There is an elite crew of international showmen who clip cattle professionally, preparing their charges for critical judging in livestock exhibitions around the world. The best of the best are recognised by their peers.
At the recent International Livestock Exhibition in Cremona, northern Italy, a handful of these artists were on hand, back in the sheds, making the best genetics shine on stage.
Pat Lundy, a dairy farmer from Saratoga springs New York, learned the art of clipping off a 'mentor' while still in high school. A member of the popular junior farm group 4H, Mr Lundy soon found himself one of a handful of globe trotting clippers and attended shows on behalf of dairy breeders for seven years, 45 weeks out of 52, from the interior of Brazil to Italy’s premier dairy show at Cremona. He's also clipped at international Dairy Week in Victoria.
"I had a good mentor and I watched and learned. You've got to know cattle and you just practice. If you're any good word spreads pretty quick."
The pay's alright too, about $200 a day plus expenses.
"There's probably 50 of us in North America and 15 In Europe who do it full time," he said.
"I wouldn't call it an art, but it's not easy. The breeder has to provide the whole package to get the judge's attention – deliver a good shape, a good phenotype, trim the hooves, but as clippers we put on the final, say, 10 per cent."
These days Mr Lundy spends more time on his own farm, where he runs 200 registered Friesans producing more than 10,000 litres per lactation at 4 per cent fat and 3.3 per cent protein – very much the norm for the Po Valley. He has just finished packing corn silage and harvesting hay and with prices the way they are at $17/ 100lbs he is 'managing to make a small profit'. Last year was not so rewarding.
"Every day you bust your ass to make nothing but we console ourselves with the thought that we are building equity."
Other professional clippers in the shed at Cremona included the Spaniard Robert Medina from Asturias who has worked for Blue Chip Genetics in Victoria prior to their dispersal last October.
Irishman Gary Jones is another legend with a decade on the tour who, like the rest, dabbles in the genetics trade. During last year's national show at Cremona he delivered the grand champion, Hollow Atwood Twizzle.
At Cremona this year he clipped with the best of the best, Italian Paul Petriffer from Funes via Bolzano, South Tyrol, who has been touring for the past 25 years, after doing his 'apprenticeship' in Vermont.
He runs a herd of Brown Swiss that produce 8000 litres per lactation with 4.2 per cent fat and 3.7-3.8 per cent protein.
Last year he took out the coveted Klussendorf Mackenzie award for personal show preparation at Madison Wisconsin.
Clipping, it seems, is quite obviously an art only acquired by practice.