Our Six Tips to Successfully Halter Breaking Calves

Summer is winding down, and the busy fall and winter show season is just around the corner. As older calves’ show careers end, a new project is just beginning. Though you may want to jump right in and head to a show, your road to success starts at home with halter breaking.

The way you approach halter breaking calves, will determine how they will act throughout the entire show season. It might seem like a basic process, but without attention to detail, you could set yourself up for a long show season. It’s important to take a step-by-step approach to breaking your calves. A well broke calf is the first step to becoming a champion.

6 Tips for Halter Breaking Calves

We offer 6 tips for halter breaking calves to help you #PreptoWin with as little stress as possible:


Step 1: Build a Relationship

All relationships start with love, but they last because of trust. You have to build a trusting relationship between you and your animal. This is the first step to successfully, and consistently halter breaking calves.

What to do:

 Try getting your calf or calves into a small pen, so they are relatively contained and can’t run away from you. Once they are locked up, begin scratching on them with a show stick to calm them down. Chances are it will feel a little funny the first time. Be prepared for your calf to run or even kick a little upon the first stroke. 

When you are able to scratch them consistently, start rubbing and scratching around their tail heads and down their tops with your hands. You can even use a rice root or scrub brush on them as they begin to get more comfortable with you.

 Once they become more used to the attention down their top, try scratching them with your hand closer to their head and neck. This will get them used to someone being around their head, making it easier to get the halter on when it comes time.

How long to do it:

 It’s good to do this more than once a day, to really settle down your calf. A good time frame would be a couple of hours for 2-3 days. The number of days spent scratching can also vary depending on the natural temperament of your calf.

Why it’s important:

 While it might take longer and a few extra days of working, building this relationship is worth it. Taking time to get your calf settled and comfortable with you makes the halter breaking process easier and less stressful on both of you.

 By scratching on them for a few hours, you are providing something to the calf that feels good. They will trust you a little more than if you walked up and put an unknown halter on them. Sometimes a successful show career for your calf starts with a little TLC.


Step 2: Haltering

You can scratch all over your calf without it moving, and it loves it. That’s step one to halter breaking calves: help them get comfortable. Now, however, it’s time to break that trust, by putting on the halter.

What to do:

 Grab a rope halter and hold it in one hand. When halter breaking calves, it is a good idea to use a halter with a ring at the cinch point. This makes it easier to catch and release your calf. It’s also not as hard on their head if they pull and fight, which they will.

When you have the halter in hand, go back to scratching on your calf and inch closer to their head with the halter. Slowly place the halter over the ears first and then over the nose. Going over the ears first on their first catch won’t feel as weird or frightening as catching them under their chin the first time.

Once the halter is mostly on its head, grab the end of the lead and cinch it tight on its head so you have it caught. This is a new feeling for your calf. It will not enjoy losing its freedom, so make sure you have plenty of lead in your hand. And prepare for your calf to pull back and try to run.

How long to do it:

 This method of catching should only take place once, the first time you do it. Every time afterward, once your calf is used to being caught every day, it should be easier just to catch it. After the first time, you can halter it under the chin first, before sliding the upper loop of the halter behind its ears.

Why it’s important:

 A slow and methodical first experience of being haltered, reduces stress. Your calf won’t be nearly as shocked during this new experience, making future experiences more pleasant for both you and your calf.


Step 3: Time to Tie

Your calf is haltered, but that’s where this guide to halter breaking calves ends. So what do you do now? While this is sometimes the part your calf struggles with the most, tying your calf up is where it can learn lots.

What to do:

 With lead rope in hand, find the closest place to tie your animal to the fence. Depending on your facilities, make sure this is a sturdy fence or post on a fence, as your calf will pull back lots.

 You don’t want an equipment breakdown in the process. When you find a spot, plan to start tying your calf down lower on the fence. You should give it a fair amount of lead rope when you tie.

 You should also use a simple pull through loop that is easy to untie and release. It is important to start with a low tie first because your calf is likely to pull back, fight the halter and potentially flip over. By tying it low and with an easy pull knot, you can quickly untie your calf to relieve it if it does flip over.

While your calf is tied low, once again scratch and brush it to get used to being worked on. After a couple hours or a day of tying it down low, try tying it higher. Be sure to use the same approach for tying and the same kind of knot when you tie your calf’s head higher up.

