I had to stop and think just a minute or two about how much differntly we break calves now as opposed to when the boys were little ones. We used to try to make sure the calves knew we were the ones in charge and didn’t realize just how much we needed the calves to learn to trust us. There were some calves over the years that we probably could have broken IF we’d used our current methods of breaking.
So, how do we do it? Slow and steady. When we pick out our calves that are going to be in the show pen (no matter if we sell them or keep them) we bring in both them and their mommas. We do a slow weaning and breaking process. When we bring them up, we put halters on the calves. We let them drag the halters for a few days, learning that when they step on the halters, they stop. We know we can’t control them but if they THINK we can, half the battle’s won. After 4 or 5 days of dragging the halter, we sort the calves off in the morning and bring them in the barn to tie them for the first time. We have several eye bolts in a board we’ve attached to the side of the barn in a couple of big stalls. We squeeze the calves up in a corner of the pen and get a hold of their halters. Then one person will take the halter and head toward an eye bolt. We usually thread the halter through 2 eyebolts and tie off on the 2nd one. That way we have a little room to work when letting the calves loose. A second person helps encourage the calf toward the first person. A third person holds the other calves with their halters. When we’re weaning/breaking in August, the calves really enjoy coming into the barn under a fan.
After 3 or 4 more days of being tied up, we work with the calves who are making the most progress. We encourage them to walk back to a catch pen by the wash rack then sort of/kind of lead them into the wash rack. We’ll tie 3 or 4 calves in the wash rack. We then blow on them with the blower flipping one switch at a time so as not to spook them. Then we start by rinsing the calves and finally washing them. We take it slow and often don’t get a lot of calves done in a day at first. We then blow them dry again before letting them loose. You see, their reward for behaving is taking off the halter and letting loose. They realize we don’t want to torture them and respond to the breaking process much better. We bring them in and repeat the process EVERY DAY for several days in a row. Most people who know us know that our cattle are in a routine. When we bring our calves in, we put them in the same pen and do the same things in the same order every time. It gets to the point that the show heifers know when we open their barn door, they walk in, go down the alley to “their” pen and sort themselves into the correct pen. That makes it awfully easy on the one who gets the calves in.
Once we have their trust and can lead them, we work on tying them with their heads up. We have a tie bar mounted higher up on the wall and will tie them with their heads up in showing/fitting mode. We’ll start out doing this for a couple of hours and move on to up to four hours. We don’t want to wear them out, but we want them to be used to being up for as long as it may take to fit them and show them. Lazy cattle just do not show well. We also go into their pens and use the show stick on them, getting them used to it and getting them used to how we want them to stand.
The last thing we do, is keep on doing all the above along with leading them in the barn and in the yard. Getting them used to what you want helps not only in the show but also in showmanship. Good luck. It takes a lot of work to show a calf, but the lessons you’ll learn from the experience cannot be replicated in any other way.