To win a showmanship class at the county fair, the person at the end of the halter doesn’t need to have the best cow (or goat or horse…) in the ring. Rather, the “showman,” as the person who leads the animals in the ring is called, needs to demonstrate to a judge that he or she knows how to “fit” the animal – minimizing its body flaws while accentuating the positives. So while members of the Cumberland County Young Farmers 4H Beef Club who attended a fitting clinic in Gorham last week practiced grooming techniques, what they were really learning was how to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their animal’s anatomy.

For instance, showmen brush the legs of a cow to fluff the hair, giving the appearance of smooth, sound bones and joints. Or, if a cow has a slight sway-back – a slope rather than a perfectly straight back – a dedicated showman can train the cow’s hair to minimize the flaw. The showman brushes the hair on the cow’s back in a forward motion, against its natural inclination; doing so can take weeks of daily brushing. Then she brushes the hair at the top of the cow’s tail upward – think ‘80s mohawk. This gives the animal’s back end the necessary height to present an even line from neck to the head of the tail. To ensure the most uniform and appealing body conformation, a showman may make many such adjustments to the cow’s head, neck, chest and legs.

Attendees at the clinic, held at Findview Farm to prepare for the upcoming show season, also learned how to put together a chute to restrain an animal while it is being groomed; to use a wide array of combs; and to handle electric clippers, an intimidating tool for many kids that requires a lot of practice. Once the washing, brushing and clipping was done, the 4Hers talked about conditioning hair and using the cow version of hairspray. These products are applied shortly before a cow enters the show ring so it shines, figuratively and literally, before the judge.

But none of this primping is as important as halter training the animal and building a relationship with it, 4H leaders stressed. Being a beef cow showman takes months of work and dedication, and these 4Hers are just embarking on their 2014 show season.

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