Key Factors of Livestock Projects - Part 1: Genetics

Key Factors of Livestock Projects - Part 1: Genetics

No two livestock projects are ever the same. Ever. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve brought a new animal home to feed, you will still learn something new with this one. That’s why showing livestock remains interesting even after decades of being involved. It’s a new story each and every time you load the trailer and leave the breeder's house.

I remember my first steer. As we unloaded him out of the trailer into a new stall, it was as if a new baby had been born into the family. Aunts, uncles and cousins all gathered around to see him. As I looked through the squares in the bull panel to view my new hobby (soon to be obsession) I heard every person around the pen fire off advice like it was coming from a shotgun. Feed, supplements, hair care, foot care, bedding, fans, combs, wormers, vaccinations, jackpot shows, county fair, majors, and the list continued.  

I stood there not knowing the first thing about evaluating this animal or the importance that any of those tips played. I was completely lost.

A great mentor and 4-H leader spent many years convincing me that there was no one ingredient to success in livestock. There wasn’t a “secret sauce” (literally or metaphorically) to winning shows. There were no owner's manuals to these animals.

Instead, she believed and provided evidence that livestock shows are about balance. You must be able to balance a variety of variables and hold them in balance for the duration of your project. These variables are completely in your control.

In this five-part series, I will provide evidence for how genetics, nutrition, mobility, shelter and health care build the recipe for success in the show ring. There is a bottomless pit of information out there to dig through, but if you balance these five general areas, your animal will be able to reach their potential and look their best on show day.


It is important you hear me out on this one. Genetics are going to be the limiting factor in your animal. I am ag teacher, and I ask my students to imagine everyone owning a swimming pool. Let's say we are going to have a contest to see who can hold the most stuff in their pool. You have to put water, floats and people in your pool. The person with the best balance of all three wins.  

Some of the pools are shallow and wide, some are deep and narrow, some are round, some are square. But we all have to put the same resources in them, just in different ratios.

Genetics are like the pool dimensions. If you fill to just below the brim of the pool, you have put all the water you possibly can, but if someone has two inches more height on their pool, they can put more water in.

This isn’t to say everyone has the water available to fill their pool. You may have a smaller pool and be able to reach the potential better than someone with a bigger pool. It’s all in the management of the pool and resources.

Your new animal is like this pool. You have to figure out how much and what balance of the resources it is going to take to get the most of it’s potential.

Secondly, don’t get suckered into equating dollar signs with genetics. There is an innate belief in all of us that the more money we are charged for something, the more valuable it is. Granted, recognized genetics and history will typically yield a higher price, but with a well-trained eye, you can sometimes find animals with similar potential at a lower price.

Selecting an animal should be based heavily on their look while still being conscious of their pedigree. Not every animal with an award winning pedigree will go on to be great. You have to know what the strengths and weaknesses of each potential project are and have a strategy for them. There has never been a livestock project without a challenge so know going into that project what challenges you can predict.

Choosing the right animal is the first decision you have to make in your project. Be critical during the purchasing phase of your project because it is your only chance to buy the right pool.  

Of course, once you get that project home, the other four categories of responsibilities come into play. Watch for the next installment of the series for information on nutrition, mobility, shelter and health care.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Progressive Dairyman Canada

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