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, June 1, 2018

Livestock IDs

     Identifying (ID) of livestock has multiple purposes and multiple ways to do it. There are tags, tattoos, brands, ear notches, nose prints, eye scans and DNA. So how is each used and what can it tell us about and animal?

     The main reason to ID livestock is for accurate record keeping. If each individual animal has its own ID, a good manager can know a lot about the animal if they keep accurate records. Records may include sex of the animal, date of birth or purchase, pedigree, vaccination dates and types, veterinary treatments, weights at various ages, and dates of sale or death. These records can be used to let the next owner know important information about an animal they are purchasing. Records may also be part of the marketing of animals such as "fully vaccinated" or "age verified". But all records must be tied to the ID of an animal.

     Livestock may have one or multiple ID forms. Each has a different purpose. Here are some common ID methods and how or why they are used.

Ear Tags

     Ear tags are a relatively permanent ID method. (An animal might loose an ear tag by getting it caught on something or torn off.) Ear tags can be put in at any time, but the younger the animal the better. Some animals have one, others have multiple. Ear tags can be plastic/rubber or metal. They can be very specific to an individual livestock owner or have international meaning.
  • Breeder Tags - This ear tag has information the livestock owner needs. It may ID the individual animal as well as its parents.
  • Veterinarian Tags - These tags are put on by veterinarians after specific vet procedures have been completed. An example would be a "Bang's Tag" which is a metal ear tag put in after cattle have been vaccinated for Brucellosis.
  • US Government Tags - These tags should be the most permanent forms of ID and even have a warning "Do Not Remove" on them. They are to help ID animals who are part of a government program. A "Scrapies Tag" in sheep is an example. It links sheep to a breeder and if sheep were ever found to have contracted scrapies, government officials could contact the breeder.

     Tattoos are a permanent form of identification for livestock. The problem is, tattoos are limited in the amount of information they contain. Most livestock have tattoos put into there ears. Livestock tattoos are different from human ones. A tattoo kit contains a set of letters and numbers that make a connect the dot pattern in the ear.


     Branding of animals traces back to the Ancient Egyptians. Branding can be done "hot" or "cold". Hot branding uses a piece of heated metal to create a scar on the animal hide in the shape of the metal. Cold or freeze branding uses an extremely cold piece of metal to create a spot on the hide where hair will loose its pigment and only grow white.
     Branding is mainly used as owner identification on cattle and some horses. Brands are usually located on the side of the animal and are big enough they can easily be seen at a distance. Each state has its own Brand Laws. Some state require registration of all brands and no two people can use the same brand.  Other states allow anyone to brand an animal with any brand as long as they can document the brand they have been using if there is a question of ownership.

Ear Notches

     Most commonly we see ear notches on pigs. The Universal Ear Notching System is a set of rules used to be able to read an determine ear notch meanings. In the U.S. this means notches in the pigs right ear is for its litter number and the left ear is for the individual pig's number. For example, a pig might be 27-4, meaning it is out of litter 27 and is the number 4 pig in the litter.

Other Identification Methods
  • DNA - a hair sample is taken and has the DNA of that animal. No two animals have the same DNA. A lab can test DNA samples to see if they match a specific animal.
  • Retinal Scans - No two animals have the same pattern of veins and arteries on the retina of their eye. A picture is taken of the retina and can be compared to another picture taken later of the same animal.
  • Nose Prints - Similar to taking fingerprints on people. No two animals will have the same nose print.
  • Microchip - A microchip is insert under the skin, usually in the neck. A microchip reader can identify the animal by the inserted microchip. The microchip can be linked to electronic records of the animal.

Additional Resources:

Tattooing of Cattle and Goats, University of Arkansas Extension and Research
Proper Way to Ear Notch Pigs, Nebraska Extension
Beef Cattle: Types of Identification, Clemson Cooperative Extension

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Shoo Fly

     As the temperatures warm up for summer, flying parasites become more common around livestock. While these seem to be a mild annoyance, flies and mosquitos can cause more problems than you realize.

     Good livestock health plans include control of internal and external parasites. Products like fenbendazole, ivermectin, levamisole, albendazole and oxfendazole are used and can have some effect on biting flying parasites, but they must bite an animal to be effective. A good health plan tries to prevent livestock from being bit in the first place.

