Video: A guide to preparing and clipping a calf for the show ring

When showing cattle, there is a lot to focus on in the ring, but actually much more work goes into the preparation: from breeding and selecting the right animal to show, to halter training and then clipping.

Mark Henry from North Antrim and Lindsay Fleming from County Down talk us through the step-by-step process to get a calf ready for the ring on show day.

Both of the Northern Irish farmers have plenty of experience in the showing circuit. Mr Henry clips calves professionally alongside farming and managing his own herd, Mostragee Holsteins.

See also: 10 tips to successful calf handling in the ring

Mr Fleming has had plenty of success in the showring with animals from his family’s herd, Potterswalls Jerseys and Holsteins.

Watch the video below and read on for for more expert tips.

Before the day

Learning the technique

There are various ways to learn how to clip a calf, using online tutorials or bringing in a professional clipper to demonstrate the process on your own farm and learning from them. Another way is to go to shows and observe clipping and ask the exhibitors questions.


The calf selected to be shown needs to be used to be handled and must be halter broken. To do this, it is important to train the calf to stand on a halter and walk on a halter.

Before any clipping it is important to wash the calf several times to remove any dirt and get the hair ready for cutting.

Washing should be done using lukewarm water and a soap product suitable for use on cows – most agricultural merchants will be able to advise on this. The calf must then be well dried before clipping begins.

Clipping a couple of months before the show and then again two or three weeks before the event will make the hair more manageable on the day itself.

On the day

Start on the non-show side

It is normal to start on the non-show side (the left as you look at her from behind) to refine your clipper settings, just in case of a mistake that takes the hair a bit too short.


There is a lot of gear packed into those clipping suitcases. Here are a few of the items you may need and what they are used for:

Hairdryer For drying the calf off after washing and blowing up the top line and belly hair

Clippers with a thicker blade Clipping the body hair

Clippers with a finer blade Clipping the legs and head, for a more refined finish

Moser clippers For hard-to-reach areas such as around the legs and under the brisket

Udder clippers with a tight blade For trimming the tail and inside the ears

Hairbrush For fluffing up the tail hair and when blowdrying the topline and belly

Hair spray For setting the hair

Black spray For covering up hair spray residue on the black hair

Final mist spray To give a final sheen on the calf’s coat

Take a rough top line and belly line

Blowdry the top line and belly hair and take an initial clip along both to set the boundaries for clipping the body hair. Leave 2in either side of the topline.

For the top line, stand back and assess where the high and low points on the animal’s back are so that you can clip the hair accordingly to level them out, leaving a slight slope up towards the head.

Both the topline and belly line will be “carved out” at the end of the clipping, to ensure they are perfectly finished and blended with the rest of the hair.

Top Tip

Cut into the hair, working against the grain of its natural growth direction. Along the back, you will find the direction changes around the shoulder, so you need to work around this.


Start with the lower legs. Using a clipper with a tighter blade, clip the legs from the ankle up to just above the hock/knee on the inside and outside. This will be blended with the body hair later.

The legs should still be nice and natural looking. If they are clipped too short, the skin will show through and they will look pink instead of white.


With the same clippers used for the legs, clip the hair in an upwards direction from the front legs, through the neck and on to the head. This clipping with a tighter blade should blend into the slightly longer hair on the body.

The hair on the head needs clipping from the nose up to the dome of the head and around the jaw. As much as possible should be trimmed with the big clippers and then the Mosers can be used to finish off.


With the thicker blades, clip the body hair to blend in with the already-trimmed legs and neck so that it looks as natural as possible. Start at the vein just above the hock on the hind leg and trim against the hair towards the spine using long blows, keeping the blade as flat as you can against the animal as you work towards the shoulder. 

Because blunter blades are used for this, the same areas of hair need going over several times to get all the hair off and there are no lines or tufts visible on the body.

Moser clipping legs and head

Using the moser clippers, tidy up the hard-to-reach areas of the front and back legs and the head, including the ears.

Work on the ears from the tips down into the head.

The tail

Trim the tail with the udder clippers: start roughly level with the calf’s flank. The bottom of the tail should be left bushy.

The tail should be clipped all the way up, but leave the tail head as this will be finished as part of the top line.


Once all the initial clipping is complete, the calf should be washed again before finishing touches.

Comb the hair into natural position

Comb the hair on the topline in the direction it has fallen naturally after the wash. By combing the hair down in that direction, it will set nice and straight and make it easier to dry into its final position for setting.

Drying the topline

Using the hairdryer and hair brush, the hair on the topline needs to be blown upright as straight as possible, holding the hairdryer at 45 degrees to the back, on the heat setting.

This is also a good time to blowdry the belly hair ready for a final trim.

Depending on the calf, it may work to leave the belly hair a bit longer to accentuate the depth of the calf. In this case  it needs to be blended into the body hair so there is not a stark contrast between the short body hair and longer blowdried belly hair.

It is then time to move on to finishing the top line.

Blend and set the topline

Using the Mosers, ensure the hair just beneath the topline blends seamlessly into the body hair. Then spray the topline with a setting spray to hold the hair in position, using an animal-friendly product.

The final topline cut

This stage may take some time and must not be rushed. 

Using the same clippers used for the body hair, work along the topline slowly, taking any fine bits of hair off and perfecting the line so it is straight, levels out any natural highs and lows on the calf, and is just slightly angled up towards the head.

A pair of scissors can be useful at this stage to trim any bits the clippers have missed.

The process is a combination of trimming and spraying with hair spray, and using your hands to lift and set the tail fin hair in place.

Too much hairspray can make the hair stiff and hard to cut, but too little will not hold it in place.

Last-minute preparations

Dust off

The calf will go back to its bed before its show class, so around half an hour before going into the ring you need to blowdry off any straw or sawdust caught up in the hair and blowdry the belly hair to give it a lift where it will have been flattened by the calf lying down.

Black spray

The hairspray used in the setting process can leave a bit of white residue on some dark areas of hair. To rectify this, spray the black areas along the back with a black hair spray (animal friendly). Use a cover on the white areas while doing this to ensure the spray doesn’t drift on to those.

Shine spray

Using a soft bristle brush, give the calf a final brush down and mist her with a shine spray to create a glossy finish on her coat.

Tail volume

With the hairbrush used for the topline, backcomb the tail hair to fluff up the tail bush and then set it with hairspray.

Leather halter on

Once the rope halter has been switched for a leather one, the calf is ready to enter the ring.