    • If a cow –
      • how many calves has she had,
      • when did she calve,
      • is she bred,
      • sire she is bred to
  • Pay attention: Keep equal attention to your animal and the judge. Don’t stare at the judge, your animal may slip out of the halter and run away. Once Jay judged a show where the train ran behind the ring – only two participants continued to watch the judge and their animal while all the rest stared at the train going by. Another example is when the judge motions you to a position when placing the animals, be quick and efficient to move where the judge wants you to go. Moving too slow to get to third place may put you in fourth – and the judge will just leave you there!
  • Sneak a peek: If you are not in the ring, be on the sideline watching the judge – what does the judge prefer? What questions are being asked? Survey your class-mates – if someone else has a heifer in heat or an unruly animal, avoid being in front of or behind them! (Shh, observe but don’t tell these secrets! 😉 )
  • Grooming: Study up on what well-groomed animals look like. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make sure the inside of the ears are clean; tail is brushed and fluffed; toes are trimmed, cleaned and polished; proper topline (if necessary); if a milk cow – make sure she looks like a milk cow and has at least some milk in her.
  • Head carriage: Keep the animal’s head up and alert. If the animal is heavy-headed, don’t be afraid to use two hands.
  • Be prepared to switch animals: A judge may ask you to exchange animals with someone in front of or behind you – to see how well you act with a different animal and … to see if YOU can present someone else’s animal better than THEY can!
  • Back up! Be an expert at backing your animal up. Ideally, just using the halter and using the palm of your off-hand to push/lift on the point of the shoulder.
  • Pre-care for the cattle:
    • Let the animals rest as much as possible before the show. Participating in one or a few classes with the same animal is very wearing – you may get to the championship round just to lose because your animal is drooping or laying down.
    • Soaked beet pulp before and during the show season can help provide a shiny coat and also regulate the rumen to avoid constipation/diarrhea from lack of eating/drinking and stress.
    • Many will either bring water from home or a water filter if the show barn has different or bad tasting water – make sure your animals drink regularly or have a auto-waterer hooked up in the stall. Don’t share water tubs with other herds – avoid spreading disease!
    • Bring along a variety of hay – even if the show provides hay, bring something from home to guarantee your animals will eat. Hay and water are also very important for the show ring – the judge wants to see that your animal is “capacious” and has a large belly (therefore, a large rumen – not pot belly, but “hay belly”) capable of consuming a lot of feed, therefore capable of making a lot of milk!
    • Body condition is important too – a perfectly conformationally correct heifer may end up in last place if she’s too fat!
  • Be happy with your placing: Even if you placed 22 out of 22, keep that smile on your face, at least until you’re back to the barn! Then reflect on why you placed last and how you can improve for next time – the true goal of showing is to know both the STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES of your animal and/or yourself in order to build and improve! Be thankful to the judge for their honest opinion and don’t be afraid to walk up to them after the show ends to ask honest questions! They like being asked more questions! If you’re the winner – be gracious to others and know that there’s always room for improvement, even for #1.



A bedded pack is the best to offer a show animal: A one foot layer of shavings/sawdust/shavings/sawdust to provide a cushy resting place for the animals. If you think they don’t need it – try sleeping on concrete for a night yourself! Double ties and a neck chain/strap allow the cow some movement when tied (you’re also going to take her on walks and walk her to the wash stall).



Everyone has their own style!

Setting up feet (for when the animals are stopped):




Additional Resources:


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