Fit to win

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COLUMBUS – Every weekend, hundreds of youth compete for the top spots in Ohio’s cattle shows. They go to showgrounds with everything from iPods to pink show sticks, each competitor hoping this show will be the one.
By the time an animal gets to a show, its owner has already logged dozens of hours with it at home. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to do. On the day of any show, exhibitors have likely spent at least a couple of hours fitting before their class is called.
Fitting, or grooming, is about presentation. The youth want their entries to look good when they step into the showring; they want to present a perfect package to the judge.
However, learning to fit takes practice. And even if you make a few mistakes at first, the experience will pay off in the long run, according to the winners of the 2007 junior beef cattle state fitting contest.
The contest. Opie Campbell, 18, of Cedarville, Ohio, and Mike Clark, 21, of Covington, Ohio, have been fitting cattle most of their lives. Both men said they started out by watching others who knew how and after that, it was a combination of jumping in and trying, many hours of practice and even a few nicks.
The other half of the winning team – Tyler Clark, 12, and Madison Clark, 10, both of Covington, Ohio – said they work with their cattle every day, learning to fit from their dad and other showring veterans.
The fitting contest was a new event at the Ohio Beef Expo this year. Twelve teams of four youth each set up their animals and fitting equipment March 16 in Cooper Arena at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, where they had 20 minutes to work on the cattle.
Two team members had to be from the beginner or junior divisions and two had to be from the intermediate or senior divisions. Fitting practices had to follow Beef Exhibitor Show Total show rules.
Three judges scored the teams on their fitting abilities, teamwork and final presentation in the showring.
The teams simply registered to participate this year, but due to a high level of interest at the expo, the event may include semi-finals or preliminaries next year.
Preparation. Anyone who shows animals knows the work starts long before a showring is on the horizon.
“I think daily routine is the No. 1 thing that’ll take you to the winner’s circle,” said Dave Guyer, an Illinois cattle producer and fitter.
Guyer gave a fitting and grooming demonstration before the contest, highlighting some of the most important things showmen can do for their animals.
He told exhibitors that sticking to a strict feeding schedule will make an animal healthier and help it gain weight. Also, rinsing it regularly will enhance hair quality, which makes the hair easier to work with and improves the animal’s appearance.
Clipping the hair is a chore that takes some guts – if you want to learn, you need to grab a set of clippers and start working.
“The only way to learn is to do it,” Guyer said.
He added that not even the most experienced fitter can clip a whole animal all at once. You can only clip for so long and still get good results, so it’s best to return to an animal many times for short amounts of time.
“The best clip job in the world – you want to go back multiple times,” Guyer said.
Advice. Guyer also coached the young fitters on how to fit legs, tailheads and tails.
And as for advice on fitting, it doesn’t matter where you start – on a particular animal or in life – as long as you’re willing to jump in and give it your best shot.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

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