Most of you would look at the title of this blog and think ‘huh?! How on earth do those two things even relate to one another in any way?’. For a long time, I had thought the same thing and one of the reasons that I wanted to become a designer was because it was something completely different to what I was surrounded by growing up.
But, as the years have gone by and I have grown up showing dairy cattle every year alongside my family and friends, you begin to understand that there are certain skills and traits that do relate to both professions, and consequently contribute to improving my abilities in both areas.
Attention to Detail
This is probably one of the most important traits to have as a designer because it is the ability to refine your designs down to the very last millimetre that gives your work that extra sense of professionalism and effectiveness.
In the show ring, attention to detail is the difference between winning a blue ribbon and standing anywhere but the top of the line. When it comes to presenting animals, every little detail counts – washing, feeding, clipping, parading, presentation. You need to stand out from the crowd, and if your cow hits the ring and is immaculately clean, has just the right amount of fill on her, a flawless top line and clip job, parades like a dream and looks like her skin is made of pure silk, then it makes the last few months of preparation all worth it. Those gruelling hours of washing in the freezing cold before the sun comes up, spending sleepless nights in the crush making sure you’re clip job is perfect, sacrificing your own personal hygiene to make sure the cows are comfortable and happy in the lead up to the big day… it all counts!
As a designer, you spend hours trying to come up with a design that your client is going to like, you agonise over the smallest of details and keep working at it until you come up with something that you are happy with before sending it to a client. You scroll through hundreds of fonts to find that one single script that sets the entire tone of the piece, you have colour charts spread across your desk to find the right combination… sleep is sacrificed, eating is a postponed and when you are in the zone, everything else can wait!
In order to achieve perfection, an incredible amount of patience is required. A good idea or design does not come together in 5 minutes. You have to think about all of the elements and how they all talk to each other – What mood does the colour scheme set? How easy is it to read? Will it look good in different sizes? Am I getting their message across clearly? Is it too busy? Is it too plain? Working all of this out takes time and patience, there aren’t always easy answers and it quite often takes a lot of experimenting and testing to get it right.
When it comes to showing, you aren’t working with people, cows can’t tell you what they want. They are creatures of habit and you are taking them to completely new surroundings. You must be patient and give them the time and attention they need to settle in – this comes in the form of adapting a feeding system so they feel like they are at home – it may take a couple of days to find a combination of mixes that they are content with. Different cows also prefer different leading styles and respond to different techniques and commands. When breaking in an animal you must be patient and try different methods to see what she reacts more successfully to.
Showing patience from the beginning results in the final outcome being more successful.
Lesson number 1 in all aspects of life – at some point you are going to fail.
But it is how you react to failure that determines your successes in life.
As a designer you are going to take on jobs and be faced with clients that just don’t like your work. So you can either quit then and there and find another profession, or you learn from it. Ask for feedback, learn from your mistakes, take on constructive criticism and tackle your next job with more enthusiasm and willingness to succeed.
It is the same with preparing cattle. You will not come across 1 fitter that hasn’t done a single bad clip job. It just doesn’t exist. But they realise their mistakes and learn from them. It is the way that we improve.
Likewise, you couldn’t find a breeder who hasn’t had at least 1 cow stand on the end of a line at a show in their entire career. It is how we learn to improve our breeding strategies within our herds. As farming is a full time job, you rarely get to see what other people are doing – the show ring is a good place to compare and see where you stand. It is also a great environment to take on constructive criticism and learn new things.
It’s judging morning and you’ve got 25 animals to prepare before 9am… I bet now you’re wishing you’d stayed up those couple of extra hours the other night to finish clipping that heifer?!
Time management is essential. On judging day you are so under the pump that you need to make sure you are as organised as you can possibly be – your deadline is set and there are no allowances. If you aren’t ready then you miss out – so don’t make the time, effort and money you’ve spent getting ready for this a complete waste.
Design is the same. You know your deadline from the day you receive the project. It’s up to you to manage your time so you have an adequate amount to complete the task without a last minute rush which results in poor quality work.
As a designer, you are never usually working on 1 project at a time. There are usually multiple things going on, each with their own deadline ever pressing in the back of your mind. You must learn to weigh up which projects are due first, how long they are going to take and how difficult they are, in order to prioritise what you should be working on first.
Similarly, when it comes to showing cows, 9 times out of 10 you have a couple of feature animals that you predict are going to do quite well. You prioritise these animals and make sure to give them a little bit more attention to make sure they are in ideal form come judging day. As a fitter you also tend to prioritise the order in which you clip your animals based on your skills or the judging timetable. You would analyse what is going to take you more time, if there are there any animals that aren’t a big fan of the crush which you only want to put in there once to avoid stress, what time they need to be ready etc.
To prioritise effectively, you need to have a solid understanding of the way that you work and your processes.
With design, creativity comes in the form of your ideas and how you execute them. Your ability to manipulate shapes, text, colours, paintbrushes and space all contribute to the final product. The better you are at these skills; the better results you will have.
When showing cows, creativity comes by way of your ability to manipulate hair, utilise different hair care products to get maximum shine and develop feed strategies to get the most out of your animals. Both involve experimenting in order to get a process that works.
Creativity also comes in the form of the way you choose to market your stud. At the end of the day, a cattle show is how you get your name out there and encourage buyers. This is the aspect where showing cattle and design really intertwines. Print and Social media are huge in the dairy cattle industry and there is so much competition to stand out from the crowd. With so much competition, there is a dire need to be creative with your marketing and really establish you stud as a brand.
Making the most out of not much
Sometimes you take on projects with next to no client direction. You are basically given a blank canvas, but have to come up with an idea that is going to appeal to the customer and also reflect their brand in the way that they want. As designers we learn to tease out little bits of information from people in order to gain a clearer view of their wants and needs. We also use options to get a vibe for the style our client is more attracted to. This helps us single in on a particular idea to expand and develop.
When showing cattle, you usually pick a heifer out in the paddock and bring her home to prep. She’s a bit rough around the edges, and a fair way off of being show ready. You experiment with different feed rations to get her to fill out, halter break her for a few weeks to get her to show herself off. You also identify her faults and think about ways to make them less obvious. Then when show time comes, you work your magic and manipulate her hair to turn her into a flashy show winner. When you look at what you started with compared to the finished product it’s barely recognisable.
You get creative in your practices to find out the best way to achieve the ideal end result, even when you have to start with next to nothing.
So as you can see, whilst the industries may appear to be chalk and cheese, there are a lot of important skills that you pick up and apply to either profession. These also apply to a lot of aspects of life in general. Having grown up within the dairying industry showing cattle and learning valuable life skills, I see so many being lost within today’s generation. Having to care for animals and prioritise them over ourselves teaches so many valuable lessons which I think a lot of younger people would struggle to understand.
These are valuable qualities that you apply in your working life later on, especially in industries when you are providing a service to customers and must prioritise them above all else. As a designer you are being entrusted to give your customers high quality products and present their business in the best possible light, if you can’t do this, then you aren’t going to be successful.
As my mum always said in relation to showing, ‘We’re here for the cows, not a holiday’. When I think about this in relation to being a designer I stand by the phrase ‘You’re here for the customer, not the pay cheque’.
By Caitlin Liebich
Photos courtesy of Mandy Pacitti & Casey Treloar Photography