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Protecting animal health at livestock shows

Robert Fears for Progressive Cattleman Published on 18 October 2016
Learning how to communicate while showing animals

Livestock shows are big events in most states and draw large crowds from both urban and rural areas. Urbanites attend because these shows provide a rare opportunity to view livestock in the flesh and at close range.

Rural people visit the shows because they may have family members exhibiting animals and it gives them a chance to learn what is occurring in the industry. Often, livestock people attend to look at purebred animals and select sources of herd sires.

There are two primary types of exhibitors: 4-H and FFA members who show livestock in the junior shows, and livestock breeders who exhibit their best seedstock. This article will focus on junior shows where, in addition to other types of livestock, young people compete with two classes of beef cattle: breeding heifers and market steers.

It is not uncommon for a young person to show his or her beef animal at two or three different locations within a three-month period and often travel long distances to participate. Their animals may become stressed during hauling and are in close proximity of other animals during the shows.

These two situations could easily create an epidemic of sickness if proper precautions are not taken. The club calf producer, local veterinarian, livestock show personnel and exhibitors all play a role in the showing of healthy animals.

Club calf producer

Club calf producers, veterinarians, livestock show personnel and exhibitors all play a role in the showing of healthy calves

Producing club calves for showing by 4-H and FFA members is an entirely different basis than cow-calf and seedstock operations. Club calves are bred, fed and conditioned solely to perform well in the show ring.

“Genetics is a primary focus in the club calf business,” says J.D. Ragland, owner of Ragland Herefords and agricultural extension agent in Randall County, Texas. “Artificial insemination (A.I.), flushing and embryo transfers are commonly used in our industry to expand use of genetics from animals with proven performance.

We breed mostly for conformation and pay less attention to production EPDs.

“In Texas, one of the most important practices in raising club calves is providing shade. In order to obtain the needed size and weight on yearlings by fall, the livestock show season, our calves are born in August and early September, the hottest part of the year. Without shade, the calves may not survive and will certainly not obtain desired quality by show time.

“Health management practices in club calf production are similar to other cattle enterprises,” Ragland continues. “We vaccinate against clostridia, pasteurella and respiratory diseases, and we regularly treat for internal parasites.”

Local veterinarian

Exhibitors sometimes work with local veterinarians to help ensure entry of healthy animals in livestock shows and that their health is maintained during the exhibition. The sooner a veterinarian is brought into the show preparation process, the better the animal will be prepared.

Most livestock shows require that a health certificate be presented before a breeding animal is unloaded. The health certificate, officially called a certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI), is a document signed by a veterinarian stating that an animal has been examined and is healthy and not showing signs of a contagious disease. The document has to be issued no later than 30 days before the show.

“Some of our young customers establish a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) with us when they first start raising their calf for show,” says Gary Warner, DVM, Elgin Veterinary Hospital.

“We like this arrangement because we become involved in the entire preparation process and are able to help our client keep their calf healthy. If the first time we see a client is when they bring their animal in for a CVI, and there is a problem, we normally don’t have time to correct it before the show.

“Feed management in raising a show calf is very important,” Warner stresses. “Feeding the wrong way, the wrong quality or the wrong quantity can cause a lot of serious problems such as bloat, diarrhea and lameness.

Lameness due to improper feeding can include swollen joints, trauma (diminished function) and acute sepsis (harmful bacteria in tissue). If we have a VCPR with the customer, it provides us with an opportunity to give advice on their feeding program.

“In terms of disease management, we recommend vaccination for clostridia and bovine respiratory diseases,” continues Warner. “Of the respiratory diseases, we like to include herpesvirus (IBR), bovine parainfluenza virus (PI-3), bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) and bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVD).” The more important clostridia diseases of cattle include black disease, blackleg, malignant edema, tetanus and botulism.

Livestock show management

Genetics that provide good conformation are a primary focus in producing show cattle

Livestock show management, employees and volunteers play a role in health protection with inspections prior to unloading livestock on their premises and maintaining vigilance during the show for any signs of a sick or injured animal.

“We follow regulations enacted by Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) for cattle participating in shows, fairs and exhibitions,” says Jeff Thayne, managing director of competitive events for San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.

“Exhibitors bringing animals to the show must first stop at our livestock staging area, which is off-site from the ATT Center/Freeman Coliseum Grounds. Any required documents, including a CVI for breeding animals, are checked and the animal visually inspected. Any animal found to have a disease of any character is not admitted to the stock show grounds.”

TAHC rules for show cattle vary on whether they are moved interstate, intrastate or from outside the U.S. It is wise for Texas exhibitors to contact TAHC and learn which rules are applicable to their situation. Import and export rules vary among states, so exhibitors should contact the animal health agency in their home state as well as in the state where the animal will be shown.

Rules can also vary among livestock shows and should be examined before entry. Regardless of who owns the rules, the intent is to help protect the health of show animals.

“Our licensed official veterinarian is either in the barns or on immediate call during the shows. We also bring in two interns, who are in their last year of veterinary school, to help with check-in inspections and other health monitoring activities."

"These internships are part of our scholarship program. The veterinarians, our livestock department staff and volunteers all constantly watch for any signs of a sick or injured animal. If one is found, it is immediately brought to the attention of one of the veterinarians, who immediately examines and, if appropriate, treats the animal.”

Club calves provide a wonderful opportunity for young people to enrich their lives. Raising and caring for a calf gives a young person a sense of responsibility and integrity and provides a way for him or her to productively spend their spare time.

The professionals who help them keep their animals healthy and in good physical condition deserve a vote of thanks. These people are the club calf producers, 4-H and FFA leaders, veterinarians, parents and livestock show personnel. Thanks to you all.  end mark

PHOTO 1: One of the many things learned by young people showing calves is how to communicate. Photo provided by Jeff Thayne, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.

PHOTO 2: Club calf producers, veterinarians, livestock show personnel and exhibitors all play a role in the showing of healthy calves. Photo by Staff.

PHOTO 3: Genetics that provide good conformation are a primary focus in producing show calves. Photo by Staff.

Robert Fears
  • Robert Fears

  • Freelance Writer
  • Georgetown, Texas
  • Email Robert Fears