Target weights and ideal ages for 4-H market livestock projects

How old should your livestock project animal be when the fair comes around? How much should it weigh? Answering these questions can help to inform the selection of your project animals this spring.

A girl in a pink sweatshirt holding the halter of a black steer.
Photo credit: Kendra VanOrder

Each spring, 4-H members and other youth fair exhibitors begin looking for their fair animals for the year. Selection of the animal is the first step toward success, and there are many factors that influence which animal you should bring home. When selecting your animal, keep in mind these three key factors: the dates of your fair, the birthdate of the animal and the starting weight of the animal.

Market beef animals should weigh 1,000 - 1,500 pounds at the time of the fair. Most cattle are ready for market between 14 and 18 months of age. For example, for fairs in July, look for a calf that was born between January and April of the year prior.

Market lambs should weigh 100 - 150 pounds to be considered market-ready. They should be about six to eight months old at the time of the fair. For example, if your fair is in early August, look for a lamb that was born in late December to early February.

Market goats should also be at least six months old (but can be up to nine months old) at the time of your fair. Target weights for goats will depend on the breed, but the acceptable range of finished weights is typically 60 - 110 pounds. For example, for fairs in September, look for a goat that was born no later than March.

Like market lambs and goats, market hogs should also be about six months old at the time of your fair. Once a market hog surpasses this age, you risk the animal becoming overweight. They will ideally weigh 210 - 300 pounds at the time of the fair, depending on the frame size of the animal. For example, if your fair is in late July, look for a hog born in late January.

The final target weight for your project animal will generally fall in the ranges listed above but will vary by animal. The date of your fair, the animal’s birthdate and its starting weight are just a few factors to consider when selecting your animal. Other factors to consider include structural correctness, muscling and balance.

Many fairs have a minimum and maximum weight to be eligible for exhibition. Most will require animals to be in exhibitors’ possession by a certain date, too. For details about the requirements of your fair, be sure to read the fair premium book thoroughly and watch for communications from your local Michigan State University Extension 4-H program coordinator for specifics.

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