Every showmanship judge has one or two key practices they are looking for when a showman enters the ring. At a large junior show last summer, if a calf or heifer had dandruff or less-than-ideal shine, the showman was eliminated from the top group in their class as the judge was looking for the cleanest all-around animal.

Coyne katie
Editor / Progressive Dairy – Canada
Coyne also owns and operates Mill Wheel Dairy Show Clinics. She can be reached by email.

Here are five tips to make sure that dust and dandruff aren’t the reason you’re placed down in your showmanship class at the next show.

1. Begin at home

The best way to achieve show-day hair and hide is to work with the hair at home several weeks prior to the show. This includes regular rinsing. A cold-water rinse at midday will refresh your animal and rinse out sweat. It is not necessary to rinse every day, and you should stop regular rinsing if skin begins to dry out and flake.

Another key practice is to use a livestock conditioner once or twice a week. Livestock shampoos and conditioners are developed for the hide and hair of cattle. If you use a human conditioner, it is not going to work as well as a product designed for cattle, as their hair is much coarser. Be sure to follow the label as far as leave-in or rinse-out directions go as well as how to apply – most conditioners work best when they are brushed in.

2. Wash correctly

The number one reason for dandruff, flaking and cracks in the hide is improper washing. Rule one of washing is do not use soap every day. Washing with soap every day will dry out the hair and the hide. Furthermore, there is no reason to wash every day – a good rinse every two to three days should keep the hide fresh and dandruff-free. Always wash from front to back and top to bottom. Don’t stand at the back of the animal and randomly spray water. This won’t get a good rinse and often causes water to go in the ear. 


It is critical to be sure to get all of the soap out. Again, this is where a livestock shampoo is a plus. These shampoos are designed to come out with a cold-water rinse, and they possess cleaning agents to brighten and whiten cattle hair.

Areas on a heifer that often show signs of soap being left in are the folds of the neck and in the pins area near the tailhead.

When rinsing, rinse the top out, each side, and then repeat. Be sure the heifer’s head isn’t too high so the neck can be rinsed out thoroughly. Don’t forget to rinse the belly too.

If the hide starts to crack from too much washing or sun exposure, there are several livestock hide lotions to apply to alleviate the problem.

3. Brush your cattle regularly

There is absolutely no substitute for putting a brush in each hand and vigorously brushing the hair. Use a stiff brush such as a rice root or stiff synthetic material in the lead hand. This will bring dust and dandruff out to the surface. In the other hand, use a soft-bristled brush to whisk away the dust and particles that are present. Always brush from front to back and top to bottom.

A good practice is to brush morning, afternoon and evening to bring out natural oils and add shine. During the off-season, brushing once a day will keep hair growing and will have the added benefit of additional work around your show heifer, which will help her maintain a calm demeanor.

4. Show day has arrived

You’ve washed either the previous evening or early in the morning. On show day, it is best not to use a conditioner on the topline, as it will make the hair too soft to stand up straight. You can use conditioner on the head, neck and sides.

Approximately five to eight minutes before your class, take the heifer off the pack in their properly fitted show halter. Have someone else hold your heifer while you give her a final brushing followed by an aerosol conditioner. Brush that in thoroughly, avoiding the topline, which would have been set earlier in the process. Follow the spray-on conditioner with a livestock show shine, and brush that in with a soft brush or cloth.

If there is some distance between the barn and the show ring, take your brush and show shine with you to the ring to give a final shine and brush right before entering the ring. Don’t forget the head and neck in this entire process.

5. Wash products out immediately after the show

As soon as you are done showing for the day, wash your heifer thoroughly with a product that will take adhesive out followed by soap and conditioner. Continue to rinse until the water coming off of the animal is clear – this means that you have everything rinsed out.

This step is especially important if you show at multiple shows during the season. Leaving product on your show animal will cause hair to thin, skin to dry out and can produce cracks in the hide.

The few minutes of extra work that you put in to brushing and rinsing, as well as using products designed for cattle, will be well worth your time and monetary investment. The showmanship judge can focus on your showing skills, rather than the dust on your animal, to take you to the top of the class.