Welcome to The Blue Ribbon - Youth Livestock Projects blog. The purpose of this blog is to provide information, advice and suggestions for improving youth livestock projects from multiple sources. The information, advice and suggestions in this blog come from professional agricultural educators who have multiple years of experience working with youth and their livestock projects. If you ever have a question or a particular subject you would like addressed, please feel free to contact Scott Stinnett via email, or leave a comment and we will do our best to assist or address the subject. Should the question or subject be more technical, we will help direct you to an appropriate resource for the best possible answer.

Thank you,

Scott Stinnett and The Blue Ribbon Contributors

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lamb Showmanship - Showing the Lamb

  Three positions are important to understand and to master when showing sheep. Youth working at home should practice being able to properly walk, show and brace their lambs as they would in the show ring. Last week focused on the walk. This week is showing.


     First I want to define what I am talking about. We use the term show to describe a whole event ("We went to a lamb show."), to describe the broad act ("I am going to show my lamb in class 3.") and to describe a specific act of showmanship ( "Please show me your lamb.") We are going to focus on the last usage of show, the act of setting up and displaying your lamb for the judge to do a visual appraisal.

     When I talk to youth about the difference between showing and bracing a lamb the main difference is hands on and hands off by the judge. When you show your lamb, the judge is using their eyes to look for things like balance, muscling, structure and in the end, overall appearance. A youth will show their lamb at three views: the profile view, the rear view and the front view.

     The profile, or side view, is where most judges like to start their appraisal of lambs at the local and county level shows. This gives a judge a quick idea of the levelness of the lamb, depth of body, length of side, hip shape and shoulder shape. Judges then like to move into a rear view. From the rear view they can see the width of the lamb, especially their top, hip and leg thickness. They may also be able to get a sense of the lamb's structure on the back legs. The front view allows the judge to also see the width of the lamb, the muscling of the chest and the structure of the front end.

     When setting up a lamb to show, a youth wants to work on properly setting the lamb's feet. We want to put the feet in 4 imaginary "corners" to maximize the width of the lamb without being over extended or too narrow and keep the view square to the judge. The front legs should be straight from the profile and front views with the feet set directly under the shoulders.  This would be setting the front two corners.
     Youth have two options in setting the front feet. They can either reach down and move the legs by hand to set the position of the feet or they can slightly lift the lamb between its front legs. When I say lift, I do not mean picking a lamb up off the ground. (I do not like the way the young man lifts his lamb in the video link below!) With the palm of their hand on the bottom of the lamb's chest, an exhibitor lifts up just enough the lamb will react by setting their feet directly under their front since they will feel a little off balance. Do not try to move front legs with your feet.

     There is really only one way to set back feet, and that is by hand. Some lambs can learn to move their feet by pushing or pulling slightly on the front of them, but most need their feet set by hand. The back feet should be set in a naturally wide position. This will be the back two corners of their set up. Ideally, when they set their back legs, it will show the lamb's width of hip and thickness of leg. The set of the back legs should be in line with the front legs to keep a straight line of the back. A bent or twisted position of the back will make the lamb's appearance off to the judge.

     Once the legs are set properly, the focus will be on setting the neck and head. The neck should come straight up. The lamb's nose should be slightly up and the head resting comfortably on the exhibitor's left forearm, cradled like a football would be tucked when a player is running.

     The exhibitor must then set themselves up against the front of the lamb. In a normal right profile view, the exhibitor should have the lamb positioned in the middle of their body, with the left leg  pointed toward the back of the lamb and the right leg bent and set slightly behind the exhibitor. The exhibitor should rotate their hips slightly to their right putting their body on the left side of the lamb's head. Exhibitors need to keep their posture straight up and down. If your lamb knows how to brace, be careful not to get into your lamb where they may want to brace and change how they look.

     Showing the front view is quite different from showing the profile or rear views. The exhibitor needs to move out of the judge's way and maintain the leg set and control of their lamb. Proper exhibitor position for the front view should be facing forward with their lamb's head resting in the exhibitor's hands and standing one step off of the lamb's shoulder. If the judge comes to view the lamb from the lamb's front right, exhibitor needs to be standing by the lamb's left shoulder. If the judge comes to the lamb's left front, exhibitor needs to be on the right side. When switching sides never try and switch the lamb's head in your hands behind your back. Its the lambs head, not a basketball! Always switch sides on the front by facing the lamb as you move.

