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How to Clip a Calf for Show

Updated on March 26, 2015

Clipping a 4-H Heifer

Clipping your calf is an art form that you can learn if you practice. You will get a lot more out of a 4-H Project if you prepare your calf yourself. This preparation includes clipping. While it’s true there is a huge market out there for professional cattle fitters, this is a basic skill that any 4-H member can learn.

Good clipping requires a number of different tools.
Good clipping requires a number of different tools. | Source


Large animal clippers

Small animal clippers

Lubricating spray (such as WD-40, 3-in-1, etc)


Powerful hairdryer, ideally with small nozzle

Extension cord

Topline brush (this is the one tool to not scrimp on. Buy the best you can afford, ideally a professional quality hairbrush that is heat resistant.)

Soft bristle brush

Obviously, if you are a first time 4-H member, you won’t want to spend a ton of money acquiring professional equipment. You may be able to borrow equipment from another member, or buy it used. If you are interested in investing in new equipment, it is usually available from farm supply stores, or online retailers.

One type of small clippers.
One type of small clippers. | Source


Always begin clipping with a clean, dry calf. Dirty hair will dull your clipper blades and may even damage the clippers. Tie the calf up with a rope halter. If this is the first time you’ve clipped your calf, start on her barrel. Approach her slowly and if she seems startled, place your hand under the clippers before you place them on her. She will be able to feel the vibrations through your hand and will be more relaxed when you actually start clipping.

Only clip a clean, dry, calf.
Only clip a clean, dry, calf. | Source

The First Time

The first time you clip the calf, just focus on getting the hair off. Often you will be clipping off coarse winter hair, or baby hair. Trimming this will help the calf grow thick healthy hair that will make her look better in the show ring. Leave hair on the belly, and the topline, unless you are several months away from your first show. If you are new to clipping, this will also give you a chance to get a feel for how the clippers work. Standard cattle clippers are set up in such as way that there is very little chance you can cut the calf, or yourself, so don’t be afraid of them.

Subsequent times when you clip your calf, you have a couple of options. If you have access to small and large animal clippers, you can start by clipping the legs with the small animal clippers. If you are using only large animal clippers, start with the topline.

The Fussy Stuff

Using your brush and hairdryer, get all the hair on the topline standing up. Don’t forget to work with the hair on either side of the actual topline. You will need it so you can blend the extra hair seamlessly into the body. Use the large animal clippers to square off the edges of the triangle you have made with your brush and blower. Don’t worry about making it perfect, you are just making yourself a point of reference for later.

Next, clip the tail. Start clipping two hand widths from the bottom of the tailbone. Clip to the top of the tail. If you are only using large animal clippers, start clipping the rear legs from bottom to top.

As you clip the front of the rear legs, sweep up across the flank, then clip a line along the bottom of the barrel. You will use this line for reference as you clip upwards across the ribs.

Things will be easy for the next few steps. Clip off all the hair over the ribs, neck, and head. Also clip the brisket, but don’t go too far between the front legs because you don’t want to clip off the belly hair. Once the calf is mostly clipped, you can go back to the belly and topline. Hold the clippers horizontally and place the top edge on your hand. Clip along the edge of the belly hair. Your goal is to clip it at an angle so it blends in and looks like the calf really is a few inches deeper. This is much easier to do if you’ve clipped your reference line in a curve following the heifer’s natural shape. Some people clip straight across the barrel, but this is much harder to blend in.

Working the topline with a brush and blower.
Working the topline with a brush and blower. | Source

The Topline

Clipping the topline is a task that most 4-H Members are apprehensive to attempt. It is actually not nearly as hard as it seems. The goal of topline clipping is to make the calf’s back look perfectly straight. Use the brush and blower to stand the hair back up. Examine the calf’s back and figure out which point is the highest. You will want to make everything else the same height as this point. Keep the clippers at an angle, and use your free hand to guide them. Often, keeping one finger under the blade will give you enough control to keep you from clipping off too much hair.

It is helpful to have another person help steady the calf so it doesn’t move while you are clipping the topline. Your goal is to make a smooth, neat wedge along the top of the calf. The hair closest to the ribs will be shortest, then turn into a peak in the middle of the calf’s back. When you are satisfied with the blending, blow the hair a final time. Now the levelling begins. Remembering where your high point is, start trimming the hair a little at a time. When the hair is all level with the highest point of the calf, your clip job is done!


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