SYRACUSE, NY — Daisy Trowbridge has shown cattle more than half her life. Though that equals only six years, the 11-year old offered sound advice on breaking calves to halter at the New York Farm Show recently.
With her grandpa Phil Trowbridge along for moral support, Daisy addressed a crowd in the beef area of the Dairy building at the New York State Fairgrounds.
Preparing for the calf’s arrival represents the first step, including all the equipment and tools needed for its care.
“The first thing that you want to do when you bring your show steer or heifer home to halter break is to have a pen ready that is about 20 feet by 30 feet,” Daisy said. “It can be a little smaller, but you wouldn’t go much bigger. It must have adequate shade and a good, solid place to tie him up.”
Daisy recommended placing a nylon halter on the calf and allowing it to drag around a lead rope for a few weeks until the animal becomes accustomed to the halter, rope and its new surroundings.
“As he walks and steps on the lead, he will learn how to deal with resistance, which will help in the halter breaking process,” Daisy said.
As the calf grows, the halter may need adjusting.
Phil Trowbridge added, “Make sure the halter doesn’t get too tight.”
Since the calf is headed for the ring, it’s important to feed it right. Daisy recommends feeding a high-quality feed by putting a handful in the calf’s feed bowl at feeding time.
“Cattle really like that once they get used to the texture,” Daisy said.
Getting to know the calf is also a vital part of the breaking process. Simply spending time with the calf while cleaning its pen and working in the barn helps, according to Daisy.
As part of proper calf care, Daisy believes it’s important to tie up the calf in a way that it can be released quickly in case of emergency.
“I use a type of slip knot where I can pull one end and he immediately comes untied,” Daisy said. “Tie him about head high and not much slack — maybe about eight inches to 12 inches of slack in the lead.”
Otherwise, the calf can become tangled in the lead if it steps over the rope.
Introduce tying up the calf gradually, about 30 minutes at a time, while staying nearby to keep an eye on him.
“You can make sure he doesn’t fight the lead too much,” Daisy said. “You can gradually build up the length of time he is tied. While he is tied, start hand feeding high quality feed. Once he starts accepting it from your hand, he will really look forward to seeing and getting a treat.”
Because handling the animal is essential to successful showing, Daisy feels that hands-on experience with it is elemental, such as brushing and rubbing the calf with the hands. Around the tail and under the neck are areas she has discovered as especially enjoyable for the calf.
When Daisy begins walking calves, she starts out slowly, just taking a turn around the pen, followed by a handful of feed and praise.
“Always do this in an enclosed area and never in open ground,” Daisy said. “If they get away from you, they will know they can from then on and will continue to try.”
She has learned that at most shows, if an animal escapes its handler’s control three times, the judges excuse the exhibitor from the show ring.
Daisy thinks it’s all a mental game between the handler and the animal. If the animal doesn’t realize he can get away from the handler, it won’t try.
“When it is time to turn your steer or heifer loose, always let him go on your terms, never on his,” Daisy said.
She holds the animal while talking softly, rubs it on the head to allow it to smell her, and slowly drops the lead.
Daisy introduced rules to successful animal showing. The first was to be safe.
“Start early with parent support,” she said, “and always with adult supervision. Always be safe when working with your calf.”
Another she shared was to have fun — a rule any young showman would readily embrace.