What it takes to have a winning cow at the fair

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

Aaron Bujold has been showing cattle at the Emo Fair and beyond for 18 years and spent 12 years as part of local 4-H beef clubs. Bujold has also seen a lot of success, last year at the fair, he was the reserve champion with his 1,334-lb. steer that sold for $7.75/lb.

Bujold says the cattle show journey starts again shortly after the fair when competitors pick their calves.

“It starts in the fall for the kids, they pick out their steer or heifer or both,” Bujold said. “They go through the winter working with them, feeding them, grooming them.”

Bujold says no two judges are the same when it comes to competition.

“Different judges like different things,” he said. “But at the end of the day, everyone has a picture of what they think is ideal as far as a market steer goes.”

There are a variety of things judges look at when examining the animals in competition, heifers and steers are slightly different as steers also have certain aspects that are judged as to whether or not they’ll be a good market animal.

“Soundness of the feet, length of the spine, depth of rib, overall stoutness, muscle mass,” Bujold said. “On the market steer side you’re looking for a good, no over-finished steer, but a good finished steer.”

Bujold explained that finish refers to the fat over the ribs and on the tail head. These are results of changing a steer’s feed as its time to go to market draws closer.

“Nutrition is one of the most important things, if not the most important thing especially on the market steer side,” Bujold said. “When they come (to market), most of these calves aren’t even two years old yet. So sometimes they’ll get started on a higher protein feed. Towards the end their protein will be lower.”

The look of the steer will determine how it’s fed in the months leading up to the cattle show.

“Most of these kids are working with their steers every day,” Bujold said. “I’ve always found that if you go on vacation or you go on a sports trip for four or five days and you come back you notice a big change.”

In an effort to gauge how fast a steer is growing Bujold says he often weighed his competition animals monthly to calculate how much weight they were gaining and calculate an approximate weight they might be by the time the auction rolled around but the biggest animal doesn’t always bring in the most money either, even if they’re paid for on a per-pound basis.

“Some people say bigger is better, but that’s not always it,” Bujold said. “They do sell by the pound but it seems like if you have a bigger (fat) cap you seem to get a little less per pound…you might have a smaller steer you tend to get a little more per pound, so it really does balance out.

The competition is also broken into different classes and the other has more to do with the showmanship of the owner.

“Showmanship starts at home,” Bujold said. “You can tell what showmen have put the work in at home when you see how that calf behaves in the ring, but being a good showman can help in the steer or heifer class. If you make that calf look the best that calf can, it gives you a huge advantage.”