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Tuesday, 25 July 2017 00:00

Learning the lingo

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Young contestants line up their sheep for the judge at the Rock County 4-H Fair. Spectators will enjoy the show more knowing some of the more familiar terms that the judges will use while critiquing the animals. Young contestants line up their sheep for the judge at the Rock County 4-H Fair. Spectators will enjoy the show more knowing some of the more familiar terms that the judges will use while critiquing the animals. File photo by Terry Mayer

JANESVILLE MESSENGER--Part of the fun at the fair is watching all of the animals being judged; each rabbit and chicken held by a hopeful youngster, each bovine, equine, ovine, caprine and porcine maneuvered by their handler in the show ring. You know what a rabbit and chicken are, but do you know a bovine refers to cattle, equine to horses and ponies, ovine to sheep, caprine to goats and porcine to pigs?

Emily Harris, a fourth generation  4-H member, recalls her days in the show ring with her sheep at the Boone County, Illinois, and Rock County, Wisconsin, fairs.

“You can always tell who the city people are,” Harris said. “I remember one lady asking me if my wether was pregnant and how many are in a litter. That’s the first time I realized that I knew stuff adults didn’t know.”

Just for the record, a wether could never be pregnant because that term refers to a castrated male sheep. The term for a newborn sheep is a lamb; typically, a sheep will have one or two young -- more than that is unusual.

Angela Nelson, who has shown cavies (guinea pigs) and rabbits at the Rock County 4-H Fair as a youth and at the Walworth County Fair as an open class competitor, said 4-Hers are prepped to answer questions about their projects.

“Now, I think that is the cool thing about these fairs,” Nelson said. “It’s that opportunity to educate people on your projects and the handling of livestock.”

When Nelson was 8 or 9 years old, however, she just thought the questions were stupid.

Well, we all know there is no such thing as a stupid question, but a little information can go a long way in preparing the uninitiated when they want to understand what’s going on in the show ring. Asking pertinent questions while visiting the animal barns will garner additional information and most kids are glad to share their knowledge of animals.

Chad Howlett, who grew up around beef cattle and has judged cattle and coached teams of younger judges, said observers to the judging process will often hear some common terms.

“I’ll refer to the ‘quality’ of the animal. The term is all-encompassing and includes the balance and overall structural correctness,” Howlett said. “You know it when an animal comes in the ring and it just has that ‘it factor’ -- that’s a quality animal.”

Know your fair animals


Hen -- mature female bird

Rooster­ -- male bird

Chick -- baby bird

Comb -- Typically red, the comb is the fleshy crest on top of the head

Spur -- The horny projection on the lower back part of the leg, used for defense


Rabbits have litters of young and live in a warren. Baby rabbits, commonly called bunnies, are kits. A flock of rabbits, in some parts of the world, are called “fluffies.”

Buck -- Male rabbit

Doe -- Female rabbit


Sheep is both singular and plural – for example, you can say “I have one  sheep” or you could say “I have five sheep.” A sheep designates an animal over 1 year of age. Younger animals are called lambs. Mutton refers to the processed meat of a sheep; lamb refers both to the meat and the animal, 1  year old or less.

Ewe -- adult female sheep

Ram -- male sheep

Wether -- castrated male sheep

Flock -- a group of sheep


Goats chew their cud, which means they regurgitate a partially digested wad of food to chew it again in order to digest it. All ruminants do this and have multiple compartments, usually four, in their stomach to use in ingestion. The Boer goat is a popular meat animal, while the dairy breeds include Alpines, Saanens and Nubians. Angora goats are raised for their fiber, which is processed into mohair yarn.

Buck -- adult male

Doe -- adult female

Kid -- baby goat of either sex

Chevron -- the meat of a goat

Wattle -- an appendage of flesh that hangs from the throat/neck area


This category is divided into beef and dairy cattle. Beef cattle breeds include Angus, a black-skinned breed developed in the Angus region of Scotland. Another popular breed developed in Herefordshire, England. The Hereford is prized for its high yield of beef and its efficiency of production. The breed names of animals, as in these two cases, often are derivative of the animal’s origins.

Dairy breeds include the Holstein, known as the world’s highest production dairy animal. Their black and white markings are a familiar sight on Wisconsin farms, where they make up 90 percent of the herds. Jersey and Brown Swiss also are dairy cattle.

 Bull -- an intact (not castrated) male of any age

Steer -- castrated male

Heifer -- a young female, under 3 years old, that has not had a calf

Cow -- a female that has had a calf

Calf -- refers to the young between birth and weaning of either sex

Beef -- the processed meat of an adult animal

Veal -- the meat from a calf



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