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A steer by any other name

Jacqueline Nix/Getty Images Heifer in chute
CHOOSING A NAME: There are a lot of factors that go into naming 4-H and FFA livestock projects. Choosing the right one takes time and creativity.
Naming 4-H and FFA livestock is a rite of passage every member undertakes.

Go down the rows of stalls at the county fair — any species — and I bet you’ll see three Bandits and at least two Snowmans.

Say what you will, “Smokey and the Bandit” remains popular as a naming inspiration for livestock among 4-H and FFA members after all these decades.

Now, some people would say you shouldn’t name animals that you’re going to sell. But, I’ve always been of the opinion that you have this animal in your care for most of a year, and you can’t exactly spend that time just calling them by their ear tag number. A name helps.

However, there’s an art to naming 4-H livestock. You just don’t go into it willy-nilly. You must factor in the species, sex and temperament of the livestock in question. And then choose one of the schools of thought for settling on just the right name for an animal.

Pop culture

Pop culture and current events have been the leading source for livestock names throughout the history of livestock showing.

Every generation has their pop culture icons that they honor with their 4-H projects. For example, boomers likely showed steers named Elvis, and pens of pigs named John, Paul, George and Ringo. I’m sure plenty of Nixons went through the sale ring, along with a few Watergates, and probably every one of the Mercury 7 astronauts.

Us Gen Xers were likely to have Daisy, Bo and Luke in the barn, as well as the aforementioned Bandit and Snowman. I also knew friends who showed a couple of Princes, Madonnas and Axls. My older sister once named a set of twin calves, born during the Oliver North Iran Contra hearings, Ollie and Mollie.

I’m sure millennials and Gen Z have their own pop icons. I’m guessing there’s probably been a few Kardashians in the dairy classes, a Miley or Brittany over in the sheep barn, and maybe a boy band or two over in the goat show ring.


There’s another school of thought that says these animals aren’t permanent, so make it easier on yourself and stick to traditional names.

There’s something to be said for sticking to a name that’s somewhat generic. You’re less likely to develop real attachment to a pig named Hambone. That makes it somewhat easier on that long walk to the trailer at the end of the fair.

For example, all blue-gray Charolais-crossbred steers should be named Smoky.

I don’t make the rules, people.

During the 1980s, royalty names were popular (thank you, Princess Diana). So, my sister had a show heifer named Princess. Duchess, King, Duke and Earl were also very popular generic names.

I had a friend who was a fan of sticking to cuts of meat for livestock. Porterhouse, Chuck, Chop and Hamburger were just a few he had over the years.

Then, you also have the more human names. My first two breeding ewes were named Toby and Mandy. I couldn’t tell you why. The 10-year-old me just thought they looked like a Toby and a Mandy.

I even knew one 4-H’er who named all their livestock either Champ or Buddy. Every year.

Talk about not making emotional connections.

Clever and quirky

I’m partial to the clever and quirky names myself.

Naming a pig Bacon is one thing. Naming it Kevin Bacon takes the cleverness up a notch in my book.

Rhyming names and two-part names work for pairs of livestock. One year I had a Bogey steer and a Bacall heifer.

Then there’s the outright ironic names. A friend once named a heifer who had a bad kicking habit in the chute Tonya Harding. Another friend had a dopey steer named Terminator. I myself named a crazy Angus heifer Black Beauty, and my Suffolk ram Rambo.

No matter their names, or our intentions otherwise, 4-H and FFA livestock projects tend to leave lasting impressions on the 4-H and FFA families that raised them.

Isn’t that the real purpose of livestock projects, after all?

TAGS: Livestock
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