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Does The Show Cattle Industry Need A Wake-Up Call?

One of my favorite hobbies is showing the cattle we raise. Since I was five years old, I’ve been helping my dad break bulls for consignment sales and prepare my 4-H steers and heifers for summer shows. I learned a lot from showing cattle. As a kid, they were my responsibility. I washed them each day, which allowed me to really bond with these calves and helped me to fall in love with the beef cattle industry.

Over the years, I’ve felt the sting of last place and the glory of a championship. Even though I disliked the taste of losing, my parents always reminded me that win or lose, at the end of the day, showing cattle was much more than a place in a class line-up.

As I grew older, I became aware of some of the short cuts other showmen took to gain an edge in the show ring. Again, my parents stressed to me that if you can’t win honestly, what is the point? I needed to be proud of the cattle I raised and the honest work I put in to get them ready for the show.

If you’re around the show circuit, I’m sure you know of a few competitors who don’t always follow the rules. This isn’t unique to just the show ring; anytime you have a competitive sport, someone is going to try to gain an edge, honest or otherwise. That doesn’t mean it’s right.


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This past summer, the show industry was put in the spotlight when the “fluffy cows” trend hit mainstream media. Everyone wanted to know about those pretty show steers and how they got so much “pretty hair.” It was a chance for the industry to showcase the bright kids, high-quality cattle, and family-bonding that make up cattle shows.

However, a recent article appearing on MSN online titled, “U.S. Farm Kids Lavish Shampoo, Drugs On Prize Cattle,” is less than flattering to the show cattle industry.

Lisa Baertlein and P.J. Huffstutter write, “While performance-boosting drugs are banned in most human competitions, they are generally allowed on the livestock-show circuit. Many also get muscle-building livestock drugs added into animal feed. While performance-boosting drugs are banned today in most human sports competitions, Zilmax and other drugs of a type called beta-agonists are federally approved and generally allowed on the livestock-show circuit. For many contestants, the secret weapon of choice is Zilmax, a controversial feed additive sold by Merck & Co. Zilmax-based feeds can give show kids an edge in the headline competition for market-ready steers and heifers, say show sponsors and competitors.”

While there are some inaccuracies in the article, the tone doesn’t bode well for the beef industry. Of course, it was meant to be sensational. Zilmax, which was recently voluntarily pulled from the U.S. and Canada market while it undergoes additional study, is an FDA-approved product. This mainstream media outlet is taking some liberties in demonizing a legal product. It is not known why some cattle developed lameness when fed Zilmax in the last stage of finishing, and most did not, but the matter is under study while the product is under a voluntary recall by its maker.

What is your opinion on this issue? If it's legal, shouldn't producers have the right to use the products? Should its use be banned on the show circuit? Conversely, consumer perceptions about fluffy cows and livestock shows could quickly change, and the climate might not be so friendly. Do we need to police ourselves and make sure we are doing the morally acceptable (by society’s standards) thing when it comes to cattle shows? What about those who break the rules entirely? How should rules be better enforced at livestock shows? And how should the industry respond to this negative article? These are just a few of the questions I’m mulling over this morning, and I would love to hear your thoughts. Leave your opinions in the comments section below.

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