At the center of Beef Empire Days are the Rely on the Revalor Live Show, an event focused on the cattle themselves and what animals produce the best beef.

But, as judges size up steer and heifers in a matter of seconds, before sorting them into corrals, what are they looking for? And how can onlookers narrow down the selection themselves during the Public Pick 5, the crowd-friendly contest at the end of the Live Show when onlookers are given the chance to pick out what they think may be the winning cattle?

Three big clues, said Garden City Community College Meat Judging Coach Clint Alexander, are the way the animals look, move and act. And it’s not easy, he said.

“A lot of the time, to me, when you’re trying to live evaluate an animal, you probably have a better chance at winning the lottery than actually getting all the estimates right on every single animal, just because there’s so many varying factors,” Alexander said.

Live show judges are eyeing the make of each entry to see which will make for the best meat. They must be big, but too big — muscular, but with enough fat to add flavor.

And it starts with the weight, Alexander said. The weight of a carcass is typically about 63% of the live animal, he said, and beef producers are generally aiming for a weight marketable to consumers. Heifers that produce the best meat tend to be about 100 to 150 pounds lighter than their steer counterparts, he said, so judges may discount larger ones.

Looking to gauge how much muscle or fat an animal has? Pay attention to the shape of the body, Alexander said. The more desirable, muscular cattle are rounder, especially from the rear, with a bulging muscles carrying down to its back legs. If the body is flat or boxy, that means it likely has unwanted fat, he said.

“As I teach my meat judging team members when they judge carcasses — same thing on a live animal — shape will not lie to you, ever,” Alexander said.

The best animals will not have fat in the brisket, or the front chest area, or in the flanks, the rear underbelly, Alexander said.

And, he said, notice the animal’s gait and behavior. Smooth, long strides often mean the steer or heifer has less internal fat, while a more waddling motion means the opposite. Stressed or restless animals running around the arena often have a poorer grade and fat distribution than strong, docile ones, he said.

Anxious or aggressive animals may be signs of another detriment: bruises. If a steer or heifer tussles with other cattle, its meat may ultimately be bruised and have to be trimmed down, losing the purchaser money, Alexander said.

Whether you compete in the Public Pick 5 or just watch the show unfold at the Finney County Fairgrounds Tuesday morning, Alexander said there’s merit to getting a little insight to the ins and outs of meat judging and the beef industry. At the very least, he said it gives the public a better understanding of what goes into their food and what they buy at the supermarket.


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