Cattle show-ring traditions provide beef care foundation


I stepped into long-term tradition at MU Trowbridge Livestock Center, Saturday morning. I entered a beauty shop for beef heifers.

Outside, the parking lot was jammed with livestock trailers and farm trucks. This is the Angus Breeders Futurity a show and sale of seedstock cattle from purebred Angus farms across Missouri. The catalog picked up inside, reported it’s the 62nd annual.

That tradition runs longer than my tenure at MU. I’ve been here only 60 years.

Grooming animals, showing and selling at auction continues a strong tradition. Some researchers deep in science scoff at our traditions. Some scientists think only genetic maps learned from DNA tell our future. True to an extent.

Change and progress builds on where we were. That’s tradition.

I heard familiar words from the livestock judge ranking a class of show heifers and slapping champions on the rump. He gave reasons: Fullness of muscle, depth of body, soundness. Desirable traits.

The geneticists I know say you must see if an animal can walk and has a body to carry beef to market.

I saw more than prize heifers. I saw dads and grandpas teach young people how to lead heifers into a show ring. Their children already show great poise. They know how to lead and set up animals for best looks for the judge.

We need those traditions. It teaches animal care and handling. From way back in my 4-H Club days, I know showmanship isn’t a given, it’s learned.

Shows must go on. Now young people learn genetics I didn’t learn in 4-H. Now genomics blends with pedigrees to tell Expected Progeny Differences or EPDs. Those numbers sell breeding stock.

As happens often, my first e-mail of the day came from Jared Decker, MU Extension beef geneticist. He shares his column “A Steak in Genomics” to tell lessons from his meetings. This one told of EPDs for crossbreeding,

Angus, the most popular breed in Missouri, has big influence on the beef we eat. The Angus association at St. Joe led in genetic testing of farm herds.

Thompson Farm, the MU beef research center at Spickard, leads in whole-herd genomic testing. Our whole state leads in making beef better. Science builds on traditions.

I learned that Jim Brinkley of Milan leads the Futurity. We know each other from his long time on the board at MU Thompson Farm.

I’d just been thinking of tradition and change in my journalism career. Huge change based on traditions.

Winter weather changed how I worked in recent weeks. As never before, we were hit with snow days at MU. More days off than in a previous 130 years, someone said.

With laptop computer and internet connection I work at home if the power stays on.

Friday I followed another tradition. I walked my news beat. I knock on doors and visit professors. Impromptu visits turn up more stories than e-mail quests. Electronics tempt, but onsite visits remain vital. It compares to learning from livestock shows.

This week I learned more about losses of cows from nitrate poison in bad hay. Stories on weather impact on agriculture grow. I felt hard hit by cold weather, but it’s nothing like starting calving season in winter storms. Also, cows need more feed just to keep warm. But hay sheds are running low. Costly decisions lie ahead.

Walking the beat, I share news from other departments I’ve visited. That I learned has value. The college needs more crosspollination between specialists in self-imposed silos.

A lost tradition is about to be restored in animal science. In budget whacks a few years ago, MU livestock teams were dropped. Now the department led by Bill Lamberson wraps up interviews for someone to teach livestock judging. That could rebuild teams based on needed skills. Judging gives practical and social skills to animal science students. I hope the search succeeds.

E-mail your thoughts on tradition to Succumb to electronics.


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