     As the judge moves around to view your lamb, an exhibitor should understand how to move around their sheep to be able to give the judge the proper view. Remember, the exhibitor should always be on the opposite side of the lamb from the judge. Let's review what that means at different judge's positions:
  • Judge views lamb's right profile - exhibitor should be rotated around the left side of the head
  • Judge views lamb's left profile - exhibitor should be rotated around the right side of the head
  • Judge views lamb's rear - exhibitor should be at the front of the lamb, rotated to the opposite side the judge is viewing the rear from (ex. judge is slightly on the right, exhibitor should be on left)
  • Judge views the lamb's front - exhibitor should be standing to the side of the opposite shoulder the judge is viewing the front from (ex. judge is standing slightly to the lamb's right, exhibitor should be on the left side of the lamb) 

     You may have noticed I use the word 'slightly' very often. It is because minor and slight adjustments to the lamb's or the exhibitor's position can have major effects. Here are a few examples where the wrong position causes a problem:
  • Exhibitor does not rotate to the side of the lamb's head, causing the lamb's nose to come up, neck to move back and sway their back.
  • The lamb's neck is slightly leaning forward, allowing the lamb to hunch their back
  • One back foot is not set far enough back, causing the lamb to twist their spine and not have a straight back

Here is the same resource as last week, but this week look at how the young man sets up and shows his lamb. Focus on his body position and especially how he shows the front and switches sides. He is not perfect, but does a good job being in the right position and having his lamb setup properly:

Sheep Showmanship Series Texas Youth Livestock and Agriculture

Scott Stinnett
Extension Associate
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lamb Showmanship - The Walk

     Showing sheep, and for the most part goats as well, three positions are important to understand and to master. Youth working at home should practice being able to properly walk, show and brace their lambs as they would in the show ring.

The Walk

     When walking a lamb, there is a big difference between walking for exercise on a halter and walking in the show ring. In the show ring, we want the exhibitor to be able to walk their lamb around the show ring in a right hand (clockwise) circle. Exhibitors should be able to walk their lamb with the lamb's jaw resting comfortably in the exhibitor's left hand, with a level head, straight neck and level back when traveling. The right hand can be placed gently against the back of the lamb's head or held up in a comfortable position ready to place against the back of the lamb's head.

     The exhibitor should position themselves in a way that appears and is comfortable to walk the lamb. A very tall exhibitor with a short lamb may need to adjust their body while walking so they are not hunched over. Young exhibitors with big lambs may also need to think about how they need to position their hands when a sheep is almost as tall as they are.

     During a walk in the show ring, a lamb may do one of two things, balk or try and pull back. A balk, or refusing to walk forward can be frustrating. The number one thing not to do is use both hands and try and pull the lamb forward. It usually leads to a lamb wanting to pull back. Think about this, if someone walked up to you, put two hands on your head and pulled forward, what is your reaction going to be? You pull back, right? Sheep are no different.

     To get a balking lamb to move forward we can try two things, adjusting body position and placing your right hand to encourage movement. Many times a lamb will balk going forward because an exhibitor moved ahead of the lamb's point of balance. The point of balance is an imaginary spot, usually about the lamb's shoulder, which a lamb will move in the opposite direction of a human. If an exhibitor gets too far in front of their lamb (and its point of balance), the lamb will balk or want to go backwards.  The exhibitor needs to move their body behind the point of balance and this should encourage the lamb to move forward.

     If the point of balance is not the problem, then using the right hand may encourage movement. Try placing the right hand on the lamb's back or hip. This acts as a physical cue to move forward. An exhibitor should not grab their lamb's dock or strike the lamb to get them to move. If the lamb continues to balk, wait for a ring steward to come over and help get the lamb walking again.

     Pulling back or away is just as frustrating as a balk. A sheep who has learned to get away from an exhibitor is the most likely to try and pull back in the show ring. To prevent pulling back, an exhibitor should walk behind the balance point of their lamb with the right hand against the back of the head. With one hand under the jaw and one on the back of the head, the exhibitor's hands now act like a halter. Exhibitors must remember; do not apply a pulling pressure to the head. Just like I mentioned earlier, it only causes the lamb to want to pull back even more. Exhibitors also should not grab the dock to prevent a sheep from pulling back.