The Problem Parasites
  • Mosquitos
    • Blood sucking pest. They can cause skin irritation at the bite. Multiple bites can lead to animals scratching areas raw causing open sores. This can lead to worse problems.
    • They can carry diseases such as West Nile Virus and Equine Encephalomyelitis.
    • They can carry parasite such as the one that becomes heartworms in dogs.
  • Black Flies
    • They can cause skin irritation at bite. Multiple bites can lead to animals scratching areas raw causing open sores. This can lead to worse problems.
    • They can transmit diseases.
  • Bot Flies
    • They lay eggs on livestock so the larvae use the animals as a host.
    • This can cause sores and irritation internally and externally.
  • Heel Fly
    • They lay eggs on animal hairs.
    • Hatched larvae enter the body and live in the host animal.
  • Horn Fly
    • Blood sucking pest. They can cause skin irritation at bite. Multiple bites can lead to animals scratching areas raw causing open sores. This can lead to worse problems.
    • Blood sucking lowers energy of livestock and reduces productivity.
  • Horse Fly
    • Blood sucking pest. They can cause skin irritation at bite. Multiple bites can lead to animals scratching areas raw causing open sores. This can lead to worse problems.
    • They can carry diseases like Equine Infectious Anemia and Anaplasmosis.
  • Screwworm Fly
    • The female lays eggs by fresh wounds. Likely spots include castration sites, ear notches and dehorning.
    • The larvae feed on the host animal.
Controlling These Parasites

     Each of these parasites has a different habitat and ways they can be controlled. As a group, the best way to control them is by sanitation. Remove manure from pens and barns, and compost it. Keep livestock clean. Treat all wounds by cleaning and covering the wound location. Remove other possible habitats, like standing water for mosquitos.

      Continue using appropriate internal and external parasite controls (dewormers). You can use fly sprays appropriate for your species. Fly tags are commonly used on cattle. Fly traps and poisons can be used around the barn. IGR (insect growth regulators) can be added to feed and supplements to help control flies (consult your veterinarian and feed supplier).

     Just remember fly sprays, tags, traps and poisons are all harmful and should be handled with caution by adults and according to the directions. If you have any questions about fly and mosquito control or problems, visit with your veterinarian and see what they recommend.

Here are some other resources about flying parasite controls:

Livestock Veterinary Entomology website, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Best Management Practices for Fly Control, Michigan State University

Good luck keeping those pesky critters away from your animals.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Not Labeled For...

     Most people who have worked around livestock have, at some time, used a product not labeled for livestock on their animals. We either did it by mistake when we were young, or in a pinch as an adult. I am not talking about the substances that you may find listed as banned by a state or national stock show. I am focusing on things you might buy off the self at the local discount store or grocery. I have heard a lot of different things over the years:

"I put furniture polish on our red pigs to give them shine!"
"We use laundry stain remover instead of the expensive adhesive remover."
"A little laundry soap can relieve that bloat."
"Aspirin is safe to give them."
      But why are some products not labeled for animals when they seem relatively harmless? The truth is, when we use products not labeled for livestock, we are putting the health of our animals at risk, the wholesomeness of our food at risk, and possibly even breaking the law.
     Now do not panic! The law is not going to come after you if you washed your steer with dish soap or put sunscreen on your show pig, but we need to have a little conversation of why we should not be doing these things.
    One of the main reasons we don't use products unless they are labeled for animals is the product may be harmful to them. Our livestock's bodies may be similar to ours, but how they function and process things can be very different from ours. A product that is safe for human skin, such as sunscreen, may cause a reaction with the skin of your show pig. The chemicals in the sunscreen react differently to pig skin than human skin. Other products, for example the laundry stain remover from the quote above, may do the job you need to break down adhesive out of cattle hair, but what is the chemical formula for stain remover? Is laundry stain remover labeled to be used on human skin? No. Then do you think it would be labeled to use on cattle? Using alternative products for grooming your livestock is not advisable, and the products are not labeled for livestock use for a reason.
     When it comes to things we put into our animals, from feeds to pharmaceuticals, we are not only putting our animals at risk, but also the food supply. There are foods, supplements, additives and medications labeled for livestock use. They have been approved by several government agencies, like USDA and FDA, to be safe for animals and safe for the animals to produce food for human use. These products have been scientifically studied and it is understood how they will act in the body of the livestock they are labeled for, and they will be either safe or fully broken down before any animal products become part of our food supply. If you have completed any type of livestock quality assurance program (Colorado MQA, Beef Quality Assurance, Pork Quality Assurance, etc.) you have learned about withdrawal times, chemical residues and the Wholesome Meat Act. You should understand the importance of keeping our food safe and healthy.
    Following the label directions on feed, additives, supplements or medications means you are doing your best to produce healthy animals and wholesome animal food products. If you purposely do not follow directions and your animal or the food products from your animal are found with traces of products not labeled for are found, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE. You may be banned from showing and will forfeit all your prize and sale money. Worst case, you have to go to court and can be fined heavily for breaking state and federal laws.
     In short, if it is not labeled for livestock, do not use it on your livestock. It is your job as the owner and manager of your livestock to produce healthy animals and wholesome food. If you do not, you are putting a lot of things at risk.

