It is that time of the year again! The snow and ice have finally melted and it is time to buckle down and start working with the 4-H steers and heifers. The long winter put a delay on getting started for many of us. Due to this late start, the halter breaking and training process may be a bit more difficult. I have put together some of the tips and tricks I use to help the process along. The key to training is safety. The health and overall well-being of you and your animal should be kept in mind at all times during the training process. Ask for help when you need it and enjoy the time as a 4-H member.
Everyone trains differently. What works for one may not work for another. Below are a few low-stress methods that make a big impact. Stress is inevitable and detrimental to your animals. A stressed animal backs off of feed and is more likely to get sick. This method of animal handling encourages small increments of stress spread over time. This is done so that you have the time and resources to make a change and do what is right to create a healthy animal. This can be challenging; however, it’s fun!
TIP 1: START EARLY
The snow and ice have let these creatures get a bit too big. The earlier you start training your animal, the more comfortable and familiar they will be when it’s time to enter the show ring. Personally, I like to start at weaning, when they have been put to the side in a show pen. Familiarize yourself with them and be a presence. The more they see you, the less afraid and stressed you will make them. If you are the one showing them, you should be the one to bring their feed every day. This will be positive reinforcement to the idea that you are a “good thing” to them. Move in slow and steady movements when first entering their pen. These animals are prey animals and will be afraid of you for awhile. Clean their pen, stand near them when they eat, read a book where they can see you, etc. Just make sure that they are accustomed to your presence.
TIP 2: BRING A FRIEND
Bring a friend to feed with you some days. The more the merrier! They will see many ages and sizes of people in their career as show cattle. It is better to start them off young so that when the fair comes to town they will not be stressed by the number of people who will stop by to see them. Don’t be afraid to let the dog be around the pen. The more they are familiarized with, the less there will be to be afraid of later in life. There will be many strange creatures at the fair, and if the animal is comfortable with them at home, it will be comfortable with them anywhere.
TIP 3: LEAVE THE RADIO ON!
There a ton of strange noises that come from a radio. At first this will be a little scary for them, but I find that this trick is especially helpful for animals that are a bit “spooky” when it comes to farmyard noises. As we all know, there will be MANY strange noises at the fair. It is better to have them completely comfortable with various noises than to chase them off of the midway because of a balloon pop.
INTRODUCING THE HALTER
Now we get into the really tough part. At this point, your animal is comfortable with you and associates you with feed and "good things." Now is the time to introduce the halter.
STEP 1: Use a newer halter with lots of slip and no knots. Start by putting it on them, then feeding them. They will hate this at first, but then they will most likely forget they even have one on, and just enjoy their feed. Let them walk around after with the halter dragging. This will teach them about pressure and release. I usually let them drag their halter for an hour or two and then take it off.
STEP 2: Once they have figured that part out, you can gradually do more with the halter. Tie them up and give them half of their feed. When their feed is gone, they will pull away and find themselves stuck. Make sure the halter has a quick-release knot. They will pull for a while then give up. Once they have calmed down, give them the other half of their feed. At this point you should be able to comb them and touch them while they eat.
STEP 3: The next step is to walk them between two buckets of feed. Let them get a few mouthfuls from a pan, and lead them to the next one. You can increase the distance between the two dishes multiple times during a feeding, and should start further apart each day. When you let them finish their meal, have them tied and scratch their belly with a show stick. This will comfort them and get them used to the show stick.
Once they have figure out walking on the halter, we can move on to grooming them. Tie them with their head up—they will need their head up in the show ring, so it is important to get them accustomed to it now. Brush your animal when its head is up. This will get you accustomed to how their hair falls and what you will need to improve over time. Wash them with their head up. The first wash will be a bit scary for them so speak softly and feed them after. This is all about positive reinforcement. Bath = food soon.
Once they are washed, a quick and easy way to train their hair is to add a hair product while the animal is wet. Add the product all over the animal’s body. Comb all of its hair completely down. Once this is done, comb it all sideways towards the head. The last step is to comb their hair up at a 45-degree angle (towards the ear). Then they are ready to be blown off and dried with the blower. Do not wait until the fair to do that for the first time! Wash them as often as you can to promote hair growth. The more you wash them, the more hair they will have to work with on show day.
- CLEAN YOUR ANIMAL’S EARS. You could be the best showman in the world and I will still place you towards the bottom if your animal’s ears are not clean. Cleanliness is extremely important. It is a sign of respect to yourself, your animal, your hard work, and the judge that your animal enters the show ring clean.
- Always keep a comb in your back pocket for touch ups. Some judges will muss their hair, just to see if you will have the ability and tools to fix it in the ring.
- Practice in the ring before the show! The ring is often unused and empty at night. Remember what we said about limiting stress? If an animal has been to an area before, when it goes there again during the show it will not be as scary. Walk through all the motions of a show. Invite your friends to practice with you. Have someone pretend to be a judge. If an animal is comfortable and less stressed, you are less likely to have any embarrassing outbursts from your project during the show.
- If your animal gets dandruff, I have a strange but effective way to get rid of it. You will need a bucket and a jug of white vinegar. Pour 3 “glugs” of white vinegar into the bucket and then add water. Pour slowly over the animal’s back and comb the hair down. Repeat as necessary. Rinse thoroughly and continue with the post-wash process. This should not be done all of the time, but only when necessary. I call it “pickling,” and it sounds silly, but it is very effective and relatively easy.
Written by: Sage LeBlanc