When it comes to the Livestock Show, the biggest event by far is the Junior Market Steer Auction, which features over 1,800 steers shown by students from across the state. Competition is fierce, with the big winner at the auction—which this year takes place on March 22—taking home $75,000. But how, exactly, do judges single out one among so many incredible animals? What makes a steer not good, but great? As you might expect, judging is part art, part science, with the most important principle being this: steers = food. “You’re looking for characteristics that lead you to believe they will have a superior carcass,” says HLSR CEO Joel Cowley.

Muscling: In other words, meat. Judges look for muscling through the top of the animal and down its hips and hindquarters. Not too much, though—the animal still has to be able to walk. Plus, you don’t want the steak to be too big (yes, that’s a possibility). 

Body volume: The ideal animal is thick, with a wide stance, the better to turn feed into muscle. 

Fat cover: This one’s tricky. “What you’re looking for is a muscular animal with the right amount of fat,” says Cowley, “so there’s enough external fat to suggest it has marbling, but not so much that there’s a lot of fat trim and waste.”

Structural Correctness and Soundness: Can the animal walk freely? Are the shoulder and hock at the right angle? Does it stand squarely on its feet and legs? 

Balance: Excellence in Structural Correctness and Balance will separate the good from the great steer. “They’re the hardest to achieve,” says Cowley. Balance refers to a steer’s overall appearance and proportionality, with a deep body, long neck, smooth shoulders, and level hips among the prized characteristics. If everything’s in its proper place, well, he says, “then it gets to prettiness.”  

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