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

Monday, April 9, 2018

Lamb Showmanship - The Brace

     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. The brace is the last to cover, the hardest to write about, the hardest to teach, but the easiest to do once it is understood.

     I showed calves as a youth, and did not even look at sheep until I began my ag teaching career. It was then I was the one who became a student, learning from my FFA members how to properly brace a lamb. Nothing can make you look and feel more like a fool than trying to learn to brace a lamb.

     The thing I did understand is the importance of the brace to give the proper feel to the judge without loosing a certain look. A lamb should be able to flex the muscles of the rack, loin and leg without over flexing. This is all created by the proper stance of the exhibitor and positioning of the lamb.

     To review a bit, the exhibitor's proper stance will allow them to balance themselves against a bracing lamb, keep the lamb steady and be able to give subtle physical cues to the lamb. Let's visualize the normal show ring stance where the judge is on the right side of the lamb and the exhibitor is in front of their lamb. I like to see the exhibitor with their left foot slid slightly toward the back of the lamb, but not blocking the shoulder view. The right foot is slightly behind the exhibitor with a bent knee. This position should make the exhibitor's hips be rotated to the left side of the lamb's head. The back should be straight and the left forearm and right hand should be gently holding the lamb's head.

     The lamb should be positioned with all four legs setting the proper "corners" to exhibit the lamb properly. Their neck should be straight up with their head resting with their nose slightly tipped up in the exhibitors hands. The chest and neck of the lamb should be resting against the middle of the exhibitor.

     Hopefully all that sounds familiar. Now for the part that is hard to explain, the proper brace. For novice exhibitors, I like to pair them with a lamb that knows how to brace. It works the majority of the time to help the exhibitor begin to learn the proper body position and what it feels like to have a lamb brace against them. Novice and experienced exhibitors both should practice establishing the proper stance and positioning of their body. Next, I teach youth to step into the lamb. Making body contact with the front of the lamb should cue the lamb to brace. Removing or relieving body contact from the lamb usually cues the lamb to relax. Exhibitors will need to practice stepping into and relaxing the brace with their lamb. Every lamb is a little different on how much contact it takes to get them to brace and how much must be released for them to relax.

     An experienced exhibitor and a well taught lamb can perform a brace without any hands on the lamb! Why? The contact needed for a brace comes from the middle of the exhibitor's body. For a intermediate or senior member with a market size lamb, contact is with the left hip and inside of the left thigh. With younger or smaller exhibitors, contact still comes from the middle of the body, but may be more hip, stomach and chest than the hip and leg.

     As I stated before, the brace is hard to explain. Youth need experienced help to learn to brace and lamb and how to train the lamb to brace to their cues. There are a few common mistakes all youth exhibitors need to be aware of when they are practicing the brace.

  • Make sure the lamb is evenly bracing. Some lambs will feel like they are bracing, but are arching and only flexing their back muscles. They will not have the feel you want in the leg. Stop bracing, relax the lamb and try the brace again.
  • Lamb slips a hind leg too far back. This will shift the lamb's hips and rotate his spine and the lamb will feel like he is falling to the side. Stop bracing, reset the legs and brace again.
  • Lamb arches its back as it braces. This give an uneven feel to the top and an even worst look to the judge. Touch or "tickle" the lamb's back to get them to drop it down. DO NOT make any motion that appears to be hitting or striking. No matter how gentle you are, it does not look good.
  • The lamb's head is turned. This is the beginning of the spine and if the head is turned in any direction other than straight ahead, they will want to move their body to straighten their body position. Keep the lamb's head pointing straight. The exhibitor may need to adjust their body to fix the problem.

I hope this is helpful when learning and practicing the brace. The best help is to find someone who shows well and can give hands on assistance. Once you learn to brace, you will never feel like a fool again.

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