Archive for Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Young farmers get tech lesson at fair

August 16, 2011

As he washed his hog Friday afternoon at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds for the night’s auction, 8-year-old Ben Highfill said he had a good fair.

The hog was champion of its class, the Easton youngster said. And he and his brother Norman got to see what made him special when an ultrasound was taken of the hog Monday.

The ultrasound was the work of Willard Olson, who visited the fairgrounds Aug. 8, taking ultrasound readings of about 100 pigs. The retired Kansas State University Extension professor would have taken readings of beef cattle, as well, but they had not yet arrived at the fair, he said.

The goal of the ultrasound readings is to help young livestock producers indentify a good cow or pig, from their outward appearance, Olson said.

“The purpose is to locate the animals with the most ideal carcasses, with the most muscle, less fat,” he said. “It’s a way to get carcass information while the animal is still alive.

“I hope the youngsters see the difference in the live animals so they can make better decisions next time.”

The results go back to the county extension agents in charge of the program as soon as I get all that in the computer.”

Livestock raisers used to be able to get that can of carcass information by visiting a packing plant, Olson said. But since 9/11, such visits are a thing of the past and with consolidation of the meat packing industry it now requires considerable travel to visit plants, he said.

Olson said he started working with ultrasound in 1968. Things took a big step forward when a colleague he was working with from Cornell University spent time in Japan in the early 1970s and returned with updated technology, he said.

The equipment he brings to his fair visits is the same as that found in veterinarian clinics or hospitals, Olson said.

“I don’t have the newest up-to-date equipment, but it’ll do the same stuff the high-dollar stuff will,” he said.

Ultrasound technology is used extensively in the beef industry, but Olson said he was the only one offering the service at county fairs. He has traveled to about 1,200 to 1,500 county fairs, first with the extension service and now on his own, charging $4 a head.

“Most of them are in northeast Kansas,” he said. “I do a couple in Nebraska and four or five in western Kansas.

“Leavenworth County had a very outstanding set of hogs. It was probably one of the best I’ve been to all year. Leavenworth County was a good county.”

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