Bob May gives junior exhibitors tips on caring for calves and preparing them for the show ring during the Fitting Clinic sponsored by Purina Mills LLC at the Illinois Beef Expo. He stressed the importance of putting in a lot of time and effort with calves at home to get the best results in the show ring.
Bob May gives junior exhibitors tips on caring for calves and preparing them for the show ring during the Fitting Clinic sponsored by Purina Mills LLC at the Illinois Beef Expo. He stressed the importance of putting in a lot of time and effort with calves at home to get the best results in the show ring.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Preparing steers or heifers for show day should start long before that day arrives.

“It doesn’t matter how good I can clip one — if we’re not doing our stuff at home, all that will go out the window when I show against someone who did their work at home,” stressed Bob May, Honor Show Chow ambassador for Purina Mills LLC.

“It’s all about putting in a lot of time and effort,” said May, who conducted a Fitting Clinic during the Illinois Beef Expo along with his son, Brock. “What we do at home isn’t flashy. It’s grassroots, common-sense stuff.”

After a blower, May said, the most used item in their barn is the rotobrush.

“This promotes hair growth on the legs and gets dandruff out of the legs,” he explained. “Everyone needs to get one of these.”

The worst thing that can happen is the rotobrush gets caught in the tail.

“Have someone hold the tail out of the way or put a tube sock over the tail so it can’t wrap,” advised the cattleman from Mineral Point, Wis.

“The rotobrush is used every day at our farm, usually three times a day and always on a dry leg,” he said. “We never dress a calf without rotobrushing the calf’s legs.”

When training a calf to lead, May said, it is a good idea to have two calves so the animals don’t get scared.

“It is not a good idea for a calf to get away from you,” he noted. “Once they get away from you, they think that’s part of their gig.”

May starts by leading a calf in a small pen along the fence line.

“We use the fence as a second man,” he explained. “If the calf starts rushing you, just push the calf’s head toward the fence and there will be nowhere for him to go.”

Calves should not be fed from a feed pan on the ground daily at home.

“If cattle have to reach all the way to the ground, that’s not good on their front ends,” May said.

On their Wisconsin farm, May said, every lot is on a hill, so he puts a gate on the upper side of the bunk.

“I don’t want cattle standing downhill with all that pressure on their shoulders,” he said.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” way to clip or dress steers and heifers for the show ring.

“Don’t just grab clippers because you have electricity,” May stressed. “Take hair off that needs to come off.”

Clipping a calf should start at the point that needs fixing the most.

“Always start at the worst point. Then you have something to blend to,” the ambassador said.

“Comb the tail out every day so you get it to a flowing mass of hair rather than a tangled up mess,” he told the junior exhibitors.

“Brushing calves is good for their hair, and it is more quality time you are spending with your calf,” he said. “Every minute you’re with your calf, that’s a bond you’re making with that calf.”

Since cattle don’t like to have their heads clipped, May said, don’t clip the calf’s head at a show.

“Use a T84 blade, which gives about one-tenth of the noise coming off the clippers,” he said.

May prefers to use a five-speed Andis clipper.

“Use clippers that feel good to your hand,” he advised. “You might want a two-speed clipper with a light because no matter how good the lighting is, when you get down to dress a black leg it gets pretty dark down there.”

Although nobody wants to put a nick in the hair when clipping, May said, if you’re going to clip, you’re going to nick one.

“Don’t beat yourself up over a nick. It’s not that critical,” he stressed.

“If you come in a class with a really nice steer or heifer as a judge, I’m not going to put you second because there is a nick in the hair,” he said. “My job as a judge is to study structure, muscle — the actual calf.”

May uses light oils on calves.

“We spray and let it drop on the calf,” he said. “We’re big believers in blowers. We want to blow the oil into the hide to make the hair separate. We don’t want just the oil on the hair surface.”

During the heat of summer, it is important to avoid putting a calf in a chute too early.

“It takes us a strong hour to get a calf ready to show,” the specialist noted.

To decide when to begin the fitting process, May said, exhibitors should count the number of calves to be shown before their calf.

“The rule of thumb is it will take two minutes per calf to get to your class for most judges,” he explained. “That will help you know when to start fitting.”

Although May has been involved with raising and showing cattle for 40 years, he noted that he was a first-timer at one time.

“Every one of us starts in the same spot,” he stressed. “You can be as good as you want to be.”