When I was asked to write an article on showing Highland Cattle I never appreciated how difficult it is to describe an activity than actually demonstrating it in person. That being said, I will do my best to explain my techniques and logic.
When a decision is made to show your cattle it really should have been made 2-4 years earlier when you would have made your phenotypical and genotypical selections, planned breeding dates to coincide with classes by age etc. to give you optimum chances for success.
The animal selected for showing must best represent what you are doing with your breeding program. This animal should primarily be the best structurally that you have. Animals that are not structurally sound should simply be culled, never used for breeding and certainly never sold to another breeder. Your reputation will be at stake.
The first step in showing is to discern what you have to begin with and how close it would resemble the ideal animal. Look for those strengths and weaknesses in your animal and then formulate a plan for effective grooming. Highland cattle can be presented beautifully and effectively because of their hair coat. Some general weaknesses that I have seen in Highland cattle is a weak top-line, shallowness in the heart or girth/fore rib area, lack of muscle in the thurl, or lower thigh and sloping in the hooks to pins area. This area is also called the “plates”. With grooming techniques some of the glaring deficiencies can be minimized to some extent.
What you are attempting to do when showing is to capture the judges attention or focus on your animals and long and as often as you can. Every animal will get at least one or two looks but with proper presentation you can strive for more. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses in your animal will hopefully get you in the winners ring more times.
1. THE TOP-LINE. Parting the hair at the back is one sure way of making the animal look as wide as it possibly can and lead to a very good initial impression. To do this take two parting combs and place the teeth of each together and pull the hair apart in opposite directions and do not brush down, just out. Do this all the way from the back of the head to the end of the tail head. A perfect straight line and then apply some hair spray.
2. THE THURL & LOWER ROUND. You will want to make your animal look as wide, and evenly muscled as possible. When the hair is ¾ dried after washing, put some styling gel on your hands and massage the animals hair up towards the tail head and top line area. After drying, take a wide toothed brush and brush the hair down but be sure to just brush down on the outer hairs only. On the legs from the hocks on down take a fine toothed brush and spray it with hair spray and brush the inside of the legs all the way to the hooves. This will make the animal look as wide as it can in its stance.
3. TAIL HEAD & BUTT AREA The attempt here is to make your animal look as wide as possible. All hair in the butt area should be brushed out and down from the center. Don’t make it look un-natural by just brushing out, go slightly down just like the tail when swishing would do. Apply some hair spray here too. At the top of the tail head, spray your hand with hair spray and grasp the top of the tail and matt the tail hairs closely to the tail. The effect here is to narrow the tail and make the butt look wider.
4. HEAD AND HORNS This is the first impression for the judge. Spend time at home rasping and sanding the horns to make them as smooth as possible. I then use a polyurethane spray very lightly on the day of the show. This spray when dry will not attract dust or dirt. Brush the dossan hair down and wide as possible thus making the head look as wide and as triangular as possible. Use hair spray to keep in place.
5. WALK AND POSE Practice at home to know at what speed is best for your animal to walk at. Keep in mind that the back foot should set exactly in the departed front foot track. Walking too slow or too fast will cause the animal to make short choppy sets of tracks. Practice this on soft ground at home. Be absolutely sure to not hold the animals head too ridgidly in the up position as the head is used to enhance balance and rhythm. When you are ready to stop and set your animal up you should keep in mind that moving the head of the animal in all directions will cause the legs of the animal to shift its feet to the desired position. Practice at home. Using a show stick will also be a useful tool to set the feet and stroke the belly of the animal to sooth it and also to keep the top-line from sagging.
Remember that all of the above criteria will only cause the judge to perhaps “scrutinize” your animal many times. A good judge will of course either use his hands to feel for muscles or other deficiencies. The sole object of presenting your animal professionally is to give your animal its best chance, represent your fold well and possibly aid in your marketing of Highland cattle. One should always remember to wear the proper show attire and to maintain your best possible image. When you go to the big dance wear your best clothes.
A FINAL REMINDER – Always be a humble winner and a gracious loser. When I judge, I always ask the show organizing committee if they would allow me to take temporary possession of the winning male and female to allow exhibitors to bring their animal up near the champion to make comparisons and ask questions. This is often the first time that some exhibitors can make subjective comparisons. All exhibitors deserve to know why they placed where they did.
Glenn W. Bluhm
Mr. Bluhm has world wide experience judging many breeds of cattle. He has judged in Sweden, Australia, Michigan State Fair, Expo LeBoef in Quebec for past three years and also had considerable experience at the local level as well performed as personal herd consultant. He is listed on the World Council of Judges. He has also been retained as a conformation and muscle evaluator for the Quebec Highland Bull Test station.