     Balking and pulling back can best be prevented by proper practice at home. Set up a space as your "show ring" area at home. It does not require fences or panels, just the same amount of space you might see in a show ring. Practice walking your lamb in a right hand circle. Make sure you have proper body position, hold the lamb's jaw and head properly and maintain a proper speed.

     The proper speed for walking a lamb is hard to describe, but the key is the exhibitor sets the speed. Some lambs like to walk fast, others slow. Your lamb should walk a purposeful 4 beat walk, that keeps their head level, neck straight and back level when they travel. If you practice going to fast, when you are in the show ring, you and your lamb will be walking and then stopping so you do not run into a lamb in front of you. If you practice to slow, a ring steward will be coming to help you get around the show ring faster.

     Exhibitors need to practice walking their lamb on the opposite side with their right hand under the jaw. During showmanship, many judges like to switch the sides they are viewing the lambs from. A good exhibitor can switch sides and continue walking their lamb with the opposite hands. Remember an exhibitor should not be on the same side of the lamb as the judge.

     For those of you who have shown lambs before, this should seem like a good review of what you have been doing. If this is your first time showing lambs, get some help and advice from an experienced sheep exhibitor or adult leader. Only good and proper practice will lead to great showmanship.

Here is an additional resource on showing lambs:

Sheep Showmanship Series Texas Youth Livestock and Agriculture

Scott Stinnett
Extension Associate
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension

Friday, March 2, 2018

Traceability and Youth Livestock Projects

     Pandemic and bioterrorism, two words we usually do not associate with youth livestock projects, but there is a connection, biosecurity. Biosecurity is the term used to describe those management practices to prevent unwanted diseases from coming onto the farm or ranch. Youth with livestock should also be practicing some form of biosecurity to protect their animals. One biosecurity practice youth will most likely participate in is traceability.

     Traceability is just as the word breaks down, the ability to trace something. In this case, any problem with livestock. The two programs youth may participate in that fall under traceability are using what are referred to as 840 tags and a premise I.D.

840 Tags and Premise I.D.

     840 tags are a livestock tags with a 15 digit animal identification number (AIN). The numbering starts with 840, which is the numeric code for the U.S.A. The remaining 12 digits identify the individual animal. 840 tags can be purchased directly from most livestock tag manufacturers or other sources. When 840 tags are purchased, a record of who purchased the tags and all the AINs of the tags they purchased is kept by the seller. By law, once an animal gets an 840 tag, records must be kept for 5 years on cattle, sheep and goats, and 2 years on poultry and swine.

     Many county and state fairs are requiring youth showing market animals to have an 840 tag in their animal. This allows the fair to connect a specific tag to a specific animal and its owner.

     Every 840 tag must be connected to a premise I.D. The Premise I.D. program is operated by your state government and helps to identify the location and owner of a livestock operation. It is a voluntary program for agriculture producers to register their operation. Most fairgrounds and livestock sales facilities have a premise I.D. numbers.

Connection to Youth Projects

     So how does this all connect to youth livestock projects? When a youth brings their animal to the county or state fair that requires 840 tags, it will receive an 840 tag if it does not already have one. The fair will record the 840 tag number of that animal and the youth owner. The fair's records will also show the fairgrounds premise I.D. number. If that animal is a market animal such as a steer, lamb, goat, or swine, and is then sold to another owner, the records will show who the new owner is and the 840 tag number of the animal they purchased. The new owner should then keep a record of the animal and its 840 tag number. The 840 tag number should stay with a market animal all the way until they reach harvest. The processor would be the final record keeper of the animals and the 840 tag numbers.

Traceability Using 840 Tags and Premise I.D.

     We always hope for the best and plan for the worst in agriculture and that is why 840 tags and premise I.D. numbers are being used. If there were a problem with a group of animals, such as a highly contagious disease, the 840 tags would be used to trace back who the animals came from. The premise I.D. numbers connected to the 840 tag records would give the locations the animals came from. This would allow vets and government agriculture personnel to trace the source of the disease and inform anyone who had contact or ownership of the animals.

