By Hayley Shasteen
There’s more to competitive show cattle than meets the eye at the Phenotype-Genotype Show.
At typical livestock shows, cattle are judged on how they look from snout to hoof, with judges handing out ribbons to cattle that demonstrate the best qualities of their breed. Contestants will bring only the best-looking of their herd to the ring to cinch a win, showing off the phenotype, or the observable characteristics of their animal.
But there’s more to a show animal than immediately meets the eye, and when selecting an animal to add to a herd, it’s these unobservable characteristics that might close a sale.
The Phenotype-Genotype Show, or PGS, aims to bridge the gap between what’s in the show ring and what’s out in production, said Caitlyn Brandt, director of events and junior activities at the American Angus Association. The show first debuted in 2020 at the National Junior Angus Show and the number of participating exhibitors has increased yearly.
At a PGS, cattle are judged 50 percent on their phenotype and 50 perecent on their genotype, or the genetic composition of an animal. All contestants in the show must have their cattle genomic tested through the Angus GS or HD50K for Angus test kits.
Before the judge ever sees the animals in person, they will score the genotype of the animal by evaluating their expected progeny differences (EPDs) that are enhanced by the genomic results. Genomic-enhanced EPDs determine the animal’s genetic value as a parent, painting a picture for potential buyers about how the animal will contribute to the herd through its future calves. The judge will place cattle based on these results, making the decisions based on how they would select cattle to be added to their herd.
After placing the cattle based on their genotype, the judge will then see how the cattle perform and look in the show ring, judging the phenotype of the animal. Brandt said this is when things can get tricky for the judge. If the judge sees an animal they like the look of in the ring but had originally placed it lower due to its genotype, the judge may decide to re-rank the animal. Cattle that take home ribbons and trophies are not only good-looking but have the potential to produce animals that will benefit a rancher’s herd.
What makes a well-rounded show animal is part of the learning curve for participants of the PGS, Brandt emphasized.
“There’s a big educational opportunity here,” she said. “It’s really cool when a junior brings back a brand-new animal that they spent the time to breed for a specific reason. That’s what this show was designed to do.”
Claire Kuipers, a 14-year-old Illinois native who has spent nearly half her life showing cattle, has participated in the PGS since its inception in 2020. In fact, her female, Nala, won Reserve Grand Champion at the very first PGS.
“I’ve definitely learned more about what the different genomics are in different categories and how you want them to be, and how to breed for those specific traits,” she said.
Trever Kuipers, Claire’s father, said that the traits they value for their herd include an animal’s ability to give birth without complications, growth traits, and carcass traits to determine the animal’s success in producing meat.
Claire said participating in the PGS show has shown her a different side of the cattle industry.
“I’m not sure about seeing this specific side of the cattle industry in my future, but I know I definitely want to be involved in the cattle industry in some way if I can,” she said, noting that her favorite part of showing is getting to know the personalities of the cattle.
Brandt said that PGS shows are offered at the Eastern Regional, Western Regional, and National Junior Angus Association shows. Some state Angus Associations have added a PGS show to their lineup. This year, the show had a brand-new division for contestants called the bred and owned division.
“We distinguished between progeny animals and bred and owned animals, which is cool because there are juniors out there that are breeding cattle specifically for this show. It’s cool to see bred and owned animals were recognized in that capacity,” she said.
Brandt encouraged juniors to consider participating but said that newcomers would benefit from watching a show first because there is a learning curve. She said that after seeing how a show is run, juniors can return home to their herd and see if they have cattle that not only exemplify the look of a show animal but promise a pedigree worthy of recognition.