Lee Pitts: Bovine Beauticians
Look behind any Grand Champion steer or show heifer these days and you’ll see an army of young men responsible for turning the beast into a thing of beauty. There’s the tail specialist, leg virtuoso, tailhead hotshot and clipper maestro. When I showed cattle 50 years ago if a teacher, fair official or parent saw anyone even helping to fluff a tail you and your steer would be unceremoniously kicked off the fairgrounds.
Recently I received a thick catalog filled with show-jock-endorsed paraphernalia for show hogs, sheep, cattle and goats. Goats! In my day if someone showed up at the fair with a goat they’d be denied entrance. And a show hog was just a common pig wearing lipstick. Kids are also showing rabbits, chickens and turkeys. I wonder, do you use a showstick or a cane to show a turkey?
Not a single show jock I knew 50 years ago owned a set of clippers. Our FFA chapter owned a pair and a week before the fair our ag advisor would show us how to clip the head and belly. Then on show day we’d wet our animals down, line them with a grotesque looking device and brush the hair up. The resulting hairdo was supposed to make the animal look longer. About a month before the fair we trimmed the feet on our calves so that after we crippled them they’d still have time to regrow some hooves by show day.
As a gung-ho FFA steer jock I made my own show box and my showstick was a broom handle with a nail in it. These days you need a fitting chute with telescoping head tie, a diamond plate show box, and a show stick with a padded grip. Whereas our mothers pinned our entry numbers on with a diaper safety pin, the best dressed showman these days needs a “number harness” and expensive denim jeans with embroidered rear pockets. It seems to be very important that your equipment has just the right amount of “bling”. Whatever that is.
Occasionally I bathed my animals with dishwashing soap but now there are nourishing shampoos with vitamins, whitening shampoos with chamomile, and even waterless shampoos. It seems that adhesives can be the difference between Grand Champion and Reserve. There are special adhesives for the tail and the legs and in light, medium or heavy strength to make the hair stand up and create the illusion of muscle. Of course you’ll need an adhesive remover. When we wanted hair to stand up we used “Butch wax”, a gooey concoction that would turn a steer judge’s hand into a gooey mess. Even the winners wouldn’t shake the judge’s hand!
Besides all the chemical concoctions it seems you need a “total system” including foamers, sprayers, blasters, fans and foggers. And you’ll need a “neck system” to sweat a cleaner and more attractive neck so prized in today’s restaurants and butcher shops.
I remember being quite the showring rebel because I made my own blower out of my Grandma’s Eureka vacuum. There was even a discussion in a closed fair board session if this vacuum was an unfair advantage. Now your typical show person has a blower that will strip the paint off a car and show jocks stand around discussing blower horse power like we talked about 56 Chevys and Dodge Chargers. They also talk about “building the volume of hair” as if they were Hollywood hair stylists.
Another reason for disqualification in my day was if you dyed any part of your animal. In Denver one year the Grand Champion was stripped of its title when it started changing from an Angus to a Charolais on the wash rack. Now you can create colors for your steer like a paint salesman at Home Depot.
I went through the showring catalog and added up all the things I’d need to fit my show steer these days and the total came to more than I ever sold one of my Grand Champions for.
I do see one big change that is a vast improvement: rubber and plastic combs and brushes. If I’d have had one of those 50 years ago maybe I wouldn’t have a big round ugly scar of concentric circle on my derriere from the time I sat on my curry comb. Ouch, that hurt!
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The thing I miss most from my childhood is raising steers for the fair. I’ve never found any activity since that provided the same competitiveness, camaraderie, financial reward, fun or friendship. And when I say…