     Premise I.D. numbers and 840 tags can also be used in other important ways. For instance, a wildfire in our state threatened many ranches in the area. Using a premise I.D. map, emergency management personnel could contact the ranches, warn them about the fire and plan for evacuating livestock. Using the 840 tags, cattle who were caught running loose during the fire were identified and returned to the owner after the fire.

     Traceability with 840 tags and premise I.D.s are tools for producers and government officials to use. Hopefully, youth livestock projects will not become part of a pandemic disease outbreak or the target of some evil bioterrorism event, but if they do, 840 tags and premise I.D. numbers can be used to manage the emergency.


Here are some resources on 840 tags and premise I.D.:

Official Swine Ear Tags, National Swine Registry

Traceability, Colorado Department of Agriculture https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/aganimals/traceability

Scott Stinnett
Extension Associate
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Introducing and Changing Feeds with Ruminants

     Most livestock projects are ruminants. This means instead of a single stomach before the intestines, they have four different compartments for digesting food. The largest, and the one we need to focus on, is the rumen. (This is why they are called ruminants.) Cattle, sheep and goats are all ruminants and how we feed them and how we introduce changes in their feed is very important.

     A rumen works as a warm, dark moist place for good bacteria, fungi and protozoa to live. There are billions of these individual micro-organisms in each rumen. Their job is to be helpful to the animal by digesting a major portion of the food it eats. They break down forage and grain into a form the rest of the animal's digestive system can continue to digest and use. But the micro-organisms are sensitive. Each type of micro-organism digests very specific foods. When new foods are suddenly introduced, it can upset the micro-organisms. Some cannot digest the new food and die off, while others will have more food than they can eat or break down. This causes digestive issues with the ruminant animal. Ruminants may go off feed, get the scours, or get bloat! These are not easy problems to fix, but they can be easily prevented.

     Proper management of feed can prevent upsetting the micro-organisms in the rumen and keep your animals happy and healthy. The first feed management happens when these animals are very little. Since they are mammals, mother's milk is the first food they receive. As they grow, young ruminants will try eating grass and grain like their mothers. Eating a little solid food helps to build the micro-organisms in their rumen and prepares them for weaning when the milk is taken away and they must eat grass or grain. Most animal mothers will wean their offspring onto grass and forage without much problem. It is when we manage the weaning from milk to grain we can cause problems.

     Since the weaning process and changing of feeds is very similar, here are some things to remember to properly manage a feed change.

Grazing Forage to Grains
  • Going from grazing to concentrated grain base feed is the most dramatic change.
  • Provide a small amount of concentrate feed (less than 10% of the total daily food intake) to let the animal's rumen begin to adjust to the concentrate feed.
  • Many managers will use a device called a creep feeder which allows the young animals to eat the new feed when they want during the day.
  • As the young animal's rumen adjust to the new concentrate feed, the amount of feed is increased every 3 to 5 days for 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Once the animals have adjusted to the new concentrated feed, be sure their ration (amount of food they receive each day) still includes forages in the form of hay, silage or access to pasture. 
Changing from One Concentrated Feed to Another
  • Introduce any new feeds to animals over a period of 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Mix in a small amount of new feed (less than 10% of the total feed) to their current feed the first week.
  • Continue increasing the amount of new feed slowly over the next 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Increases in the new feed should be done every 3 to 5 days.
  • Maintain some forage in their diet such as hay, silage or access to pasture.
Feed Additives and Supplements

     Most feed additives and supplements are used to either treat some type of illness or to provide missing nutrients like vitamins or minerals. You should follow the directions on the packaging or the directions of your veterinarian  depending on where you got the supplement or additive. If your animal has digestive issues when the supplement or additive is fed, contact your veterinarian immediately and get their advice on what to do about the problem.

     One common supplement that can be administered over-the-counter is a probiotic. A probiotic is a supplement containing various micro-organisms that live in a rumen. By following the label directions, you can help to provide the right kind of micro-organisms in the rumen as you change feeds.

     Remember you manage your animal's feed. Proper management is the key to preventing digestive issues. Make feed changes slowly over a period of 2 to 4 weeks. Observe your ruminants for digestive issues such as loss of appetite, scours or bloat. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your veterinarian and tell them what you have observed and tell them what you are doing. They are the experts in animal health.

Scott Stinnett
Extension Associate
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension