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Ultrasounds divulge makeup, meat of steers, pigs at fair

It was ultrasound day at the Westmoreland Fair, but their were no anxious, expectant parents on hand.

Instead, Lacy Weimer and her twin sister, Lynn Korns, who own Identical Genetics Inc. of Loyalhanna, were taking ultrasound pictures of half-ton steers and 250-pound pigs at the fair to determine the quality of meat and an animal's physical makeup.

Their subjects sometimes were cooperative with the procedure, but others were more cantankerous and fought their owners, who had to push reluctant animals into a shoot to be scanned.

The results of the ultrasound will help determine which animal will be worthy of being deemed the champion carcass pig or steer that will ultimately bring the most money when sold this week at the fairgrounds in Mt. Pleasant Township. About 63 percent of a steer's weight is consumer-quality meat, and the better the grade of beef, the more money it is worth, said Weimer, whose parents own Weimer Meats in Loyalhanna.

"We're looking at the rib eye, the back fat and intramuscular fat. That data goes into a formula ... that helps show the yield" of the animal -- how much of its weight will be good for meat that can be sold, Weimer said.

Weimer's business conducts ultrasounds on about 1,200 cows in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio, primarily for seedstock producers raising breeding cattle. She is the only person in the state certified by the Ultrasound Guidelines Council of Bozeman, Mont., which is overseen by the U.S. Beef Brands Council.

The technology for using the ultrasound on animals has been available since the 1970s and has enabled the agricultural industry to evaluate an animal's carcass without killing it, said Dustin Heeter, a livestock educator for the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Westmoreland County. The county fair has used the technology for the past 10 years, Heeter said.

Judging the old-fashioned way, with his eye and a lot of experience, Don Hunter of Grove City was looking for the animal with the most muscle and thickness, strongest frame, and other attributes of about 20 carcass pigs at the fair.

"You're judging to see if the product meets the criteria that the pork industry has established for the consumer. Will it become a quality product for the consumer?" Hunter said.

Genetics play a large role in how well the animal does, as well as the feeding and exercise program that is instituted, Heeter said.

One of those fair participants hoping for the best from the ultrasound was Alicia Zimmerman, 18, of East Huntingdon, who was showing a Angus cross steer in the market category. Taking care of the 1,220-pound animal for the past six months was harder than taking care of the goats and pigs she has had in the past, Zimmerman said.

The Westmoreland Fair continues at the fairgrounds through Saturday.

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