This article is a primer for parents and students who wish to show a steer in competition.
If your child comes home from school pleading with you to buy a calf to exhibit in the county fair, don’t panic. You can do this. I will assume we are talking about a steer. The plan for youth who enter steers in competitive shows is ultimately that they will be sold and butchered for meat. If you agree to it, establish the rules early. The calf belongs to your son or daughter—you are not required to feed, water, walk, bathe, or otherwise attend to the needs of this animal. You will, however, need to buy supplies, equipment, and feed to attend to his needs. The intent is the sale of the animal will cover all expenses. Keep good records. The student will have to submit a record book, too.
This list of things you will need is not exhaustive, but it is a beginning. You may find other things as you go through this experience. The focus of this list is steers. Consult the advisor to make sure the calf has been castrated. .
1. You will need a barn or shed to offer the animal shelter and a place for a trough and manger. You will need an adequate, but small enclosure with a good fence. If you have to rent this facility, make sure it meets all your requirements so that you don’t have to do any construction. You do not need grass or pasture since the steer will be maintained on feed. Consult the advisor.
2. The barn and pen need to have a water source. You will need a tub or water trough. The water trough will need to be emptied and cleaned periodically. Calves like fresh, clean water too. If the temperature stays below freezing for extended periods, you may need a heater for the water trough. Consult the advisor about this kind of equipment.
3. You will need an adequate supply of a good show feed, or the advisor may offer you a formula for mixing your own ration. Feed for show animals includes ingredients that will prompt good hair growth and gloss, build muscle, and promote good digestion to prevent bloating and diarrhea. You will need good quality hay to supplement the feed. Do not give calves on feed green grass. It promotes diarrhea and causes the calf to lose weight and strength. Cheap feed is not practical.
4. The calf will need a halter immediately. Put it on him before he is unloaded from the trailer. The calf at this point is probably wild or, at least, difficult to catch. You can leave a long piece of lead rope attached to his halter so you can get hold of it. As you train him to lead, this will become unnecessary. Check the size of the halter often. As the calf grows, the halter can become embedded in the flesh across his nose or behind his ears if the halter is too tight.
5. A good lead rope that has not been drug through the pen will provide you a way to lead and train the calf. The lead rope is a large soft rope that gives you a good grip and will not burn or cut the fingers. If your child is not very large, he or she may have some difficulty dragging a 350 pound calf around the pen. Cows are domestic animals. They can be gentled. It may take a while. Tie the lead rope to a post and get the calf accustomed to touch. It is better not to scratch them on the head since they sometimes begin to butt at people. Scratch the neck or underside of the jaw. For the show you may want a leather lead strap instead of the rope.
6. You will need a water hose for several purposes. At home you will need it to bathe the calf and wash out the trough. When you go to the show, you will need it for the same reasons.
7. You will need soap, a brush, and a curry comb for bathing and grooming the calf. Bathing the calf is very effective in getting it accustomed to touch and handling. Ivory Dishwashing Liquid is an old standby. If you have a white calf, blue dishwashing soaps help to make the white hair shine. Mane and Tail shampoo is excellent for gloss and sheen on hair. My daughter used it on her own hair as well as the calf’s. If you ball the tail, you will need tail ties and hair spray for the show. Grooming is important for showmanship.
8. A show stick is a necessity as you begin to train the calf to walk, turn, and stand. The stick is unwieldy to carry, and it is important to learn to manage the stick and the lead, to change hands with it, and to use it effectively.
The calf will learn to walk on the lead if your child is persistent and dedicated. He or she may need help. You are supposed to offer that. You are not supposed to work harder at it than your child does. I said in the beginning that you are not responsible for this calf. You are, however, still responsible for your child. Remember that in this effort your goal is training, too, but not necessarily the calf.