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

Monday, March 13, 2017

What's In My Showbox - Beef Cattle

     Many first time beef cattle exhibitors get overwhelmed by the amount of tack and supplies available. There are so many products with very specific purposes, and some items that are more trendy than useful. Some items are great to have at home for grooming and working with your calf, but there is no need to load the whole barn into the trailer. There are really a few things that are necessary and used every show day.

     Here is my packing list of items to take to the show for one calf and the reason why I take them.

Halters and Show Tack
  • 1 Rope Halter - This is the one used everyday to walk and work with your calf.
  • 1 Rope Neck Tie - Use this when cattle are being bedded down as a back up in case your rope halter comes untied.
  • 1 Show Halter - Get an adjustable leather halter with a chain chin piece on the lead. Halters come in different sizes and colors. Check the fit at home and adjust it before packing it for the show. Choose a color that matches your calf. Black halters for black calves, brown or reddish brown for red calves and white for solid white calves.
  • 1 Show Stick - Bring a show stick that is the right length for you and is in the best condition. I do not recommend some of the fancy painted or rhinestone covered ones I have seen. A straight stick that is a solid color that complements your calf is my choice to pack in the showbox.
  • 4 Safety Pins - Some larger shows make exhibitors wear a large paper number on you body so they can more easily keep track of who is showing. Keep safety pins in the showbox just in case you have to where a number.
Washing Supplies
  • 1 Adhesive Remover - After a full fitting, getting adhesives and paint to wash out is tough. Adhesive removers help break down the sticky stuff to make it easier to wash out. Use it before soap and water.
  • 1 Mild Soap - You do not need multiple shampoos, conditioners and detanglers at a show. One good mild soap that can remove dirt, adhesives and touch up paint is all you need. A good liquid dish soap is my favorite for its ability to remove everything we can put in a calf's hair.
  • 1 Water Hose - You need a hose that is long enough to go all the way around your calf and still reach the hydrant. Some shows supply hoses in their wash racks, but not all. The hose can also be used to fill water buckets as well.
  • 1 Spray Nozzle - I like a nozzle I can shut off while you scrub your calf and the water stream can be adjusted from a gentle shower to rinse with, to a narrow stream for powering dirt off the hooves.
Grooming and Fitting Supplies
  • 1 Regular Comb - The regular comb is used to pull up every hair and remove loose hair, especially right after a bath. I also take it into the wash rack and use the smooth back side as a water scraper to remove excess water.
  • 1 Fluffer Comb - The fluffer comb is used for just that, to fluff hair dry hair.
  • 1 Blow Dryer - Wet calf hair likes to stay laying down. Getting it dry and fluffed up is important after a trip to the wash rack. The blower can also quickly remove dust and shavings when calves have been laying down.
  • 1 Foam or Mousse - Foam or Mousse is used on the body hair to help it stay fluffed up and not lay down as easy.
  • 1 Light Adhesive - Light adhesive allows hair on the legs and tailhead to be combed into place.
  • 1 Adhesive for Leg Hair - Leg hair adhesive holds these hairs very stiff. It dries hard and allows for trimming and shaping with clippers or scissors. When dry it usually appears lighter color than most dark calves' hair.
  • 1 Touch Up Paint - Touch up paint is used to bring the right color back to areas of the body where adhesives have dried. Choose the correct color to match your calf. DO NOT use regular spray paint from the hardware store! Use a paint formulated for livestock.
  • 1 Light Oil or Sheen - These products give calf hair a shiny, healthy look. They also return some moisture to hair after a soapy wash.
  • 1 Large Clippers - Calves should have the majority of their haircut done at home, but for touching up large areas, like the ribs, belly or even the legs, they make it easier.
  • 1 Small Clippers - Small clippers are for the detail trimming where the big clippers are harder to handle. Touch up clipping on the neck, tailhead or legs can be quick and easy with small clippers.
     This is the basic set of supplies I would recommend keeping in a beef cattle showbox. These supplies and equipment will fit in a showbox that is relatively small compared to what you may see at a state fair, or national show. Outside of the blow dryer, everything could fit into two, 5-gallon buckets. It is okay to take extra supplies and equipment, but these are the things I know will be used at every show.

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

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Right Size

     It never fails. When weigh in time rolls around at the county fair, there are always animals that are too light or too heavy to show. This leads to some pretty disappointed youth and sometimes very upset parents.

     So how did this happen? Bad management? Poor genetics? Usually the answer comes to one basic problem. The animal is the wrong age to reach the proper weight range for the county fair.

     Choosing animals to show should include choosing an animal who is the right age to grow to the weight range of the last show the animal will be exhibited at. Structure, muscling, genetics and management can determine the final weight of the animal, but age can limit all these factors.

