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Showground etiquette

Showing Highland cattle can be an invigorating and educational experience for all Highland breeders. There can be tremendous camaraderie between breeders, as well as exposure to other training, feeding and showing methods that may enhance the breed to a level the individual may desire. There are however, a few general guidelines that will assist the new, and sometimes not so new breeder in conquering the showering for the first time.

      There is a lot in information available through extension and 4H on suggested technique and how to present your animal and yourself in the best light possible. However, there doesn’t seem to be much available on what to expect of yourself, your cattle and others (both human and animal) when you arrive at the showground hours or days prior to the show itself.

First and foremost, come prepared.

             1. Make sure all your papers are in order. Most shows will require an official health certificate in order for you to even be there. Anytime you transport cattle across any state line, even for just a show, you must have an official interstate health certificate filled out and signed by a veterinarian within 30 days of the show. In

addition, each state sets its own health requirements for cattle coming into that state, even for just a one day show. Your veterinarian can access specific state requirements on line or by a phone call to the state veterinarian’s office in the state to which you are traveling. If you show up without necessary papers and the required testing completed, you will be turned away from the show. On a different note, make sure your farm liability policy includes coverage for your participation in cattle shows.

           2. Calculate the amount of feed you will need for the entire time you are away from home. If you are showing a large number of animals, you may not have the physical space to carry all the hay, grain and bedding that you might require. Find out from the show committee where these items can be purchased if you cannot carry enough for your own animals. While friends and fellow breeders are usually more than willing to share a little of what they have available, they are not responsible for feeding and bedding your cattle. If you do end up using feed and bedding supplied by someone else, don’t forget to pay them for all that you have taken. Many times the show committee will arrange for a local farmer to bring in a load of hay and straw for the benefit of those coming from a long distance away. Because a large trailer of feed is sitting unattended at the showground does not imply that the bales are free for the taking. If you don’t grow your own feed, you may not have any idea of the time and commitment it takes to produce high quality forage; suppliers should be well compensated for both their produce and their time.

          3. Keep your animals happy. Feed them well, on time, with plenty of water available either at all times or at least twice per day. They are bored to death and something to chew on all the time helps alleviate some of the boredom and the stress.

           4. Tie your animals short. They should be able to stand and lie down comfortably, plus reach their food and water easily. However more than about 2 feet of free rope can lead to feet, legs or horns becoming entangled in the tie ropes. Animals tied close together with long ties easily become entangled in each others leads, which can cause chaos, as well as serious damage in certain instances. Animals that can rub their heads together may appear to be happy and content in such quarters, but they can easily slip a horn underneath a halter and either become hung up or literally remove a halter, particularly if you are using a rope halter.

           5. Have and use neck ropes in addition to your halters. Neck ropes are readily available through a number of mail order sites, as well as local farm supply stores. They are designed as a safety feature and should ALWAYS be used. This is one more means of securing your animals. If the halter breaks, comes off, comes untied, the neck rope is a back up system. It should also be tied short, with the same general requirements for comfort as a halter. Neck ropes need to be snug enough that they cannot slip over the head. Obviously this is rarely a problem on a mature Highland with long horns, but on calves and yearlings it can become an issue. Test the rope and make sure that it cannot be physically removed over the animals head. If it can, tighten up the loop around the cattle’s neck. Make sure however, that the neck rope cannot choke down around the animals neck; you should not be able to tighten the loop just by pulling on the rope.

          Loose ties lead to loose animals. This can result in any number of catastrophes. A tied animal can get severely beaten by one that is loose. A loose bull can lead to numerous young heifers being bred when they are too young or their owner just plain doesn’t want them bred. A loose heifer is certainly capable of sidling up to some handsome young thing and getting herself bred despite her owner’s best intentions or wishes. Such actions can lead to problems with the registration of offspring resulting from such liaisons. In order for a calf to be registered, both parents must be known. Sometimes heifers can be bred and if the owner is not there to witness the event, or told about it by someone who did see it, they will have no idea that their animal is bred, much less who the sire is some 9 months later. In some instances, like the case of a yearling heifer being bred unexpectedly, the owner might choose to give an injection of a prostaglandin to bring the heifer back into heat. If they don’t know she was bred, they cannot do that in a timely fashion. Some owners may be very protective of the genetics of their show animals. Obviously if a loose bull impregnates another breeder’s tied female, and the owner of the female opts to keep the calf, then surely the bull’s owner has some responsibility to sign a breeding certificate for the calf. If however, the bull is adequately restrained and the female is the “at fault” party, it is not so obvious that the bull’s owner bears any responsibility to provide a breeding certificate.

