To weigh-in or not to weigh-in, that is the question

As concerns about biosecurity are raised, many 4-H programs are debating the necessity of animal weigh-ins.

Photo by Nick Birse, Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Nick Birse, Wikimedia Commons

In recent months, the topic of whether or not to hold market animal weigh-ins or tagging dates has come up as a significant issue in local county 4-H programs. Given how alert livestock producers, volunteers and youth are about proper biosecurity practices, it is a great question. This article will break it down so that each county program can weigh (no pun intended) the pros and cons of holding animal weigh-ins.

First, let’s talk about the significance of animal weigh-ins or tag-ins; consider what their value is. Historically, the event has served a few purposes such as 1) giving youth a specific starting day and weight of their animals for their record books and for local rate of gain contests, and 2) as a way youth projects are being declared and ensuring the animal is in the youth’s possession. These are very legitimate reasons to hold weigh-ins and tag-ins. Holding these events also helps youth who do not have access to items such as a set of livestock scales or ear tagging equipment.

Some alternatives to weigh-ins for animal designation are simple. One method for youth to declare their project animals for the year is to simply have youth fill out a form and submit it to the county 4-H program coordinator that contains information such as the animal species, sex and permanent identification. This could be an RFID tag, a State of Michigan Swine Exhibition Tag or a USDA scrapie tag.

Second, if you have an official tag that animals must have in order to be entered in the local show that designates them as a project animal, volunteers can disburse the tags to club members and assist in making sure the taggers are accessible for those who do not have that tool. Specie superintendents can visit each youth’s home, tag all animals and record which members receive what tag numbers.

Lastly, tags could be recorded and picked up from the local Michigan State University Extension county office. There are many ways animals can be tagged and identified as projects; it all depends on how the county would like to handle it. Please remember that when equipment is being used on multiple animals, it is always a best practice to properly clean and disinfect it in between family groups.

Many times, weights that are obtained at the weigh-ins are used to help youth determine a starting weight for project record books. If the county does not have a “Rate of Gain” contest, there are many other ways weights can be measured on animals in the absence of an official weigh-in. Youth members could get a fairly accurate weight by utilizing a weight tape. Although using a weight tape does not guarantee accuracy, it does give a pretty good idea of what the animal weighs. Youth could talk with other producers in their area to determine if they have a scale they could use to weigh animals on periodically. Again, follow good biosecurity by cleaning and disinfecting scales before and after use.

Regardless of how the tagging and weight information are gathered, there are always sound biosecurity principles that should be utilized whenever groups of animals are co-mingled and equipment is being shared between families and farms. If your county decides to hold animal weigh-ins, remember to:

  • Wear boot covers if working the weigh-in. Change them and wash hands in between family groups.
  • Disinfect the scales and any other equipment (sorting boards, ear taggers, etc.) between family groups. Allow the proper amount of contact time for the particular disinfectant you are using.
  • Keep animals originating from different family groups separated—don’t unload more than one trailer at a time, etc.
  • Encourage folks to not transport multiple family groups together in the same trailer. If those who don't have access to their own trailer need rides for their animals, encourage transporters to clean and disinfect their trailers in between family groups they transport.

The decision to or not to hold project weigh-ins is up to each individual county. There will always be risks no matter what the animal event; it is up to us to weigh those risks and make the decision that meets the needs of our youth and their projects.

To learn more about Michigan 4-H animal science programs, please visit the MSU Extension 4-H Animal Science website.

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