Connecting Gate to Plate Blog

Cow Spa Day: An Inside Look at Farming


Are you familiar with cow couture? Most aren’t, but I’ve had a firsthand look at it over the last couple of weeks. The fine fashion the cows are wearing is their own leather and hair, styled in a special way. The spa tools include clippers, curry comb and pressure washer. The runway comes on classification day.

Dairy cow care

The “before” picture of a first calf heifer in need of clipping.

If you happen to be a purebred dairy person, you know the work that goes into classification. Now I’ll explain it to the 99% of people who are wondering. I’ll begin with the end – classification. Classification is one of the ways registered breeders evaluate the success of their breeding program. In simple terms, cows are scored Excellent, Very Good, Good Plus, Good or Poor based upon how pretty they are. Yes, you read that correctly – cows are graded based upon their looks.

Classification is not a beauty pageant; there is a very detailed scorecard used to “score” a cow. Udder is 40% (that’s were your ice cream originates), dairy strength is 20% (think feminine power & being in shape) front end & capacity (how nicely they blend together & room for their organs), feet & legs is 15% and rump is 5%. The goal is to have a healthy cow that gives plenty of milk in an udder that will last. Cows with solid frames, well attached udders and properly structured legs are more comfortable, healthy and last longer.

Dairy careWe get the cows ready for classification by washing and clipping them. This does not involve any cruel treatment; the clippers are pretty much like those you see in the barber shop. We clip the hair off of the cows to help show off their assets and blend in any faults. It’s a bit of a learned art to do all the blending. I’m proud that our little girl seems to love clipping and is getting lots of practice before she’s in 4-H. Just for perspective on this photo – she’s working on an animal about 15x her size.

The animals are put in a chute that some animal rightists may try to make look like a torture chamber. Truth is, chutes keep the animals calm and safe – not to mention the humans. Case in point, I tried to clip an older cow outside of the chute and she “let fly” right at me. She stood perfectly still once in the chute. She had been handled a lot, but didn’t like the sound of the clippers. when cows don’t like what you’re doing, they kick and shove.

Cows also like to get manure wherever they can, which is especially lovely when they’ve been enjoying lush spring pastures. This means I had a few cows shoot green poo onto me (usually while they were shoving me around), adding to the itchy hair clippings that covered me from head to toe. So we wash them to get their hair to lay down prettily, but we stop short of adding perfume.

dairy milk udder

An udder that has been clipped and is couture.

All of this in the hopes getting another point or two so that a cow can be Very Good or Excellent with a bit of luck. The greater number of higher scored cows, the better the next generation of cattle will be.

If you happen to see a blonde in a suit on a plane picking manure out from her fingernails, you’ll know it might be cow spa day. There are many different aspects of farming; this happens to be one of my favorites. As a mom, I’m thrilled to pass on a passion for animal care. As a Holstein fanatic, it’s fun to help a cow look her best.  As a food buyer, it’s a good reminder that people who spend this amount of time with their hands on the animals, they don’t do the nasty acts sensationalized by animal rights activists.  An inside look is a real look – manure and all.





  1. Elizabeth Martin on May 2, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Hahahaha! Really enjoyed this post!

  2. […] the calf (a very stylish haircut designed to blend body parts together) was done while the calf listened to my daughter chatter. She managed to do most of it herself, but […]

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.