County fair carcass contests

Carcass contests at county fairs add an irreplaceable opportunity for experiential learning.

Do your 4-H members know where their meat comes from? Have they ever seen beef before it is in a package at the store or in your freezer? While only a handful of fairs across Michigan hold carcass contests, Michigan State University Extension educators recommend using the contests as an additional livestock teaching tool. Carcass contests can be held for any livestock species and help introduce youth to real-life situations as their animals are graded and judged on carcass merit.

Livestock feeders make their money based on carcass value. If a steer quality grades USDA Prime but it yield grades a 4.5, then there are discounts that counter the premium for Prime. Hogs are judged on percent fat-free-lean, meaning the leaner, heavier muscled carcasses earn a higher premium than the fatter, lighter muscled hogs. Lambs are evaluated in a manner similar to that of pigs and are judged almost solely on yield grades with the leanest lamb receiving the highest premiums. Unlike hogs, the age of the lamb does have an effect on the premium and therefore, they must have break joints – which indicate youthfulness – to be considered lamb and not mutton.

Youth who are exposed to a carcass contest are able to better understand why a judge does not pick their steer, hog, or lamb for Grand Champion because it was either too fat or light muscled. Showing livestock, especially steers, should not just be about the hair, adhesive, and the touch-up paint. Just because they are “pretty” does not mean that they are qualified to win based on end product merit.

"County fair carcass contests provide a unique learning opportunity for 4-H youth, particularly when the youth get to look at the animals live and then again on the rail,” said Alan Culham, Michigan State University Sheep Farm manager and livestock and carcass judge. “This discussion of those characteristics observed in the live animal that can be traced directly to the carcass is something many livestock exhibitors are never exposed to.”

Livestock judges that are judging strictly market shows are conscious of the end meat product. Youth should be educated that what they feed their animals is directly related to how they will look on the rail.

“The need to educate youth in the show ring is not complete unless we include a carcass contest at the county level,” said Maury Kaercher, current Michigan Sheep Breeders Association Executive Director, livestock judge, and former MSU Extension educator. “Not only is there a need for youth but the adult population can also gain a significant increase in understanding how the show ring is a useful tool for selection. However, the only true selection of animals is when they are judged upside down.”

If you would like more information on the opportunity or are in need of a carcass judge, please contact Sarah Wells, with the MSU departments of Animal Science and Food Science and Human Nutrition.

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