         6. Tie your animals in some considered order when you leave them. Don’t tie your big bull right next to or across a panel with someone else’s big bull. Bulls will want to spar and fight, endangering themselves and those animals and people around them. Heifers in heat should not be tied in the close vicinity of breeding age bulls.

        7. Make sure your animals are indeed halter broke before they come to a show. Take extra precautions if this is their first time off the farm. A weanling heifer weighing 400 pounds will be easier to control even if highly agitated than a 2 year old heifer in heat or a 5 year old cow with her calf that has never seen the inside of a show ring. Certainly there have been mature cows brought into a large show arena without prior experience that have proven themselves to be gentle and trustworthy, even with their calf at side. There have also been numerous occasions of yearling or 2 year old heifers that are hyped up on too much high concentrate diet, scared out of their minds, or just plain obnoxious, and as a result are wild and unruly and are a danger to other people and animals. Sometimes you won’t know this until you arrive at your destination several hundred miles from home, but there are still things you can do with an unruly animal. First, if the animal is scared to death it is not safe. Get it tied and leave it tied. Yes, you will sacrifice your entry fee, but that is a small price to pay. The consequences of serious injury to another animal or a person could be emotionally, physically and monetarily devastating to you and others

        If your animal is obnoxious and unruly, constantly pulling away, trying to break free, it also can be a serious danger to others. A temporary nose lead can be a literal and figurative life saver in this case. This is the same type of nose lead that is required for show bulls if they do not have a permanent nose ring in them. Put the lead as soon as you realize your animal is a problem. Leave it in for the entire show if possible. If your animals have never worn a nose lead, I personally recommend tying them with it for several hours under close observation so they do not do any harm to themselves. Cattle need to learn respect for a nose lead just as they must learn respect for a halter. Once an animal will stand quietly tied by the nose lead, it is my experience that they will stand still if you take a hold of the lead and pull their head up. No, they will not like it, but they will be suitably restrained, making your life, and the lives of those around you, temporarily much improved. Practice using a nose lead, so that you realize how much power you have in your hand. The lead does no good if you allow it to dangle from the nose and don’t touch it.

           8. Be considerate of the people and animals around you. Just because your cows are used to your dog, doesn’t mean that everyone else’s are. Even in cattle accustomed to dogs, the sudden movement of a dog jumping excitedly to greet its owner may be enough to send a flighty heifer hightailing it to the far end of the compound without you in tow.

Sudden, unexpected movements from anything can excite and spook even an experienced show cow.

          9. Do not handle animals that are not your own unless the owner is present or has instructed you that it is alright. First time show attendees (referring to the bovines here, although sometimes it does apply to the Homo sapiens as well) can be hyper excitable and may act out accordingly. They can be scared of strange people, sounds or even smells. A frightening experience at the showground may permanently affect the attitude of an inexperienced animal. Not all cattle, even exceedingly gentle ones, are used to small children. Don’t allow your children to approach other breeder’s cattle unless they have permission from the owner to do so. Cattle unaccustomed to children may equate them with predators and become very frightened or protective.

          10. Pay attention to what is happening around you. The show committee goes out of their way to make sure that everyone who is supposed to be in a class actually has time to make it into the class. If your animal places 1st or 2nd, remember that it will be needed very soon to compete in the division championship. If your animal is a division champion or reserve, it will be needed to compete in the Grand Champion Class. Hang around and watch what is going on. Know what class you are competing in and the proper number for your entry, particularly if you have more than one. Again, most breeders are happy to give you a hand, as long as they are not doing all of your work for you.

             11. Try to resolve all conflicts with a smile on your face.

              12. Operate always under the guidance of the golden rule; behave yourself as you would want others to behave; treat others as you would want to be treated; if you wouldn’t say it or do it in front of your priest or minister, you probably shouldn’t say it or do it in front of anyone at the show grounds. Nobody likes a sore loser; likewise, nobody loves a bragging winner. If you win, remember that we wish it were us and if you lose, we too have been there.

Showing Highland cattle can be a tremendous amount of work, with significant emotional and financial rewards. It is also a lot of fun, and all of us should strive to make sure that it stays that way for ourselves and everyone else.

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