Nick Anderson started showing cattle several years ago, then started selling show calves during his last year of college.
He has seen cattle from both inside and outside of the pen, but when it comes to identifying ideal traits for a good show animal, Anderson says beauty may lie in the eyes of the beholder.
“When someone asks about buying a calf, the first thing we need to do is figure out their goals,” says Anderson, who farms near Denison in west central Iowa. “What works for one person may not work for another.”
His cattle primarily carry Maine-Anjou, Chianina and Angus genetics. His Maine-Angus and ChiAngus cattle are used to generate seedstock for show heifers or market steers.
Anderson says show judges have different ideas of what they would like to see in the show ring.
“Some want stout animals, while others may want more fluidity,” he says. “You may want to focus on structure and longevity for that heifer. With a market steer, they will want to see some muscle.”
What works in the show ring for cattle also likely will work for pigs, says Ben Schmaling, a judge and producer who raises Berkshire show pigs near Prescott in southwest Iowa.
“Whether you are judging breeding hogs or market animals, you want a correct skeleton and correct angles to the feet, hock and hip,” he says. “We tell kids to make sure all four feet are pointing in the right direction. If the foot isn’t straight, the hock isn’t going to be square. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the difference.”
Market hogs need to not only look good in the show ring, but in the freezer.
“The end goal might be the county fair, but it’s also the kitchen table,” Schmaling says. “You want that muscle definition, and the length of the cannon bone is an indication of growth.”
He says different breeds may have certain criteria when it comes to quality show pigs. Judges recognize that when they step into the ring.
Chad Holtkamp has judged show cattle for several years. He says he is always looking for animals that are well balanced and structurally correct, adding that market steer needs to have a good finish to it.
“Market weights have moved up over time, so we’re seeing steers in the 1,325- to 1,450-pound range,” says Holtkamp, who raises cattle near West Point in southeast Iowa.
Bull shows also involve different criteria for judges. For example, Holtkamp says a judge for a continental breed show may look for more muscle, while British breeds prefer a more mature look.
“Different things are always trending a little bit,” he says. “Right now, we are seeing a trend toward a more mature look. Each year or two brings some sort of change.”
Holtkamp is also a firm believer that a good show heifer must possess the ability to eventually become a high-quality cow.
“You want them around a long time,” he says. “As a judge, that’s something you need to take into consideration.”
Holtkamp adds that he and others who sell show animals need to work with their young customers, and to make sure it stays fun.
“This is really an educational project, because they are learning how to care for and be responsible for their animals,” he says. “I tell them to really work on showmanship and things that they are able to control. No matter the level of the show, showmanship is very important.”
Anderson says in his opinion, the quality of the steer or heifer is more important than the breed.
“I’m a fan of good livestock, and I’m not big on specific breeds,” he says. “If I can accomplish what I need to do, I will select the best animal for the money I have to spend. If you work hard on your showmanship and presenting your animal in the best possible way, you should be successful.”
Schmaling adds young exhibitors need to understand the breeder does not stop being a source of information when the animal leaves the farm.
“Utilize the breeder as a resource throughout the time you are showing the animal,” he says. “They want to help. The project doesn’t end for the breeder once the pig is sold.
“Our name is connected with that animal, and we want to make sure that everything goes as well as it possibly can.”