How to Clip a Cow's Topline

Properly clipped toplines de-emphasize low points and bumps along a cow's back.
Properly clipped toplines de-emphasize low points and bumps along a cow's back. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Clipping a cow’s topline is a key step in fitting or preparing your dairy or beef cow for a show. Doing it properly can mean the difference between first place and second place in a competitive livestock show or fitting competition. The purpose of clipping your cow’s topline (the portion of its backbone between the tail head and withers) is to enhance its appearance by making the line of its back appear straight and even without attracting attention to it. Take your time and work patiently -- you can always clip more hair away if necessary.

Things You'll Need

  • Rubber curry comb
  • Shampoo
  • Towels
  • Blow dryer
  • Steel comb
  • Hair spray
  • Animal clippers

Brush your cow’s coat with a rubber curry comb to remove loose or dried chunks of mud and dirt. Wet the cow’s coat completely, then shampoo it using mild baby shampoo or a specialty shine-enhancing shampoo formulated for cows. Rinse the shampoo from the cow’s coat completely, then towel dry the moisture away, paying special attention to the hair along the topline.

Blow dry the cow’s topline to get the remaining dampness out of the hair. Angle the hair dryer slightly so it blows the hair against the grain, which helps the hair stand up better for clipping. Run a steel comb through the hair right in front of the hair dryer to help coax the hair into the desired upright position. Once you’ve completely dried the hair, spray a bit of hairspray on the upright topline hair to help hold it in place.

Make sure your cow is standing on level ground with its head held upright. Find the highest point along your cow’s topline; your goal is for all of the topline hair to be approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch taller than this point. Clip the upright hair along the backbone, leaving extra hair in the low areas so that the entire topline is level. Turn the clippers parallel to the topline and tilt them slightly, then clip the upright hair along both sides of the topline to create a wedge shape.

Turn the clippers perpendicular to the topline and clip the hair on the upper edge of each shoulder, blending it so the tops of the shoulders seamlessly meld into the topline. Repeat this process along your cow’s entire back to keep the topline from appearing like a spiked Mohawk haircut.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always clip your cow's hair against the grain.
  • While you can use a regular hair dryer on your cow's topline, a hair dryer specifically manufactured for use with livestock is typically sturdier and heats up better.
  • If you have trouble getting the topline hair to stand up using a blow dryer and comb, consider investing in rosin topline powder. Generally available for purchase at brick-and-mortar and online livestock supply centers, this specialty powder encourages the hair to stand up more easily. Simply shake the powder lightly across the topline hair after towel drying, then style the hair with the blow dryer and comb.
  • Dry the topline completely before using the clippers to cut your cow's hair.

Related Searches


  • “Showing 101”; Hoard’s Dairymen; 2004
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