     Let's look at swine and cattle examples to see why the proper age is important. In both these examples, August 1st is the date of the imaginary county fair the animal will be shown at.


     The weight range for market swine at many county fair shows allows for pigs to be as light as 220 lbs. up to 300 lbs.  The target weight range to be competitive is more around 260 lbs. to 280 lbs. Most breeders and commercial swine producers claim their pigs can gain 2 lbs. per day. Talking with many exhibitors, extension agents, and ag teachers, and using the weight data they have collected over the years, the normal rate of gain is closer to 1.5 lbs. per day.

     Why do show pigs not gain the 2 lbs. per day? Exercise is the answer. Show pigs are fed, watered, vaccinated and sheltered as well if not better than commercial pigs, but exercise is the difference. Commercial pigs live in their pens, have full feed, water and care, but only exercise as much as they want in their pen. Show pigs are exercised to help build more defined muscle. They are also exercised to practice showmanship, learning to be driven to prepare for the show ring. The difference of additional exercise accounts for the difference in the rate of weight gain.

     Knowing an expected rate of gain of 1.5 lbs. per day, a little math can tell us when we want our show pigs to be born. If we want our show pig to weigh 275 pounds at the county fair, we divide that weight by 1.5 lbs. per day to find the number of days needed to reach 275 lbs., which is 183 days. (275 lbs./1.5 lbs. per day = 183 days). Baby pigs are not born weighing zero pounds, but on average from 2-4 lbs. This means we could subtract a few days off for their starting weight and use 180 days old as the age we want. Subtracting 180 days from August 1st means we want a show pig born around February 2nd. This date does not guarantee they will weigh exactly 275 lbs. at the county fair. Some pigs will gain more than 1.5 lbs. per day and others will gain less. It simply gives an estimated age that should get a pig who will be close to the end weight we want. Pigs born in early January would be too heavy, and pigs born in the first of March would be too light.


     Determining the proper age for cattle is less precise than swine. Market cattle can reach their mature weight between 14 and 24 months of age, but most average from 16 to 18 months. There are several factors that can vary this age including breed, age they were weaned, age they start on a grain diet and the environment they are raised in.

     For most county fairs, the weight range to show at county fairs can be as low as 900 lbs. to as high as 1600 lbs. A competitive weight range for market calves would be 1200 lbs. to 1400 lbs. for showing. Since we are looking at August 1st as the target show date, we need to find calves who were born 16 to 18 months ago. Calves born in January to March of the previous year would be the ideal age for an August show. 

     Many fairs have calves weigh in early and again at the fair. This is used to determine a rate of gain or average daily gain for each calf. The number of days between these weigh ins can be 120 to 200 days, most averaging 150 to 180 days. Show cattle tend to gain weight as well as commercial cattle and therefore have an average daily gain of at least 2lbs. or more per day.

     If a calf is born in February of the previous year, weighs 800 lbs. at the first weigh in, can gain 2.5 lbs. per day over 180 days until the fair, they should weigh 1250 lbs. at the county fair. (800 lbs. + (180 days X 2.5 lbs. per day) = 1250 lbs.)

     The final weight of the calf can vary depending on several factors. The beginning weight, the number of days on feed, and the calf's own rate of daily gain. Some calves can easily gain over 3 lbs. per day in the time between the first weigh in and the fair weigh in.

     Starting with a calf of the right age will not guarantee they will be the ideal weight on show day, but like the swine example, gives you the best opportunity to be at the weight range you want.

Good luck with your livestock project, and do not ignore their age as part of your selection criteria.

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

Friday, February 24, 2017

Livestock Project Safety

     Safety should be top of mind to everyone, every day. But as this spring finds youth beginning to work with those new livestock projects, the daily routines tend to make us, both youth and adults, lazy about safety. We do chores and go through the barns and pens not looking for those little things that may be big dangers.
     So what are some of those dangers we seem to forget to look out for. Here are a few things to think about when doing your daily chores with your projects.

Animal Hazards

     The longer we have animals, the more comfortable they are with us, and we are with them. We enter and exit pens, love on them, feed them, work them and even play with them. The thing we tend to forget is everyday they are growing and getting bigger. This means they will have more power to hurt us or someone else, even if your animal is just playing.

