Yesterday was the first day of the 2012 Ekka and I decided to go with my family. Walking around amongst the cattle reminded me of many years ago when I was in high school and a part of the Agricultural Show Team. We use to show our sheep and cattle at local agricultural shows and the biggest show of all was the Ekka . A couple of times I was a part of the team that took the cattle to the Ekka or RNA Show. We would stay with the cattle throughout the show, for usually about 7 nights, sleeping in lofts amongst the lanes of cattle. It was amazing, we had so much fun and we would learn a lot from the more experienced cattle farmers that were also there. We would spend our days with the cattle, preparing them for their judging, feeding, grooming and walking them. We were always around, and answering questions from the public except when we would occasionally disappear to watch one of the few calves be born.
Just like showing any animals a lot of preparation and training goes into showing the cattle. Before even getting to the shows the cattle must be handled and taught to lead. It is very important that the cattle are quiet and use to a show atmosphere so that they are not spooked by the public or the surroundings. To help control the cattle they have a nose ring or clip as well as a halter. The nose rings or clips provide the handler with extra control over the beast and therefore making it safer for everyone around.
The cattle have to be washed and shampooed, sometimes daily if they get dirty; which is why there are always cattle being washed when you walk around the cattle area. The cattle then have to be dried, some air dried but some people will use blowers. This is one of the funniest things to see, when a cow is getting a blow dry with a massive hair dryer. The cattle are then brushed, some are clipped and some breeds will even have makeup on to cover up blemishes in the coat and exaggerate their points.
Cattle are divided into classes for judging, by breed, sex and age. Once in the ring the cattle are judged by one or two people that have had a lot of experience in the cattle industry. Every cattle judge may look for slightly different points as it depends on what appeals to them. Each breed has a different criteria that they are judged on. An important part in dairy cattle judging is looking at the udder and milk production ability, whereas beef cattle breeds are judged more on conformation and condition.
When in the ring showing cattle the handlers walk the cattle around in a circle so the judge can observe and compare them. Sometimes it can be difficult to lead cattle and have them walk at a nice speed and stay calm. You don’t want the cattle running, looking sluggish, barging you around or being out of control. This is why many hours are put into teaching the cattle to walk because it is the first and sometimes lasting impression they will have on a judge. The cattle are then lined up and asked to stand still so the judge can have a closer look at them individually. The handler needs to try and make the cattle stand still and calm, while standing tall and square. To help present the cattle some handlers, particularly in beef cattle, will use a cane. This is a stick with a hook on it that the handler can use to poke the animals feet into better position and scratch them to try and keep them content when standing. The judge will then place the cattle in the winning order and present the ribbons. The winners of each class will then go on to compete against each other for the overall champion male and female of each breed. These breed champions then compete against each other to determine the highest honour of Grand Champion Male and Female of the show.
If you don’t know what you are looking for cattle judging can be very boring as they all tend to look the same. However it is the small things that set a champion apart from the rest. Breeders strive to have the best cattle because it therefore means their breeding stock and bulls are more valuable.
So if you happen to get into the Ekka or any other Agricultural Show and see some cattle judging, I hope this little bit of information helps you enjoy and understand it a bit more and appreciate the hard work that goes into showing cattle.
Until next time,