 It’s important that when you tie its head high for the first time, you stay close. Scratch or watch them to make sure they don’t go down or get hurt while fighting the halter.

How long to do it:

 Tie your calf lower on the fence for 2-3 hours on the first day. If your calf fights a lot, tie it on a lower rung for 2-3 hours for a second day. By the third day, you should be able to tie its head higher for another 2-3 hours. Do this for at least two days before moving on to the next step.

Why it’s important:

 The purpose of tying it low is for the safety of your calf and yourself while halter breaking calves. In general, it is good to tie your calf for a few days and continue scratching and brushing it. It will get acquainted with being worked. This will make washing and blowing MUCH easier when the time comes.


Step 4: Leading to the finish line

Your arms and muscles better be ready for the next step, because often times it involves a lot of pulling. The next step when halter breaking calves for showing is learning to lead them. And they can be quite stubborn.

What to do:

 When your calf is standing relaxed and doing well with tying with minimal fighting, it’s time to start leading. Start breaking your calf to lead, by leading it around in a small pen before taking it straight to your washing or blowing area. 

Untie your calf and try to pull it a few steps. Each time your calf takes 3-5 steps forward reach out and loosen up the halter some and rub on its head.

 This acts as a reward system for taking steps forward. Be prepared for your calf to potentially jump forward when you pull or even run past you. Do your best to hold on to the lead.

 Letting go teaches your calf that it can do that every time and get away. When you feel like it is walking forward well, you can think about getting it out of the pen to wash.

How long to do it:

 Every calf is different and therefore will lead differently. You could lead it around the pen for a few hours one day or a couple of days if it makes you more comfortable.

Why it’s important:

 By moving slowly and leading your calf around the pen first, you have more control and practice before going out in the open. In a larger space your calf is more likely to want to run past you. This increases the chances of your calf getting away, which teaches bad habits.

When halter breaking calves, you want to make sure to reinforce good behaviors—it’ll make the showing process easier and more successful.


Step 5: Time to be a Show Cow

Your calf is getting so close to falling in love with the show life. And we’ve taught you nearly everything we can about halter breaking. Calves, however, may still need one final little push to solidify their luxurious lifestyle.

What to do:

 The last few days have been a lot of training and fighting for your calf. However, it is about to learn all about the pampered show life. Once your calf is out of the pen and ready to be washed, be sure to blow it out first. 

Since this is its first time, it is likely to have lots of built-in dirt in its hide and hair. Blowing out that grime will make the washing process easier. Start blowing slowly at the back end of your calf.

 Gradually work closer to its head, so you don’t startle it at the beginning. Pay attention to where your blower hose is so it doesn’t bump it in the leg and cause it to kick. 

When you wash, start with water on your calf’s legs and belly and progressively work up to the rest of the body. After it is washed, it’s time to blow it out again. 

See your new, improved calf and the progress you have made in your journey halter breaking calves!

How long to do it:

 It will take a few days of washing and drying before your calf acts well-behaved. Expect to wash it 2-3 days in a row to get it really used to the process.


Step 6: Be consistent EVERY. DAY.

Once you have gone through the first five steps, you have essentially halter broken your calf already. 

However, as you #PreptoWin, it’s important to keep it on a consistent regimen every day when halter breaking calves. Here’s a few extra tips and tricks you can try to streamline the process.

  1. Catch and tie each day to feed
    • This teaches your calf to be caught every single day in order to eat. Soon catching your calf will be very easy. 
  2. Tie your calf up for a few hours after washing
    • Instead of turning it loose right after you are finished drying, let it stand for a little while to teach some endurance. 
  3. Practice showmanship for 20-30 minutes each night
    •  Before you turn your calf out in the evening, try practicing walking it and setting it up with the show stick. At least 20 minutes of showmanship practice will help you and your calf get used to one another. Your calf will also become more familiar with the show stick on its feet, making its first time in the ring much better!

Halter breaking calves is never easy, and it’s not always a fun chore. Not all cattle will break the same. You may have to take it slower or speed up the process. Or if you have more than one calf to break, you may want to modify the steps. 

Remember, consistency and paying attention to the little things along the way are key when you #PreptoWin.


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