Recently, I had the opportunity to judge the Tri-State Junior Beef Expo held in Dothan. It is very encouraging to work with young people who have a keen interest in and knowledge about the livestock industry. It is with these youth that true learning takes place. Learning that can be applied later in life to a plethora of situations. At this time in their lives, young people can’t grasp that the simplest of chores they perform will be repeated over and over throughout their lives whether they are working a ranch or living in the suburbs.
One of the most important lessons young people learn with a livestock project is responsibility. They will one day grasp that, whether they like it or not, they must be responsible on multiple levels from getting out of bed in the morning to do chores no matter the weather to simply making sure your animal has clean water. Responsibility is ever present. Let’s take responsibility a step further. If your animal doesn’t perform as you expect, the root cause most likely can be traced to your lack of responsibility at some time during the progression of your animal project. Ultimate success comes to those who pay attention to the smallest of details, responsibly.
Being responsible begins with paying attention to the most basic needs of your animal, including proper nutrition, water and shelter. The least appreciated of these is water. Clean, fresh water is essential for most all body functions. Hydration is imperative for the chemical pathways that involve important function such as muscle synthesis, nutrient metabolism and reproduction. Lack of a constant supply of good water puts an animal’s performance in jeopardy. In the case of performance, an animal’s lack of water will affect performance negatively. In true production scenarios, lack of clean, fresh water will be most noted in slower growth or poorer milk production. In beef operations, lower weaning weights and poor conception are also seen.
Since we have determined that water is one of the most crucial elements of animal production, nutrition isn’t far behind. The type of feed, how much you feed and when you feed all become factors to consider. The first question that you must answer is: "What performance goals am I trying to achieve with my animal?" In nearly every instance, a barrel horse will require a higher level of nutrition than a Western pleasure horse. Finishing a steer will certainly require more energy than feeding a heifer to the proper body condition. If you and your family are new to exhibiting animal projects, this is the perfect time to befriend someone with years of experience with the type of animal you are working. You must be able to evaluate the point where you are at, at all times, and be able to adjust nutrition to be the most successful. Experience and time feeding animals are the only ways to properly evaluate where you are. In the real world, these skills can play an important role in daily livestock production. A perfect example would be feeding heifers to the proper body condition before breeding in order to make them the most productive cows.
Livestock projects require you provide shelter with clean, fresh bedding. Air flow is also important and is easily overlooked. Urine is one of the hardest issues to manage when animals are confined. Urine contributes to ammonia and, if air flow isn’t sufficient, ammonia levels can affect animal performance. In most cases, when cattle are housed to get ready for a show, fans to keep them cool provide adequate air flow; in situations where horses are being kept warm to minimize cooling and excessive hair growth, air flow can be a problem.
Fortunately, for everyone with a livestock project, your local Quality Co-op offers a feed to fit nearly any feeding situation. Just match the appropriate Co-op feed with the type of animal you are feeding and the basics will be covered. All feeds are appropriately fortified with mineral and vitamins. As you advance with these livestock projects, you may want to experiment with some supplements that will further advance your animal to a higher level of performance, but remember the basics.
The youth livestock and horse projects are very competitive and usually require several years for you to become competitive. Remember, don’t be afraid to ask questions and certainly seek help from those with experience. Many lessons are learned over time and passed on from generation to generation. Most importantly, be responsible with your project and learn from year to year. Lessons learned from these projects will help you throughout your life. Finally, if you one day earn a living with livestock or horses, this will be the first course of success and you will have passed Animal Husbandry 101.
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