Livestock auction institutes DNA testing

Monday, November 5, 2001

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Amid the usual rodeo competitions and horse shows at the American Royal, this year there's a new element: DNA testing.

This year, the American Royal required the tests for all market animals. That means all 4-H and FFA hogs, lambs and steers were required to have their identity verified through DNA testing to be eligible for Saturday's youth livestock auction.

"This is to keep the playing field even," said American Royal livestock manager Bud Sloan. "We want to make sure that the animal they're showing is indeed the animal they raised for their project."

Sloan said the American Royal had been considering DNA validation for a few years, but this was the first year it was economically feasible. Exhibitors pay only an additional $4. The Royal will pay about $150 an animal.

On Friday, veterinary medicine student Chris Calloway drew blood samples from class winners and champions at the American Royal junior livestock show. The blood will be sent to a laboratory in Texas for the DNA testing.

Gripping a steer's twitching tail in one fist, Calloway used his other hand to slide a syringe into the animal's rump.

The young steer twitched his head and snorted, trying to jerk away from the needle while his owner, 18-year-old Carrie Droppert of Lynnville, Iowa, tried to soothe him.

Two samples

Exhibitors had to submit a blood sample of their animal to the American Royal by Aug. 1. That sample was sent to a laboratory in Texas. At the competition, a second blood sample is drawn and sent to Texas for a match.

"This prevents the so-called jockeying of animals, where someone might go out the week before the Royal and buy a champion animal to show as their own," Sloan said.

A champion steer could be sold for $60,000 at a national show such as the Royal.

Exhibitors paid $4 per blood sample and were allowed to submit samples on a maximum of four steers, four lambs and eight pigs. Of those, exhibitors then were allowed to enter two steers, two lambs and four pigs.

But some exhibitors have problems with the new rule.

"The problem is that when we had to turn those blood samples in this summer, my hogs were only 6 weeks old, so you can't tell which one of them will turn out the best," said Tyler DeReu, a 16-year-old from Geneseo, Ill. "What happens if none of the ones you picked to send cards in for turned out?"

However, others with the American Royal agree the testing is important.

"Our show has a good reputation for being above board," said Bud Hertzog, official American Royal veterinarian. "But we're reasonably certain" cheating has happened in the past.

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