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First impressions matter: Clipping and grooming for sale success

Amy Schutte for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 January 2018
It takes a steady hand and lots of patience for clipping cattle.

It’s often said: You only get one chance to make a first impression – and when it comes to selling your cattle, the buyer’s first impression can make all the difference in sale dollars.

Every year, producers across the country spend a few weekends fitting their cattle for sale. It’s a time-consuming process, one that requires investment and thought but, as Wade Beckman of Beckman Livestock and Farming says, “A good clip job for sale or show is worth a ton.

You can’t put a price tag on a clean, well-groomed animal to present to someone. It makes the cow look good and your operation look professional.”

While sale and show cattle maintenance differ in their intensity, it’s always best to start with your goals in mind.

Kirk Stierwalt, owner and operator of Stierwalt Cattle and Clinics, has been operating clinics on clipping cattle for the past 31 years and encourages his clients to understand their goals for their cattle early on in feeding, fitting and clipping.

“You have to have a goal when you are feeding,” he says. “The biggest thing is that cattle don’t get fat quickly; fat on cattle usually wins, and fat on cattle usually sells. It takes time to put on weight. As far as sale cattle are concerned, condition is of first and foremost importance.”

Stierwalt is passionate about the nutritional side of the business and urges his clients to prepare well in advance for a sale or show by allowing at least 100 to 120 days to prep the cattle and tend to their diet as well as their hair.

“Daily nutrition has to come first to make sure clipping and grooming gives you the full benefit,” he says. “The hurry-up offense of waiting until the last minute doesn’t work. Preparation is key, and it takes time for things to fall into place.”

No matter your finesse with the clippers, it’s impossible to clip and groom an animal into a grand champion – and while there are ways to blend in faults, Tom Ottley of Barker Cattle Co. says it’s best to be transparent with your cattle.

close up grooming“People need to know what they are buying. We like to present the animal as best we can,” he says. “If you get a sale catalog in the mail, and the cattle look rough or not cared for, you probably won’t buy from that producer. A picture is worth a million dollars. We want our customers to see what they are getting.”

Ottley imagines the cow as a square or a box when he clips his cattle for their sale photos. Over the years, he’s honed his technique and, now that his operation has expanded significantly, a crew is hired to fit the cattle for them.

His advice to ranchers looking to take their sale cattle to the next level is to attend a clinic and practice clipping cattle. He likens the skill of clipping a cow to that of a hair stylist: The more you practice, the better you’ll be.

Many producers start prepping their cattle for a spring sale months in advance. Stierwalt suggests washing and rinsing your cattle so you have a clean slate to work with before you start clipping.

Producers who don’t prioritize this step can use a torch on their cows to burn off matted and rough hair. It’s a practice that won’t hurt the cattle but should be used with extreme caution.

“When it comes to clipping, you have to have the right equipment for the right job. It’s really important you have the right equipment and blades because if you don’t, it will be a struggle from the get-go,” he says.

Stierwalt also advises those interested in bettering their skills to find a mentor, watch videos, read magazines and keep on top of new technology and techniques to make the grooming process easier and more efficient.

“Clipping is a point-to-point process. You have to know the body parts on your animals. Sometimes we are hooking two points together or sometimes, when we get done with a point, it lets you know what to do with the next point,” he says. “It’s a little similar to a dot-to-dot drawing, when you end up connecting all the dots together and then, bam, you have a picture.”

The process of clipping a cow is a mental one that starts with an ideal image in your head.

“Picture your ideal animal and then clip them to that image,” says Matt Murdoch, field service representative at the International Brangus Breeders Association. Murdoch has been showing cattle since he was 8 years old and now, in his role at the International Brangus Breeders Association, he helps put on the national and regional shows across the country for Brangus cattle.

While Murdoch’s focus has primarily been show cattle, his advice can apply to anyone looking to have more success with clipping and grooming.

“Clipping is very important. It’s the same thing with people. The first thing you see is someone’s appearance, and the first thing you see is an animal’s appearance,” he says. “My grandfather always compared it to getting a job. If you don’t prepare your cattle to look clean and neat, they won’t sell as well.”

He urges people to find mentors and build relationships with those who can help advance their skills. As a judge for youth livestock shows, he is often asked by young cattlemen and cattlewomen what they can do to improve. It’s a constant learning process, he says.

“Showing cattle is a great way to get youth involved and on the track of agriculture to learn responsibility and develop lots of communication and decision-making skills so one day, if they want, they can be a commercial rancher,” he says. “Whether you are a commercial guy or a show guy, the end point for those cattle is the same. We want high-quality beef at a low cost to feed the world.”

Murdoch says training the hair is an important step for show cattle and can benefit sale cattle as well. Training an animal’s hair is a daily process that requires rinsing, blowing and combing, but it makes clipping the cow much easier once it comes time for show or sale. He advises clipping a cow to their phenotype, taking care to pay attention to their breed and different traits.

Murdoch echoes Stierwalt in his advice on cattle conditioning, noting that, for sale cattle especially, structural integrity is one of the most important qualities to show when fitting cattle for sale.

“Clipping brings out the better points in an animal, and it also blends away some of the faults,” Stierwalt says. “It helps to achieve the desired look you are trying to obtain.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: It takes a steady hand and lots of patience for clipping cattle.

PHOTO 2: Producers compare cattle grooming to going to the hair stylist. The more practice you make, the better the results. Photo courtesy of Barker Cattle Company.

Amy Schutte is a freelance writer based in Idaho. Email Amy Schutte.

10 tips for sale or show success

1. Get calves used to the noise and vibration of clippers by turning them on and running them along their backs with the blades up.

2. Train hair early and often by rinsing, blowing and combing the hair in the direction you want it to dry.

3. Start with a clean animal; the cleaner the hair, the easier it will be to clip.

4. Know your equipment and how your clippers and blades work. It’s easy to take off too much hair if you don’t have a handle on what your clippers can do. For show cattle, explore using different aerosol sprays and shampoos.

5. Picture the ideal animal in your mind before you start trimming hair. Go slowly, and don’t be afraid to leave too much hair on the first go-round. It’s easier to take it off later, but once it’s cut, it’s gone.

6. Take a step back and look at the animal. Experts say it’s easy to get too focused on one area and miss the overall goal you are trying to achieve. Start with the area that needs the most work, and then go from there.

7. Starting at the tail, trim up the middle portion. Keep the tailhead at a natural angle. Take excessive hair off of the neck of the animal and clip hair off of the brisket and up and around the shoulder. Make sure to blend the hair evenly.

8. Pay attention to the poll and jawline on the head so the animal looks clean.

9. Trim long hairs on the back and legs for a fresh look. If an animal is too heavy, trim up the belly to make it appear slimmer. On the other hand, if it needs to appear a little deeper-bodied, leave a little extra hair around its ribs and give the hair a very slight trim so it looks clean and uniform.

10. After trimming your cattle, keep their bedding clean and fresh so touch-up clipping before photos or sale is less work.


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