The junior livestock program is a unique opportunity to use live animals to develop youth. Youth learn something about agriculture and livestock production and develop an appreciation for the livestock industry, but the main objectives are to teach life skills and help youth become productive citizens. The experience of youth owning and working with animals, being responsible for their care, health and growth, and exhibiting them in a competitive environment is a tremendous character-building process. It is important for youth to have a positive experience with their projects to assist this learning process. The first step in the process is selection of the animal. If one of the goals in youth livestock projects is a positive experience, choosing a quality animal the youth can be proud of then becomes important.

What makes a champion? There are several components that produce a champion. These include:

  • Selection – you have to start with good genetics to produce a champion.
  • Nutrition and health – once you have purchased your animal, you need to feed and care for it.
  • Fitting/grooming – this is not just on show day but throughout the entire project.
  • Showmanship – this is how you present your animal on show day.

All these elements are important and must be addressed in detail. However, the selection of the animal is the foundation on which you build the final product. The primary purpose for selecting animals is to obtain an animal that when properly fed and managed will represent the best in the industry. This means that industry standards must be identified prior to selection. These standards represent industry goals achievable by most youth livestock program participants. Judges use these standards when evaluating animals in the show ring. Animal selection is guided by the same standards used to evaluate accomplishment.

There are basic  areas that need to be considered when selecting a livestock project, regardless of species. The common purpose for meat animal production and youth livestock projects is to economically produce high-quality lean meat desired by consumers. Consumers desire lean with a minimal amount of fat whether they are purchasing beef, pork, lamb or goat. Therefore, the industry standards for each of the species are very similar. These standards are muscle, structural correctness, capacity, frame and balance.

Muscle

There are several reasons why individual animal muscling is important in the meat animal industry. Thicker muscled animals usually gain faster and require less feed per pound of gain since it takes more energy to grow fat than muscle. Yield is based largely on total muscle and total amount of fat cover. Therefore, heavier muscled animals will have a better yield grade at a given fat depth than similar weight thinner muscled animals. Heavy muscled animals produce more lean and less fat. Visual appraisal of muscling is one factor used in selecting breeding stock, and total animal muscling is one of the categories used to evaluate live animal conformation and usefulness to the industry. Animals of similar weight and amount of fat will have essentially the same percent of total muscle in each part of the body. Therefore, identifying muscle in those areas where it is most apparent is a direct indicator of total muscle.

Frame and Capacity

The greatest production efficiency is achieved by animals at the top end of weight preferred by packers and consumers. Furthermore, animals with larger frames at a given weight have more feed capacity per unit of body weight and achieve greater feed efficiency. Study industry standards for carcass quality and size as well as industry standards for breeding animal efficiency. They allow for some variation without going under the low-end carcass weight or going over the high-end of acceptability. It also allows for selection of animals that have good potential for growth and feed efficiency.

Structural Correctness and Balance

Strong bone and correct skeletal structure are essential for the traveling required to obtain food and to reproduce. Select animals that exhibit strong correct skeletal structure. Balance is best identified as uniformity in the appearance of muscle, trimness and skeletal structure. Avoid animals that show a weak back, crooked feet, legs that are excessively short or long or excessively deep or shallow body structure. A high level of total lifetime production improves the profitability for all species.

Selection is a process of identifying animals that when properly managed will represent the best in the industry. Animals should be selected on the basis of how well they may achieve all or most of the primary industry goals for production. These are the animals that offer the best opportunity for members to utilize their knowledge, skill and effort to attain a high level of achievement.

Source: Steven M. Jones, Associate Professor