Farm Ireland

Friday 27 April 2018

Turning out a champ

Darragh McCullough gets the lowdown on success in the show ring ahead of next weekend's Tullamore Show

Dreamboy: The White's homebred Dermotstown Delboy was crowned Simmental champion at Tullamore show in 2013, and had buyers lining up the minute he left the ring
Dreamboy: The White's homebred Dermotstown Delboy was crowned Simmental champion at Tullamore show in 2013, and had buyers lining up the minute he left the ring
Training of animals begins at around three weeks
The cattle have access to creep feed
Chris, Brian and Christy Whyte with some of their pedigree Simmentals
The animals are given a good final clip at the show
The tail-ends are back-combed to get them like a candy floss

The judge takes one glance at you and has his mind made up. You parade around the ring in glorious sunshine, half catching the admiring comments from the packed spectators, while the judge goes through the motions of giving all the other exhibitors a good examination.

When he gets to your animal, you can't make up your mind as to whether you didn't get a secret nod. Two minutes later it doesn't matter, as you get the confident hand signal to pull your beast in at the top of the line. As you exit the ring laden with the champioship sash, cup and rosettes, a breeder steps forward to ask you if you'd be interested in selling. Cha-ching!

This is one daydream that's going to feature prominently in a lot of people's minds ahead of next Sunday's Tullamore show.

For the Whites from just outside Balbriggan in north County Dublin, it's a dream that came true two years ago when their homebred Simmental bull, Dermotstown Delboy, was crowned national champion in Tullamore, and sold immediately afterwards for a "five-figure sum".

Despite only getting into pedigree Simmentals after quiting dairying in 2003, Christy along with his sons Chris and Brian have developed a herd of 30 Simmental cows that feature prominently on the show circuit.

Part of the reason behind their success is the professionalism that they apply to every occasion that they take an animal into the showring. Here's how it's done.


"Right from the time they drop, you'd have a fair idea if they are a good one or not. But we'd be measuring their girth and shoulder height from the start. The impressions that you're gathering during the first three months of the calf's life are also informing your breeding decisions for the following year, so being very familiar with an animal's strengths and weaknesses even from a very early age is a useful thing.

"But it's not all about size either, because the animal needs to have a bit of style - they're the ones that love to parade, and are real eye-catchers," says Chris White.

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"We'll start training them from about three weeks. First of all it's just a case of putting the halter on them and tying them to a gate in their pen while you go around for a half hour doing the other jobs around the place.

"But it's vital that you're always handling them. They need to be very used to that because judges will often want to handle the animal in the ring. It doesn't matter how good your animal is - if they won't let the judge near them, they are not going to get top honours."


"The first thing is to aim for that ideal mating - the one that's going to 'click'," explains Chris. "That process might start years beforehand. At every show, we'd make sure to take time looking at every animal to see how particular matings work out. The fact is that some bulls are just a perfect fit for some cows - you've just got to find them."

"We're aiming for an animal with good size and shape, that is neat in the tailhead and correct in the legs. You want the feet dead square, so they track a bit like a robot, rather than Charlie Chaplin."

But it's no good having a great match in a calf that is born on August 31.

"The classes are all either animals that are born after September 1 or January 1, so we'd be targeting getting cows bred so that they calve as close after those cut-off dates as possible.

"Using AI helps us leave nothing to chance. The bulls that we are using this year include Antrim Bodybuilder, Omorga Regan, Cairnview Snazzy, Hillcrest Jerome and Dermotstown Delboy. They're all a minimum of three star, and have good BLUP scores."


"We make sure that they have their own creep and lying area from the start. Simmentals tend to have plenty of milk, and that's so important, so we keep the cows on good grass during the first summer. But they also have access to creep feed. The feed we use is a 16pc protein Corby Rock mix - we find it very good because there are very little fillers in it and the animals find it very palatable.

"They also have access to the outdoors throughout the winter, which we think helps them develop a good coat. By St Patrick's day, they are all back at grass. We don't mind them being in fairly stemmy grass by show season, because we want a fairly low protein diet to prevent them growing huge skeletons without a lot of flesh. As the same time, you need to have them a little store-ish for the ring - the judge doesn't want to see a big fatty tailhead or heavy brisket. It's a fine line between having them fit or overcooked, but it's really a call for the breeder.

"I think one of the keys to feeding show animals is to feed them little and often. We'd also use mineral licks, LiquiThrive, boluses and linseed oil to get a real shine into the coat."

Clipping and show day

'They're soaped and back-combed and blow-dried. The blower should be  held at a 45 degree angle'

"We'd clip off the belly of the animal before they go indoors - that helps stop them sweating, which in turn can lead to hair loss on their backs and sides, which you don't want," says Chris White.

"Some lads clip a big motorway down along the back, but that's not a good idea. Yes, you want the back looking as flat and broad as possible, but you need to do it in a way that doesn't look obvious, so take a little off each time and grade it into the sides.

"Remember that you can always take another little bit off, but you can't put it back on.

"Every animal is going to be a little different but basically you're trying to maximise the width of the animal and legs. The hair is only tight at the top of the tail head and along the spine.

"The first thing to do is give the animal a good soaping all over, which will allow you to shape the hair afterwards with the drier. We also use conditioner to give volume to the coat. My wife has got used to her bottles disappearing out of the shower by this stage!" laughs Chris.

"But because the hair lies in all kinds of different whorls and directions, you're never going to be able to just blow-dry it up and get it right in one clip. We usually give them a trim every week during the season, which helps get all the odd hairs and clumps evened out.

"You can have all kinds of clippers and blades but I end up using the same one the whole time."

Show day

"The three of us will go to shows because the more hands the better. For Tullamore, we prefer to get up at 4am and head down early. We'll give them a little feed in the yard just to keep the routine as normal as possible," says Chris.

"The first thing that goes up when we get to the show is the gazebo, because the sun can make the soap go flakey, while a shower of rain will make it go to mush.

"The animals should be clean from the washing and showing all summer, but they'll still need a good powerwash when they arrive. They're soaped and backcombed and blow-dried. The blower should be held at a 45 degree angle.

"Once the animals have been washed and dried, they are tied loose and fed hay - they have access to good hay nearly all year round to make sure that they're well used to it.

"We'd have the generator there with us to power all this stuff, and be able to give the animals a quick final clip as well.

"About an hour before the animal is due in the ring, we soap up the hair with a glycerine soap. We'll spray that with a spray that heightens the gloss effect.

"The tail-ends are back-combed to get them like a candy floss, and sprayed with an adhesive to get them to stay that way - you'll also need another product to get the stuff back out of the hair again afterwards to protect the hair. The rest of the tail isn't clipped but we soap down the hair to get it as narrow looking as possible."

In the ring

"The show coat is most important - mainly because it covers up a world of dirt that you'll probably have all over your clothes by the time it comes to the ring. In Tullamore, you also need a harness for your number. The stick is vital, and at €50, the show halter is a good investment.

"Remember to always face the judge, walk at a calm pace," says Chris White.

"The format can vary, but generally there's an initial lap, before the judge takes up a position along one side where everybody stops their animal, gets them standing right, allows them to be handled by the judge, and answers any questions - so make sure you know the vital statistics like the date of birth.

"There's usually another lap before he signals to the exhibitors the order that they want the animals lined up.

"If you get into the top one or two places at this point, you're 90pc of the way there.

"But there's always the chance that the judge will switch around animals when they are lined up beside each other.

"It can be very subjective, depending on whether the judge is a fan of size and power or shape and style. But often you'll get a comment afterwards to explain the difference between your animal and the next in line," says Chris.

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