Rayner Reckons

May 13

Judging steers in a show ring

Posted on Monday, May 13, 2019

Preparing and showing steers is perhaps the most common of all livestock showing in Australia. I know for many people steer competitions are the starting point in their livestock career. In my own case, showing steers with my school was an integral part of my exposure to the broader industry.

Steer competitions allow many young people the opportunity to learn a range of responsibilities and gain skills and knowledge that can be used in their future careers and in their broader lives.

Preparing a steer requires knowledge of selection, nutrition and a commitment to ensure the steer grows according to a specific end point. For young people there is the responsibility of not only feeding and caring for the animal, its also about the preparation and training.

So what brings success in a steer ring? As a judge I have some pretty clear expectations for steers. The things I consider are important not just for the show ring. I am looking for the traits that are economically and commercially relevant. Through judging I hope that people preparing steers, learn to use that experience in their approach to commercial operations, and so produce more economically valuable animals for themselves and for the clients they hope to attract.

The traits that matter

Whenever I consider a class of steers, my first thoughts are about the class specifications. Specifications for weight and fatness are essential! The processor for various reasons sets a weight. These range from;
• ensuring that the primal cuts that the carcass will be broken down into are the correct size for further fabrication into retail cuts
• efficiency of processing within a plant
• ease of processing. For example a local butcher has smaller lighter bodies both for retail purposes and for the simple reason that there isn’t enough room in a small chiller for a larger carcass!

If a steer is too heavy or too light for class specifications, I automatically discount it as a place winner. In the commercial world this discounting happens with a lower price offer from the purchaser.

There are some important lessons to consider beyond the obvious discounting for price (or points in a competition). If your steers are too heavy then they should have been entered into a different class. Or in commercial operations sold to a heavier market. 

If you don’t direct cattle into the appropriate market then not only do you receive a lower payment, you have also lost money and time growing extra weight that isn’t being financially recognised at sale. So effectively you are costing yourself more money.

My second consideration for class specifications is for the specifications for fatness. Again there are fat depths set for a reason. These include the minimum required for MSA grading (3mm on the rib) as well as to ensure an evenly covered carcass. Over fat cattle create more issues with excessive trim. 

Again the consideration is not just the discounting that occurs for over fatness, but the cost and time spent to lay down this fatness that is then wasted.

The lesson to consider is that if you are preparing steers, for competition or for the market, know your specifications! If you are failing to meet the specs, does this mean you need to consider:

• Feeding program – are you growing at the optimum daily rate for your target? If it is too slow will you fall below the minimum? Too fast and will you overshoot?
• Fatness – Consider not just your feeding but also your animals maturity patter. Is your maturity pattern correct for your target market / class specifications? Later maturity animals lay fat down later, so will you be able to meet the requirements with your maturity pattern. Similarly are you not being too ambitious with early maturity patterns?

Once I’ve considered the suitability of the steers to their class specifications, I assess each steer for its overall muscle volume. Muscle is directly related to saleable red meat, and so the more an animal has, the more saleable red meat is available and so the value of that animal increases.

I assess muscle volume using the industry accepted muscle scores. I find it useful to think about volume in the same way it is calculated for any shape. Essentially it means to consider length, depth and width.

So I look at the length of the animal. I consider its width, through the loins and rib eye, and the width of stance and through the hindquarters. Lastly I look to see how deep is the muscle volume extending from the hindquarters down to the stifle. I like to see broader, rounder, longer steers.

My final consideration is to look at the overall fatness of the steer. It’s one thing to meet specifications. However it’s another to be evenly covered across the carcass. I look and feel over the major primals and over the carcass to see if the fat appears to be evenly distributed. Sometimes you can feel the fat coverage is uneven or hasn’t quite extended across the major areas.

As a carcass judge I’ve seen many bodies that are unevenly finished. This adds to the processors level of trim and overall reduces the value of the carcass to the processor. So its something I do try and consider and provide feedback on.

Essentially I use these three key areas to judge steers. Ultimately the steers that meet specification, display the high degree of muscle and even distribution of fatness are the ones I will select to be my place winners.

I don’t spend any time worrying about what the herd is like that produced these steers. I don’t worry about the heifers in the herd or anything outside of the ring. As a judge I can only assess what I see in front of me. Just as a buyer will only consider what is in front of them at the sale and if they will suit the processors needs. Focusing on these things does provide breeders with the information they need to fine-tune their program at home.

And for young people making their way into the industry, the lesson of knowing the market specifications, choosing cattle that suit their market and selecting for yield are lessons that will take them a long way into commercial and show ring success.


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