Barn Chatter

Unethical Livestock Showing Practices: Short Term Gain is a Long Term loss in Reputation

Authors: Matt Claeys, Aaron Fisher & Arin Weidner
Published: July 19, 2017
4-H students show pigs at an event

4-H livestock projects have many goals and objectives that serve to the benefit the youth involved. When youth participate in livestock projects, they develop leadership abilities, build character, and assume citizenship responsibilities. 4-H livestock projects contribute to the experience of pride in owning livestock and youth learn to be responsible for managing and caring for the animal.

Although the projects have many potential benefits, there can be a negative perception about youth livestock shows. The majority of exhibitors do the right thing and play within the rules. But a few participants take things to an extreme, and try to win without considering the protein source end-product the animals provide or the animals’ well-being. Those participants have lost sight of the mission of youth livestock projects.

The Indiana State Fair has a program to help ensure a level playing field. The program contributes to fair competition and the safety of the food products. Some people don’t realize that the short-term gain they get from using unethical livestock showing practices can result in a long-term loss for their own reputations and the reputation of the industry.

Unethical livestock showing practices can have a detrimental effect on the reputation of yourself, the program and the industry.

In a livestock project, 90 to 95 percent of the educational value is gained at home caring for the animal and preparing for the event at the end of the project. At the show, an exhibitor has opportunities to meet industry leaders, build their networks, and practice the life skills that the projects teach. Winning can be a goal, but it is not the most important thing. Youth and families need to remember that the most important things are taking pride in the project animal and doing their very best. It is wrong to represent an animal as one breed or as purebred when it is not.

The life skills they gain from the project is what participants truly the win. Dust settles on banners.
4-H students show young black and white cows

It is wrong to represent an animal as one breed or as purebred when it is not.

To best decide and understand what practices are appropriate or not, a first place to start is to read the rulebook and exercise common sense. We​ encourage youth to follow the rules and have pride in their project to keep the focus on the learning process. If there is something you do not want others to know about your project or how you’ve done it, then it is probably inappropriate.  If there is something that is not clear, ask your county educator or Indiana 4-H State Extension Specialist.

Livestock showing is also an opportunity to learn and improve. Use this year’s project to learn for next year. One way to do this is learn from the judge. This will help improve your livestock and showing for next year. You can gain knowledge of the type of livestock that are functional in their kind and what perspective the judge is trying to convey. This may vary from judge to judge, so it is important to ask questions and research best practices. The important thing to learn is that it is the balance of the traits and the type of package the balance of traits looks like.

What does a judge look for when they judge market and breeding livestock? 

For the market classes, they are looking for:
  • ​​​The composition of the animal’s muscle and fat content
  • A functional skeleton so that the animal can perform in a number of different environments
For the breeding classes, judges are looking for:
  • A balance of factors, such as the functional skeleton, volume, gender characteristics, and acceptable performance
Livestock projects go beyond fair season and aim to teach you skills in livestock production, quality assurance, and marketing, while gaining a greater understanding of where food comes from. This is also a platform for you to learn more about the safety precautions humans and animals require. 
By maintaining ethical showing practices, we can promote a greater love for animals and good sportsmanship through a friendly, competitive atmosphere for youth across Indiana. 

Matt Claeys is the Livestock Judging Team Coach​ in the Animal Science Department at Purdue University. He also serves as a Beef Cattle Specialist for Purdue Extension.  

Aaron Fisher is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension​. He provides leadership to the Indiana 4-H Animal Science projects and develops opportunities for Indiana 4-H youth to learn about animals and agriculture.​​​

Arin Weidner is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension. She supports Indiana 4-H programming with the creation of technology-facilitated curriculum and learning opportunities through partnerships with Extension staff and faculty.​​​

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