It’s all about what ends up on your dinner plate.

It might be a difficult way to think about a 4-H Fair animal, but the kids and families at the Rock County 4-H Fair’s carcass judging contest didn’t seem to mind.

On Thursday, the fair’s annual swine, sheep and steer judging contest was held in the cool back room of Sorg’s, N49290 Highway 14, Darien. The event involves judging animals after they have been slaughtered.

Like animal judging at the fair, each carcass is judged by a set of standards, though the judging criteria—amount of back fat, size of loin, marbling and weight—is a bit different.

That means competitors can’t make the animal look better with a nice haircut and blow dry, said Nick Baker, UW Extension Rock County agricultural agent.

No, this is about market animals and what buyers want.

Judge Alissa Grenawalt said the 14 lambs entered into the contest were “excellent” and would provide a “quality eating experience.”


JoAnna Waite, center, smiles Thursday after learning her lamb carcass won for the second year in a row.

Most of carcass judging is done through measurements. For the lamb, Grenawalt took measurements of its back fat, rib wall, and the leg or saddle.

The beef carcass was more complicated, with rib wall measurements, consideration of fat weight around the internal organs, a look at the “buttons” on the thoracic spine and overall carcass weight. She also looked at marbling, the fat within the muscle. Marbling adds flavor to meat and keeps it from getting tough.

Grenawalt said all the beef in the contest would fall into the “choice” grade of meat.

The three grades of meat, from lowest to highest, are select, choice and prime.

Pig carcasses went through a similar series of measurements for fat depth, rib thickness, and size of loin muscle area and hams. Judges also looked at the animal’s color. Consumers want pork to be red, not pale.

Baker said the carcass judging contest is his favorite part of the fair.


A beef carcass is pulled in front of carcass contest participants Thursday at Sorg's in Darien.

“This is the only place in the fair where you can bring your animal and it doesn’t matter how pretty you make it look,” Baker said. “Pretty is good, but at the end of the day, when the hides come off, what we’re really seeing is what the meat quality is.”

It’s a great, hands-on learning experience for the kids because they can see first-hand the results of animal care and feeding regimens, Baker said.

When animals are sold “on the rail,” buyers give premiums for the best carcasses, he said.

Thursday’s winners included JoAnna Waite for her lamb, Emma Woodman for her steer and Mallory Birkholz for her pig.