Safety During Show Season

For thousands of youth across Wisconsin, the final school bell ringing in summer means much more than sleeping in all day and trips to the beach. June through August brings county fairs, district shows, state shows and state fair. Youth have begun preparing their dairy, beef, swine, sheep, horses and even poultry to put them on display and show off their hard work at various shows throughout the summer. Along with these preparations comes safety concerns that project leaders and youth should keep in mind to have a successful show season.

Cattle typically have a docile demeanor, but are easily startled. Strange noises and new people will usually make cows nervous. When approaching your project animal, be aware of your surroundings. Sudden movements and loud noises will typically cause a pen of cattle to get excited, which can be a dangerous situation for someone walking in the pen. Once the animal is haltered and calm, it is still important to be aware of what is going on around the farm or fairgrounds where the animal is being walked. Something as simple as a truck starting or a dog running by may cause the animal to become startled. It is important that the leads person stay calm and keeps a tight grip on the halter at all times when walking their cow.

Pigs are not normally aggressive animals, but they can become dangerous if threatened. It is best to move hogs using gates or panels to guide them. The panel should be slightly narrower than the alleys through which the animals are being driven. As with other animals, an exhibitor should make themselves known to the pigs quietly and gently. Typically a knock on the gate or rattling the latch will suffice. A calm pig is much easier to work with in the show ring, so it takes time and practice to prepare a pig for the show.

Horses can detect danger using their vision, smell and hearing. They have wide-angle vision, but have blind spots directly in front of and behind them. A horse’s ears communicate clues as to the direction its attention is focused. Ears that are flattened backward is a warning that the horse is feeling threatened which can cause a horse to kick or bite. Horses should be approached from their left shoulder, at a slow but confident pace, with consistent and gentle movements. Talking to the horse while approaching helps the horse feel more comfortable. Reading the horse’s intention by paying attention to its body language will help the exhibitor understand the horse and stay safe.

Sheep are prey animals and will react according to their instincts. Their instinct tells them to flock together and follow the animal in front of them. If a farmer or exhibitor is in the middle of the flock of sheep, there is a greater potential for injury. Any time a sheep is away from its flock, the risk of injury to both the sheep and the handler increases. Sheep are more likely to be calm around humans when they have increased human contact. Sheep are most comfortable in a familiar environment, so it is important to be cautious when moving the sheep to new locations.

Proper footwear is essential when working with livestock. A cow can easily misstep onto the exhibitors foot and cause a lot of pain if the foot is not properly protected. No matter the species, it is important to stay relaxed when working with animals and to speak to them in calm voices. Keeping a hand on the animal helps to ensure that it knows where you are at all times, and the animal will be less frightened by any sudden movement. Always be aware of the animal’s blind spot and take caution approaching an animal that is preoccupied, such as when it is eating. An exhibitor should never wrap the halter around their hand or waist, if the animal becomes frightened it could cause serious injuries.

Showing livestock is a fun and rewarding experience that teaches youth leadership and responsibility. Exhibitors can be responsible by practicing safe habits when working with their animals to have a safe and successful show season.

Additional Resources:

Livestock Safety:

Scottish Smallholder & Grower Festival:

Country Folks: