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Leading the Way: Clipping 101

Katie Coyne for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 October 2020

As we present clinics from coast to coast, we find youth, parents and leaders wondering where to begin with the dairy cattle clipping process.

Whether you are new to showing or if you’ve been away for a while, here are some ideas on what to purchase and how to get started.



1. Invest in a good set of clippers

As with all fitting equipment, clippers have evolved through the years. Older-model clippers will cut the hair, but they don’t achieve the modern look. The first set you purchase should be a large-animal clipper. A set of blades that cut short, but not too short, usually come with the clippers – and that is a good place to start. As you get better and more comfortable, add tighter, ground-down blades. To start, a blade that leaves 1/16- to 1/8-inch of hair is sufficient.

Budget amount: $400 to $650 for a new clipper.

Essential tools are clippers topline brush and topline blower

2. Invest in a good topline blower


One of the biggest problems we see in the show ring at the novice level are toplines that aren’t blown up properly. You can follow all of the steps as far as washing and rinsing, holding the brush and blower properly and working hard to get the top up, but if you don’t have a good blower, it just won’t happen. Investigate blowers with variable heat settings; your hairdresser is a great place to start. Ask fitters which blowers they prefer and decide on which one fits your needs. If you show at multiple shows each year, you should spend around $120 on a blower. If you show at a county fair or just local shows, there are great blowers under $65. Be sure to get the concentrator on the end.

3. Topline brushes

There are two to three brands of topline brushes that fitters use. Some fitters prefer a seven-row brush which allows more air to go through. Some prefer a nine-row style because it pulls more hair up. Practice with both and determine your preference. Always use a clean brush on the topline. I recommend having more than one topline brush in the show box. Brushes range in price from $15 to $30.

That’s it; that is all the equipment that you need to start clipping your own animal for the shows. Some “luxury” items you can add in to your clipping inventory are:

  • Blower: A blower to work belly hair and remove dust

  • Cordless clippers: Small, cordless clippers for heads, legs and finishing touches

  • Blades: Additional blades that are ground down so they cut the hair shorter

  • Chute: Many people purchase a clipping chute as they begin to clip. While this is a handy piece of equipment, it is not something that needs to be purchased right away. Whatever you purchase, be sure to always clean it after clipping, keep it in a safe container, and keep it all together.

What age should youth start clipping?

Learning basics of clipping their animal


Now that you have invested in some key pieces for clipping, it’s time to get started. The perfect age to start clipping is when youth begin to show in 4-H classes, around 9 years old. Yes, you read that right.

If you are showing, you should be clipping. Now we don’t expect everyone to be a professional fitter or that everyone is going to enjoy clipping, but it is part of the showing process so everyone should have some knowledge of how to do it.  end mark

PHOTO 1: To get started in clipping dairy cattle, the essential tools are clippers, topline brush and topline blower.

PHOTO 2: Kids can begin learning the basics of clipping their animals as soon as they begin showing. They do not have to be professionals, just willing to learn. Photos provided by Katie Coyne.

Katie Coyne
  • Katie Coyne

  • Owner
  • Mill Wheel Dairy Show Clinics
  • Email Katie Coyne

Five Helpful Hints

  • Don’t start learning to clip the week before the show. Many youth work on learning to clip in the off-season so that when show season starts, they are comfortable with the process.

  • Do your best, but don’t get discouraged with mistakes. It takes many hours of practice to learn to clip well.

  • A great place to start is with a row of cows in tiestalls. Clip their legs and udders. These are some of the hardest areas to clip because there are lots of ins and outs. You’ll also learn how to work around those areas of the cows without startling them or getting kicked. Once you have mastered legs and udders, everything else will seem easy. This is a great winter activity and a chance to help a dairy producer or a local sale barn.

  • Clip heifers that are not going to the show. This is another way to get some hours with your clippers without the fear of taking too much hair off. Tie up a pen of calves and spend a Saturday clipping.

  • Be brave. A competent judge can see through a beginner’s clip job in a type class. In showmanship, many judges will reward those who have clipped their own animal over those who hired a professional fitter. Once you’ve practiced in the off-season, go ahead and clip your own heifer for the youth show.

Clipping is a handy skill to learn and at which to become accomplished. People who clip are in demand in the dairy industry, and there is no limit to the places it can take you. In addition to providing you an opportunity to learn more about your show trends, you could have the chance to travel, meet industry leaders and work with some of the world’s best cattle.