We all need to grow and nurture winning hair. That’s why it’s important to understand at least have a working knowledge of the science.
The “Hair Cycle”
One of the things people talk about all the time but don’t seem to understand is the hair cycle.
There are actually 4 parts of a normal hair cycle and they are:
- Anagen: The active growth stage when the follicle is producing hair
- Catagen: The stage when growth slows and stops
- Telogen: The stage when the hair follicle rests
- Exogen: The stage when the follicle sheds the hair shaft and begins a new cycle
Wool is hair. Wool has a very long anagen phase that can last for years and a very high concentration of follicles. Wool also has many secondary follicles. Those factors are what make it appear different than the hair in other species.
In species like cattle that grow more hair in the winter and shed in the spring the hair cycle is shorter.
In the fall when daylight is getting shorter cattle begin to grow more and longer hair. The primary follicles have receptors for melatonin. Melatonin comes from the pineal gland. When melatonin interacts with the hair follicle it promotes growth. At the same time it stimulates secondary follicles to begin growing hair. Colder temperatures also help move the whole process along.
As the daylight increases melatonin production decreases. At the same time it appears the receptors become less sensitive to melatonin. The hair enters the catogen phase and then progresses through the telogen and exogen phase. That process is what we call shucking.
With that background in mind how do we manipulate hair to have the best show ring presence possible?
Compare American steers to clubby steers to see that genetics play a huge role in hair. You can even see differences in the pigs we are showing. That’s with hair being a selection criteria for a few short years.
So step one is look for good hair when you’re selecting your project.
Anyone that’s followed us very long has heard us repeat the mantra; Clean Pens, Clean Feed, Clean Water.
The truth is doing those three things at an elite level costs very little. They will also put you ahead of 90% of your competition.
Clean hair grows better and looks better than dirty hair every time.
But don’t overdo the shampoo and for heavens sake don’t use dish soap. Overdoing the shampoo and any dish soap strips the natural oils from the skin and we don’t want that.
One of the critical factors in hair growth is blood flow at the follicle.
When you work hair with a rotobrush, rice root brush, or comb you’re increasing the blood flow at the follicle. That’s going to make more and better hair.
Cooler temperature helps grow more hair. But don’t forget clean when it comes to your calf cooler.
It starts with proper drainage and ventilation. But even the best ventilated and drained cooler needs waste removed daily. There is nothing worse than opening a cooler door and being blasted with ammonia.
There are many vitamins and minerals that contribute to hair health and quality. Proper vitamin and mineral nutrition in your show feed won’t grow more hair. It will improve hair quality. There are ingredients we can add that do help grow more and better hair.
Zinc is a mineral that is important for healthy skin and hair. TrueGlo Turbo, TrueGlo Turbo Shag, and Great Mane are all fortified with zinc. We only use zinc glycinate which is the most available form of zinc.
We also test our zinc with Fourier Transform Infra Red (FTIR) analysis. We take that step so we know the zinc is actually chelated and assures you that you’re getting what you pay for. Standard testing only tells you the total zinc content and not the form of zinc. We have caught suppliers trying to pass off cheap zinc sulfate or zinc oxide as chelated zinc.
Omega fatty acids are one of the most important nutrients for healthy hair and skin. Omegas supply essential nutrients and reduce inflammation around the follicle. There have also been studies that demonstrated omegas increased secondary follicle growth. TrueGlo Turbo, TrueGlo, Turbo Shag, and Great Mane all provide omegas.
Seaweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) alters the expression of 40 plus proteins related to thermoregulation. The end result is that supplemental seaweed reduces core body temperature. That reduction in core body temperature is why seaweed promotes hair growth. Great Mane contains with Tasco, a well known brand of seaweed.
Betaine comes from sugar beets. It is a methyl donor and osmotic regulator. Natural betaine (the only betaine we use) reduces body temperature. Beware of synthetic betaine. They may be cheaper but they have a bitter taste and do not reduce body temperature the way natural betaine does. TrueGlo Turbo, TrueGlo Turbo Shag, and Great Mane all contain natural betaine.
Capsaicin is what makes chili peppers hot. It reduces blood flow by opening up blood vessels near the skin. That’s why your skin feels warm and you sweat when eating hot peppers. Blood flow increases to the hair follicles. Capsaicin also increases the levels of insulin like growth factor 1 (ILGF 1.) ILGF 1 is an important mediator of hair growth. TrueGlo Turbo, TrueGlo Turbo Shag, and Great Mane all have capsaicin in the formula.
We talked a little about the melatonin that animals produce from their own pineal gland. Melatonin that we give an animal whether oral or implanted works the same way.
The melatonin interacts with the receptors on the follicle itself. This stimulates secondary follicle activity. Both primary and secondary follicles enter the anagen phase.
The receptors on the follicles are only sensative to melatonin for a limited period of time. In the 90-120 day time frame the follicle will become desensitized. When that happens the hair enters the catogen phase and then progresses through the telogen and exogen phase. That process is what we call shucking.
Pigs tend to shuck a bit earlier in that 90-120 window. We put 60 days on the TrueGlo Turbo Shag label for that reason. I get uncomfortable when people talk about using Shag longer than 80 days.
When Pigs shuck hair while they are on Turbo Shag it is from one of three causes.
- They fed it for too long and the receptors became resistant.
- They skipped feeding / Ran out / The pigs went off feed
- The hair was mature when they started and the receptors became resistant.
The first two causes for failure are 100% in your control. The third is a little trickier and has caught even some of the best feeders flat footed. Our advice would be if your 100 days out and the hair looks very mature force them to shuck out. Do that by feeding Shag for a couple weeks then taking it away. Ten days to two weeks after they shuck you can restart Shag and have about 70 days to grow hair for your target show.
Whether you feed or implant melatonin it is important to do so regularly and consistently. If you let the implant wane or skip feedings the circulating melatonin will drop. That means the receptors on the follicles aren’t stimulated. You will see hair shuck within a day or two.
Key Take Aways
The hair cycle has 4 phases. The anagen phase is when hair is growing.
Genetics play a huge role in hair growth so select for it.
Clean hair grows better and looks better than dirty hair every time.
Cool temperatures help grow hair.
Working hair stimulate blood flow at the follicle.
Proper nutrition is important for hair health and quality.
There are feedstuffs we can add that improve hair growth.
Melatonin is a great tool with correct use.