Youth animal science: Anatomy and physiology

Take a deeper look at the science involved in animal production by exploring anatomy and physiology.

Youth apply animal anatomy and physiology skills through animal evaluation.
Youth apply animal anatomy and physiology skills through animal evaluation.

As learned in “Showcasing the science in 'animal science',” youth are using science in all aspects of raising animals. Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, chemistry, ethology (study of behavior), virology (study of viruses), bacteriology (study of bacteria), endocrinology (study of hormones) and many more scientific fields play a large role in animal production.

With the adoption of the National Research Council’s report, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H are working to increase science literacy through the inclusion of the Scientific and Engineering Practices described in the framework. These eight practices help guide youth through thinking about science while making the subject a little less intimidating. There are numerous MSU Extension news articles to help youth succeed in science and see it more in their everyday lives.

This article series will look more closely into the science that is inherently part of every 4-H animal project, breaking it down into five major areas beginning with anatomy and physiology. Follow up articles will include biochemistry and chemistry, virology and bacteriology, ethology and endocrinology.

Anatomy and physiology are two of the most commonly thought scientific discipline related to animal projects. 4-H members have three key times where they are making or being told decisions based largely on anatomy and physiology.

When selecting an animal. Each 4-H animal project starts by acquiring the animal. Most youth have two options when it comes to selecting an animal: purchase an animal from someone or select an animal from an individual or family herd/flock. In both cases, there are specific selection criteria that often increase in complexity as a youth has more experience in the project area. In selecting an animal, youth practice the skill of analyzing the anatomy and physiology of an animal when selecting it.

As youth continue to improve their skillset by looking at more than just their own projects, these skills can be applied through animal evaluation (judging contests). When youth compete in 4-H animal evaluation, they are able to explore animal science by learning to evaluate animal projects such as beef cattle, sheep, swine, dairy and horses. Participants learn to select animals based on breed characteristics, production factors, structure and carcass desirability (livestock only), as well as increase their public speaking skills by preparing and delivering a logical and coherent set of oral reasons to the contest judge.

Through these activities, youth are critically evaluating structural components of the animal including the ease in which it moves as well as the placement of legs when standing still. Additionally, youth determine if the animal has the proper amount of fat appropriate for the species. Furthermore, youth evaluate the functionality of each animal from nose to tail.

Daily observation. 4-H members observe their animals daily to ensure their health and well-being. Through this, youth are making sure their animals are moving correctly, eating and drinking in similar amounts to previous days and acting in the same manner, as well as observing the animal’s body, eyes, ears, nose, skin and hair. Through daily observation and animal evaluation, youth critically evaluate the anatomy and physiology of their animals.

Exhibition and showing. Many 4-H members choose to show or exhibit the animals they raise at events including the county fair. At competitive events, animal judges are hired to help youth better understand the value and functionality of the animal they are exhibiting. In market and breeding stock classes, animals are evaluated on structure, muscle shape, fat composition and functionality. With the evaluation, youth are able to continue learning from their experience and potentially improve their ability to critically evaluate the anatomy and physiology of future animal projects.

Although these three methods are a common way youth apply their science skills outside of the classroom, there are Animal Science Anywhere lessons that specifically target growth within the discipline. Anatomy and physiology are key components of the following four lessons designed for 4-H youth:

Continue helping youth learn more about animal science by using the MSU Extension 4-H Animal Science Anywhere lessons, 4-H Science Blast activities or Animal Care and Well-Being resources. There are also several volunteer trainings offered in Michigan throughout the year, as well as more resources on the Michigan 4-H Resources page.

Other articles in this series:

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