Showing Cattle

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

For recent rule changes and updated showmanship guidelines, please refer directly to Purebred Dairy Cattle Association publications.


Before you show – Clipping your animal

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:



Tips from a Dairy Judge

on How to Win in the Show Ring:

(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 your animal 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.* Cleanliness is more important than type of fabric.
    • An example of classy attire: Button up white shirt with collar, tucked in to white pants, with leather boots (hard sole, lace up) and a leather belt.
    • 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. For rules on proper techniques, please refer to PDCA Showmanship Guidelines.
  • Know your animal – assume the judge WILL ask you questions. The judge should tailor their questions to the age of the exhibitor.
    • The judge may ask basic questions about:
      • Breed of animal – for example, if you are in a class of Holstein yearlings, you better be walking a Holstein into the ring and know your animal is a Holstein.
      • Age of animal or birthdate – be accurate and exact! Heifers are judged by age, so this is a very important question.
      • Sire of animal – The judge may know sires or be a breeder of the same breed you are showing. The judge and other dairy farmers like to know the sire of your animal so they can learn and use that information when choosing sires to breed their cows to. Sometimes, the judge will refrain from asking this question, to remain impartial if they know they have a preference toward/against certain sires.
    • Older exhibitors may be asked additional or more in-depth questions about:
      • Management aspects including feeding and general care at home.
      • What you did to prepare the animal for show.
      • What you would change in your heifer’s conformation if you could.
    • If showing a cow:
      • how many calves has she had?
      • when did she last calve?
      • is she bred back?
      • 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. Do not become distracted by outside disturbances. Once Jay judged a show where a 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. When the judge motions you to a position in the line-up, be quick and efficient to move where the judge wants you to go. Moving too slow to get into third place may put you in fourth – and the judge will just leave you there!
  • Sneak a peek: If you are showing in a later class, be on the sideline watching the judge in the meantime to determine – what does the judge prefer? What questions are being asked?
  • 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 milk in her udder.
  • Head carriage: Keep the animal’s head up and alert, yet natural. If the animal is heavy-headed, don’t be afraid to use two hands.
  • Be prepared to switch animals: In showmanship classes, the 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! Remember, this step is about the exhibitor (not about the animal). How well do YOU respond to other animals.
  • Back up! Become an expert at backing your animal up (before the show). Ideally, just using the halter and a light touch of the hand to push/lift at the point of the shoulder.
  • Pre-care for the cattle:
    • Before the show, walk your animal through the ring to familiarize them with the area, just enough to avoid them becoming spooked.
    • Let the animals rest up as much as possible before the show and between classes. Participating in one or a few classes with the same animal is very wearing for the animal – you may get to the championship round just to lose because your animal is drooping or laying down a lot.
    • 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 an automatic 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 or too thin!
  • Be happy with your placing: Even if you placed 22 out of 22, keep that smile on your face, at least until you are back to the barn! (Then you can cry…) 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.
FFA dresses a little differently than 4-H and OPEN exhibitors. Ask your advisor or show officials if you have questions about proper attire.


Show with confidence!


Bring the animals that look best at show time. Fill the cow’s udder to maximize her potential.


A bedded pack is the best to offer a show animal: A on- foot-deep 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 so she gets proper exercise, right?).


When picking out a show animal, try to find one that … fits you size-wise. 😉 In the photo above, having a tall person show a heifer can make the heifer look smaller (although, in conformation classes, go with whomever is available.) In a showmanship class, a junior looks nice when presenting a young calf rather than a full-size cow (see next photo, below).


Everyone has their own style! This county fair does not follow PDCA rules, because they made up their own to match the local cattle (often cross-bred and of varying ages within one class in order to make up a full class). In this case, go with what the show officials expect of you, even if their rules are not what you are familiar with.

Setting up feet (for when the animals are stopped while circling the show ring):




NOTE: PDCA rules have changed in regards to how animals should be presented when in a lineup:

Copied from PDCA Showmanship Guidelines:

  • When showing a heifer, your position in the lineup determines how the animal’s rear legs should be positioned. Once your animal is set up properly, you should not switch the position of her rear legs, even if the judge walks back and forth.
    • The first person in line should set their animal up as if the judge was on the leadsperson side of the animal.
    • The last person in line sets their animal up as if the judge were opposite the leadsperson.
    • The rest of the class sets their animal up so they looked balanced with one rear leg forward.
  • If you have a cow, you must move her rear legs each time the judge changes sides in the lineup.
  • When the judge comes to the front of the animal, turn to face the judge presenting the front end of the animal for inspection. Do not cover up the person next to you, and do not move to the left side of the animal.

For the complete rules, see:

Additional Resources: