What does the judge really mean?

If you have sat around the ring at a county fair or been moving an animal around the show ring, you have heard the comments of the judge. Knowing what those comments mean will help you learn more about the animal project.

Understanding common judging terms can help you learn more about your animal project and aid you in picking out future projects. Photo credit: Steve Thelen | MSU Extension

Understanding common judging terms can help you learn more about your animal project and aid you in picking out future projects. Photo credit: Steve Thelen | MSU Extension

When exhibiting animals at a show or fair, a judge is brought in to evaluate each project on a certain set of criteria. Although the criteria changes from species to species, valuable information can be gained from listening to the judge and understanding the advantages and faults they find in each animal.

Whether or not you agree with how the judge placed each class, there is something to be learned. The following common judging terms are explained in more detail to help you to learn from your project and aid you in picking out future projects that will exceed the quality of previous years.

  1. Muscle. What we eat as meat is actually an animal’s muscle, so this is a very important part of judging an animal. When evaluating muscle, there are a few key locations that the judge considers. The two main sections are the loin (located on the back after the ribs and before the rear end) and rear end (correctly termed ham, hind-saddle/leg, and hindquarter in hogs, sheep and cattle, respectfully). The judge is looking for the amount of meat located in each of those locations, as well as the quality of the meat.
  2. Trimness and cutability. The amount of fat or finish an animal has determines its trimness. Fat is needed internally and externally on an animal to allow for flavor and tenderness of the meat, as well as to protect the carcass while it is hanging in a cooler. Having enough fat, without having too much fat, is one of the big challenges of raising livestock. Similarly, a judge may mention cutability when discussing a placing. Cutability refers to the amount of boneless, closely-trimmed retail product that comes from an animal. In cattle particularly, this relates to the yield grade.
  3. Structural soundness. A concern about structural soundness is just that; a concern that the skeletal structure of the animal is not 100 percent correct. This term can apply to a variety of areas, such as legs being sickle hocked, an animal being too straight in the shoulder, or one that is too restricted in its movement. When evaluating an animal, ideally the animal will move smoothly, filling the tract of its front leg with its rear foot. Additionally, an animal that was structurally sound would have legs that maintain the width of the body and the animal would set its foot down squarely in relation to its body.
  4. Bone. The truth is, we don’t actually have a dollar value to gain from bone. However, it is something that a judge will consider when looking at an animal. For example, if the judge states an animal is frailer-boned, that means in comparison to the others in the class, the animal is smaller in its circumference of bone and potentially stands down on a smaller amount of bone.
  5. Body. When a judge talks about body, it can mean a few different things. Body can refer to the volume and internal capacity of an animal, and it can also refer directly to the amount of length and width of the animal’s actual skeletal design. Higher volume or larger-bodied animals are preferred. It is important to note that while an animal may appear large volume, fat must be differentiated from capacity as high volume is not preferred in the case of animals that are too heavy conditioned.
  6. Balance. Balance is best described by looking at the animal from the profile view. If you were to cut the animal in half transversely, would the head section be about the same as the rear section? Ideally, the animal would have about the same depth of body in the front half as compared to the back half.

If you are looking to learn more about animal evaluation, review the Michigan State University Extension Animal Evaluation Snapshot to find more ideas about evaluating livestock.

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