It’s the little things in life that matter. And those small details make all the difference to one West Coast cattle exhibitor. Julia Dayton, Healdsburg, California, started showing steers as a county fair project nearly a decade ago, but with hard work and attention to detail she has stepped up her game. Her top honors include winning the California State Fair Market Steer Show in 2014 and leading the Reserve in 2015. Also in 2015, Dayton showed the Supreme Market Animal with an AOB heifer and led the Reserve Overall Market Animal that same year with a crossbred steer at Cow Palace Junior Grand National Stock Show.
Another set of top honors came last year when Dayton took on the Western Bonanza Livestock Show. She led both the Champion Progress and Champion Market Steers to the Supreme Overall Drive then won the prospect show with an AOB market heifer. After securing all three top spots in the Overall drive, Dayton’s heifer was named Supreme Market Animal of the show.
Dayton knows that hard work pays off, and she pays close attention to the details of proper feeding, hair care and showmanship techniques. She says showing cattle has built numerous relationships for her – something most of her classmates don’t understand since she’s the only student in her high school who shows livestock.
“I wanted to be at the level to become a champion and even sit above the rest,” Dayton says. “I was late in the game when I started. However, by focusing heavily on showing to get that extra experience and doing the work myself, I quickly became accustomed to cattle. I also take any chance I can to show other animals by helping fellow exhibitors in the ring, just to get that experience, which helps me remain calm and under control in the ring.”
Every morning, Dayton feeds her steers and heifers before school. Her mom does help with morning chores since they start at 6:30 a.m. Dayton has between three and ten head of cattle on feed so she begins their morning routine rinsing and putting them in a cool room for the day. Throughout the day, the cattle are tied up and Dayton works their hair. In the evening once the temperature drops, she’ll rinse, blow them dry and then turn them out to be fed for the evening.
Dayton practices showmanship and teaches the cattle discipline each evening. Before each steer is turned out, Dayton puts a halter on him and practices setting him up. She wants the animals to understand that to be turned out they first have to be set up perfectly. This helps drill the animal’s behavior to perform on demand, even when they would much rather be turned out for the night.
“I think the most important thing is to work with each animal,” Dayton says. “I’ve had some bad-behaving steers that act perfectly in the show ring, and I think it’s because we put in the work beforehand. The nerves of the animal are gone when it hits the ring.”
To keep a steer or heifer alert she will step right in front of its nose instead of standing on the side of its head. In a profile line up, she also pushes her animal’s front end out to the judge just a bit, tipping the animals nose to the judge and keeping its head level because it changes the way it looks and compliments her cattle’s appearance in the ring. When a heifer or steer wants to put its head down repeatedly, Dayton uses her show stick to grab its attention. She puts the stick right in front of its ears to get is attention, holds the halter tight and works to keep its head up.
Dayton also likes to give the animal a chance to relax, and doesn’t over stick it while waiting in the makeup area. She says at that point she can not fix details that should have been corrected at home, and she wants her steers to adjust to the crowd.
Dayton is also not afraid to leave cattle at home when they’re not ready for the show ring. She wants them in perfect shape when she shows them rather than take them to fill up space in her show string.
To keep her steer and heifer’s hide in the best condition, Dayton rinses them daily and conditions their hide. This combination of rinsing, working their hair properly and keeping them under fans keeps the animals hair and hide in good condition and will not dry it out which works perfectly for slick shows.
Another tip is one that a mentor shared with Dayton long ago.
“Someone told me once to look the same when you win as when you lose,” Dayton says. “That’s the most important thing when showing. I started from being dead last and now doing well in these shows and you have to have the same composure all the way through.”
Dayton also watches what she wears, literally. When her heifer is black, she wears colors like blues or purples. If her steer is yellow or cream, she’ll wear colors like a light blue, green or black. And while she loves wearing big belts, Dayton says there is a time and a place to bring on the bling.
“I want to look totally professional,” Dayton says. “If you have on a plain, white shirt then a big belt might be appropriate, but I don’t want to stand out more than my animal. I also like super starched jeans that are very clean. I highly encourage kids to wear fitting pants so they can to keep their jeans clean for the show ring.”
Dayton also uses a solid color show stick, no prints. She has a black carbon fiber one that works the best for both steers and heifers, and it’s not distracting.
Dayton’s future plans are to attend Oklahoma State University this fall and major in agriculture business. Dayton says working with show cattle has taught her to go after what she wants, to work hard and learn how to succeed. When she won the California State Fair the first time she says it was an exhilarating feeling.
“I can still remember how I felt when the judge walked up and slapped my steer,” Dayton says. “It was the coolest moment. That was pivotal for me to decide to fully invest my time into showing. I never plan on leaving the industry. I’d like to help another exhibitor and help them feel that way too.”