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Preparing for the Show: Feeding Tips

Summer means the 4-H show season is in full swing. Here are some tips to help get your animals ready for the show road

Editor’s Note: Summer means the 4-H show season is in full swing. Here are some tips to help get your animals ready for the show road.

Four to five days before going to the show, begin tying your calf up while he eats. The next day, tie him, but instead of letting him eat out of the trough, put his feed in the feed pan he will use at the show. Continue to feed the calf out of the feed pan, and water him out of a water bucket. The last two feedings before you leave, reduce the amount of feed to 2/3 the normal amount. This will help him travel better and relieve stress during transport. You can provide the calf with a little more hay at this time to compensate.

Upon arrival it is probably best not to feed and water your animals immediately. Allow them time to rest first, especially if the trip is longer than one to two hours. After some rest time it is usually recommended to allow cattle only 1/2 to 2/3 of their normal feed at their first feeding following arrival. You can gradually increase the amount at each feeding. Many people slightly increase the amount of good dry hay at shows as it keeps them on feed better and also keeps their manure firmer. This also makes keeping the animal and stall clean an easier task.

Water should be limited initially so that the animals will not get sick. Do not let them gorge themselves on water although they may be very full. Animals may not drink water which they are not accustomed to. Adding a cup of molasses or 1/2 cup of salt, sugar or Jello per five gallons of water can be considered to offset any unusual taste or odor. Ideally, this should be started five to seven days before you leave for the show so the animal is accustomed to the difference.

It is not uncommon for cattle to go off feed while at a show. If he or she is not eating well, check the following:

• Don't bother him while he eats. Don't comb, brush, etc. while the calf is trying to eat.

• Adjust the rope length. Make sure he has plenty of rope to reach into the feed pan

• Lack of exercise can decrease a calf's appetite, walking the calf can help stimulate appetite.

• Has the feed been changed?

• Is he thirsty?

Other pointers:
• Feed offered but not cleaned up in 30 minutes should be removed.

• Feed pans should be cleaned after each feeding.

• Grain and concentrate should be fed first and then the hay.

• Some people prefer to feed hay only at night in the tie outs keeping the indoor stall cleaner.

• Water is usually not offered until after the animals have eaten their morning or evening feeding.

• One or two flakes of grass hay are usually laid out in front of the tie-outs so animals can eat during the night.

• Keep on their same feeding schedule as when they were at home

Showing cattle is an exciting, fun and educational process. It also involves a lot of work both physically and in doing your homework. If starting off, it’s always best to spend time talking with those folks who are experienced in the process. Ask lots of questions and never assume you know it all no matter how experienced you are.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is a Texas-based nutritional and management consultant.