     We need to pay attention to our animals. Watch their body language and understand what they are doing. Here are some examples:
  • A pig or lamb who is used to waiting by the feeder and pushing by you to eat when they are little may run you over to get to their feed when they are bigger.
  • Games we played with our animals when they are little, like pushing on our baby goat's head when they try and butt us, can turn into a painful problem when they want to butt at a mature size.
  • A heifer who was very easy going may become aggressive and protective once she has a calf.
Equipment Hazards

     Equipment we use in the barns and with our animals can become very familiar to us. Good habits we once had get replaced with bad ones because we become lazy. Safety also goes by the wayside when we get in a hurry. We need to remember a few basic things about our equipment.
  • Put equipment away when not in use. Equipment can take up space and cause a hazard just by being out. Rakes, shovels, water hoses, electric cords, buckets and other small equipment can trip someone if they are just laying on the ground.
  • Check the condition of equipment before using it. Minor problems can become big problems. Leaking hoses create wet spots for us to slip in. Cracked electric cords could shock us. Broken tools may hurt us when we try and use them.
  • Make repairs immediately. It does not matter if it is small damage and something still works, or a big problem that causes a major danger, it should be repaired quickly, before the next use. If it cannot be repaired, do not use that equipment, or tool until the repair is done.
Structure Hazards

     Barns, pens, gates and fences can become damaged and worn over time. This can create hazards to us and our livestock. We need to keep these structures in good repair.
  • Fences need to be checked often to look for damage and repaired quickly. A fence may not be broken to the point an animal can get out, but they may hurt themselves on the damage.
  • Gates and doors need to be able to open easily, and to close and stay securely closed or locked. If they are in bad shape, an animal escape may be in the near future.
  • Barns, sheds and pens should be repaired when a problem or damage is found. Loose, damaged or missing nails, screws, boards, metal, can cause cuts, scrapes, bruises or stab both animals and people. In the worst case, these damages can make the structure unsafe for animals and people to be in or near.
      There are lots of safety hazards we could talk about and make this blog post extremely long. The best thing a youth or adult can do is to pay attention to the things they see everyday when working with or around their livestock project. If something does not look the same as it did before, ask yourself, "Is that safe?"

     If you are unsure something is safe, ask someone who would know. It might be your neighbor, a family member, a friend or even a professional like an electrician, carpenter or fireman. There is always someone to ask for help and someone willing to help.

Be safe, everyday!

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Setting SMART Goals for Your Livestock Project

     One of the main portions of both the 4-H and FFA record books is an area for writing down some goals. These goals are to help you focus your efforts toward a desirable end. As part of theses goals you must know where you are, know where you want to end, and have an idea of how you will get there. Setting SMART goals is a method that can be used by youth to help them focus. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Let's look at how youth can set SMART goals for their projects.


     For something to be specific, it needs to focus on just one thing. Many times you want to have broad goals. You should focus on one aspect of your broad goal. It may take multiple SMART goals to equal the main broad goal.


     For something to be measurable, it needs to have a way to show there has been change. It must be objective, which means the measurement is not a matter of opinion, but can be proven.


     This may be the hardest or easiest to determine. Some kids dream big, others aim low so they can succeed. You really need to set a goal that is attainable, but makes you improve or shoot for the next level.


     Realistic means there is the possibility to reach the goal by yourself. You can do it without needing extra effort or resources from someone else for you to reach your goal.


     Timely means the goal can be achieved in a certain amount of time. Time may be part of the realistic portion of the goal. Ask yourself, how quick could I do this? How long should I work on this goal? For most record books, there is a place for short and long term goals. Short term goals should be attainable within the year. Long term goals take more than a year or even multiple years to attain.


     Here are a few examples of some SMART Goals a youth might have for their livestock project:

          Short Term Goals
  • Be able to catch, halter and walk my steer from the barn to the road and back by April 1st.
  • Before we go to the first jackpot show in June, be able to drive my show pigs from their pen to the practice ring without them stopping to root dirt.
  • Shear all my own sheep with just Dad's help holding their legs for me this year.
  • Practice showmanship three times a week with my goat so I can make the top cut at the county fair this year.
  • Build a new shed for my lambs this summer with money from selling this year's lamb crop.
  • Breed my show gilt to farrow in January, and raise my own show pigs for next year.
  • Go to a showmanship camp and learn to clip my own steer for the county fair this year.
  • Buy three ewes to add to my flock with my winnings from this year's sheep shows.
  • Learn to AI this spring, so I can breed my own cows and heifers in my herd and increase the quality of calves I sell next spring.
          Long Term Goals
  • I plan to build my flock to 40 ewes by my last year in 4-H. I will then sell the flock to help pay for my college expenses.
  • I will save the profit from each steer I sell at the next four county fairs to pay for my expenses to go to Citizenship Washington Focus the summer between my Junior and Senior year of school.
  • I want to show all four species, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, so I will be familiar with each. I plan to study veterinary medicine when I go to college, and become a large animal vet. 

Youth know what they want to accomplish with their projects and in their lives. Using SMART goals is a great way to make those goals more easily realistic, understandable and hopefully attainable.

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