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.
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension