AskIFAS Powered by EDIS

4-H Livestock Judging: Activity 4, What You See Is What You Get!

Chad Carr, Justin Crosswhite, and Amanda Johnson




Activity 4. 



For youth to:

Identify priorities for visual appraisal based on species, sex and use.


Relate priorities to selection.


Predict usefulness based on priorities.


Acquiring, analyzing and using information.


Decision making.




Flip chart and easel or chalkboard


Markers or chalk


1 1/2 Hours


Comfortable room



The process of visual appraisal and selection involves the weighing of good and bad points of the individual animal. The emphasis which is placed on each characteristic in visual selection depends on species, breed, sex, age and use. In many instances, more than one trait will be of top priority and you will have to weigh the relative worth of each trait in that animal.

You can learn a process to weigh the factors involved in decision making. This process can be beneficial whether you are judging animals, selecting clothing, choosing a college, or buying a car or a home. The first step is to set up priorities (already established for you in Criteria For Placing Using Visual Appraisal handout), and select based on those priorities. Today we will be doing an exercise to show you how to use this process in your appraisal of livestock.


  • Have the youth make suggestions for the ideal characteristics and uses of a pencil. Examples: must have an eraser, dark lead, be #2 quality, sharpen easily, small, long, short, be able to fit in pocket/purse, not be damaged, be yellow, etc.

  • Using a flipchart or chalkboard, make a list of the suggestions.

  • Rank the traits listed in the order of most important to least important according to the group. The top traits are the priorities. Priorities, reasons, and uses are probably different from person to person.

  • Have youth justify their reasoning in a short statement.

  • Be prepared to select and buy only the pencil that fits the top criteria.

  • Repeat the exercise for a shirt and a car. Long/short sleeved, button down collar, pattern; on/off road, 4 wheel drive, CD player, etc.?

  • Hand out the CRITERIA FOR PLACING USING VISUAL APPRAISAL sheets and discuss the information with youth.


  • How did the use of the objects effect your decision in selection?

  • How many of your priorities were from personal preference? From experience?

  • Did you realize that some of your original priorities weren't as important as others? (ex. pencil that has lead vs. NFL team logo)

  • Was it hard to compromise on your original priorities and select on need, rather than want?

  • Why is structure one of the most important traits in selecting a breeding animal?


  • When selecting a market animal, which trait is the most important?

The animal's potential carcass value, that is driven by muscling, fatness, and weight.


  • Set up a field trip to a ranch, livestock market, farm or fair. Do not set up a class of animals, but have the group single out animals and discuss their positive and negative traits. Be sure to include information on the animals' use, structural soundness, potential carcass value, reproductive potential, and balance.

  • When judging livestock it is crucial that you have a mental picture of the ideal animal for the species. By keeping the ideal in mind, you will be able to notice individual flaws rather easy. Using the Internet, research and study several of the on-line virtual judging sites for learning to recognize the ideal animals by species.

Criteria for Placing

Using Visual Appraisal

These criteria are only guidelines and vary with market demand, breed, age, management scenario, and performance data.


Market Hogs




Production Traits



Structural soundess


Breeding Hogs

Sexual characteristics



Market Lambs


Correctness of finish/maturity


Production Traits



Structural soundess



Breeding Sheep

Sexual characteristics



Market Steers


Correctness of finish/maturity


Production Traits



Structural soundess



Breeding Cattle

Sexual characteristics


Answer Keys to Visual Criteria Practice Worksheets



A: 4—Very Light muscled

B: 1—Heavily muscled

C: 3—Light muscled

D: 2—Well muscled


A: 3—Acceptable leanness—approximately 0.9" at 10th rib

B: 4—Fat—approximately 1.1" at 10th rib

C: 5—Very Fat—approximately 1.3" at 10th rib

D: 1—Very acceptable leanness—approximately 0.6" at 10th rib

E: 2—Very acceptable leanness—approximately 0.7" at 10th rib


A: 1—Fast growing, but short, low set, and early maturing

B: 2—Fast growing and relatively late maturing

C: 3– Slow growing, frail featured, and early maturing

D: 4—Late maturing and very slow growing


A: 1—Bold ribbed, deep bodied, wide tracking

B: 2—Relatively flat ribbed, shallow flanked, and wide tracking

C: 3 – Bold ribbed and wide tracking

D: 4—Very flat ribbed, shallow flanked, and narrow tracking

E: 5—Relatively bold ribbed, deep bodied, and wide tracking


A: 5— A very poor designed, straight shouldered, straight kneed, and short hipped market hog

B: 3— A well designed, level, and square made market hog with correct joint angulation to both ends of the skeleton

C: 1—A poor designed, straight shouldered, straight kneed, short hipped market hog

D: 2—A well designed, level, and square made market hog which is a bit straight though the shoulder and knee

Sexual Characteristics


A: 3—-Good underline, good spacing, good teat quality

B:2—Poor spacing, too far between first and second teat, good teat quality

C: 1—Poor teat quality, too blunt, second teat would be considered "pin" nipple


A: 1—Normal vulva

B: 2—Tipped vulva

C: 3—Infantile (small) vulva

D: 4—Swollen vulva


A: 3—Her ill design and inadequate body volume and terminal appearance suggest she should not be kept as a replacement.

B: 2—Her ill design, inadequate body volume, and small vulva suggest she should not be kept as a replacement

C: 1—Her design, body type, and external sexual characteristics suggest she should be a desirable brood sow prospect.



A: 4—Relatively light muscled

B: 2—Very heavily muscled

C: 3—Well muscled

D: 1—Very light muscled

Finish for Sheep

A: 1—A correctly finished lamb with 0.15-0.20" of fat thickness

B: 2—A very over finished lamb with 0.35-0.40" of fat thickness


A: 3—Relatively fast growing, but early maturing

B: 1—Growthy, upstanding, and late maturing

C: 2—Upstanding and late maturing—though probably not as fast growing as some

D: 4—Relatively fast growing, but early maturing


A: 2—Flat ribbed, shallow bodied, and low volumed

B: 3—Relatively bold ribbed, deep flanked, and high volumed

C: 1—Bold ribbed, deep flanked, and high volumed

D: 4—Tight ribbed, and very shallow flanked–appears to be low performing

Structural Correctness

A: 1—A wether which is too straight and forward in his shoulder, short and round out of his dock, and weak in his pasterns

B: 3—A very level ewe who appears to have the correct angulation to all her joints, and should move correctly when put into motion

C: 4—A ewe, who appears to have the correct angulation to all her joints, and should move correctly when put into motion

D: 2 –A very level, square made wether with his feet on all four corners. He does appear to bow out on his rear legs


A: 4—An extended, square made, high volumed ewe

B: 2—A square made, high volumed ewe. She is too coarse and deep in her shoulder and breast, decreasing her balance.

C: 3—A long bodied ewe that rounds out of her dock, easy in her top, somewhat u-necked and deep-breasted, decreasing her balance.

D: 1—Straight lined, upstanding, well balanced ewe. She is a bit short bodied.

Sexual Characteristics

A: 1—Long bred ewe as evidenced by her udder development, should make an excellent replacement.

B: 2—A stout , masculine, large testicled ram with proper testicle carriage, should make an excellent sire.

C: 3—A small testicled ram whose testicles are carried too close to his body, potentially affecting his fertility.



A: 1—Very heavily muscled

B: 3—Very light muscled

C: 2—Heavily muscled

D: 4—Well muscled

E: 5—Light muscled

Correctness of Finish

A: 3—Very over finished— approximately 1.0" of fat thickness

B: 2—Very under finished—approximately 0.10" of fat thickness

C: 1—Correctly finished—approximately 0.45" of fat thickness

D: 4—Slightly over finished— approximately 0.65" of fat thickness

E: 5—Underfinished—approximately 0.25" of fat thickness


A: 3—Very poor balanced

B: 1—Well balanced

C: 2—Poor balanced


A: 3—Stout made, high growth steer

B: 1—Small framed and probably rather slow growing

C: 2—A steer intermediate for growth and finished weight


A: 5—A flat ribbed, shallow bodied, low volumed steer

B: 2—A bold sprung, deep bodied, high volumed steer

C: 4—A steer with an excellent, square rib shape, which needs more depth from forerib to flank

D: 3—A deep bodied steer, which needs more rib/body shape

D: 1—A bold sprung, deep bodied, high volumed heifer

Structural Correctness

A: 1—A square made, level steer, who needs more angulation to his shoulder and more set to his hock and pastern

B: 3—A slightly round made steer that appears to have the correct angulation to all of his joints, and should move correctly when put into motion

C: 2—A straight shouldered, short hipped steer who is very straight in his hocks

D: 4—A relatively square made steer that appears to have the correct angulation to all of his joints, and should move correctly when put into motion.

E: 5—A very short, round hipped steer who has excess set to his hock (sickle hocked)

Sexual Characteristics

A: 2—Stout, masculine, large testicled bull

B: 1—Long bred heifer as evidenced by her udder development

Visual Criteria for Swine























Visual Criteria for Sheep



























Visual Criteria for Cattle



























Publication #4HASJ20.4

Release Date:July 19, 2018

Reviewed At:October 15, 2021

  • Critical Issue: Youth

About this Publication

This document is 4H ASJ 20.4, excerpted from 4H-ASJ-20 (formerly 4H AJL 20), 4-H Livestock Judging: a 4-H Animal Science Project one of a series of the 4-H Youth Development Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date January 2012. Visit the EDIS website at

About the Authors

This edition of the Livestock Judging curriculum package was created by Chad Carr, assistant professor; Justin Crosswhite, graduate assistant; and Amanda Johnson, undergraduate assistant, Department of Animal Sciences. Authors of previous editions include: Julie Sexton and Karen Strickland, former project assistants; Allen Stateler, former graduate assistant; Saundra TenBroeck, associate professor and youth livestock Extension specialist; Tim Marshall, associate professor, Department of Animal Sciences; and Deborah J. Glauer, Extension youth development specialist and animal science design team leader, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences.


  • Charles Carr
  • Sarah Hensley