Could the prized steer, cows and other show animals at your State Fair be pumped full of performance- enhancing drugs?
It’s not about winning the blue ribbon anymore; champion animals can earn as much as $100,000 for their owners.
A show steer is groomed, buffed and pampered before he takes a stroll in front of the judges at a State Fair. If he is awarded the honor of Grand Champion his status as a money making bull, multiplies for his owner.
A single dose of semen from a prize winning bull can bring in $8,000. And one embryo from an award winning cow can earn up to $1,000. Cows can produce 60 embryos a year.
The high stakes cash rewards for having champion animals has tempted some owners to dope them. Just like athletes, steer that are given steroids get more muscular and cows that are injected with foam or water look plumper. Both attributes bring in more cash.
Animal-doping became so prevalent in Ohio the state passed a law making it a crime. There are now more than eight banned substances and each animal is tested for them. Veterinarians and lab techs screen for everything from Clenbuterol, a growth hormone to Lasix which is a weight loss drug.
Fairs also weigh cows and steers and disqualify any animal that gains or loses more than “5 percent of its weight over the course of the fair.”
This policy was implemented because some owners would force a hose down the throat of a cow to fill her with water and make her look plumper.
To help stop the abuse, the North American Livestock Show and Rodeo Managers Association, started a national database of people caught breaking the law. This has helped curb repeat offenders from jumping back into the competition.
Animal-doping has also changed the way veterinarians like Tom Lang, D.V.M. spends his day at a State Fair.
Now Lang walks around the arena duct-taping wooden dowels and plastic cups to animals in order to retrieve samples of urine. The law states Lang can’t leave the animal alone, so there are times when the veterinarian waits with the cow or pig for several hours.
Lang is also required to clip the hair from the shoulders of prize winning animals to test for drugs. And veterinarians run an ultrasound machine on the udders of cows to check for injected fluids that make them look fuller. Each sample is sent to a lab for testing.
Some of the drugs are crueler than others. For a while Lasix became a popular choice by owners. The drug forces fluid out of an animal and can trim off hundreds of pounds, making it easier for an animal to compete in a lower weight class. Lasix can also be a dangerous drug because it lowers blood pressure and removes lifesaving electrolytes.
The latest form of artificial enhancement witnessed at fairgrounds in 2010 has to do with interbreeding. Owners inject dairy steer with small amounts of beef steer to produce “a better looking animal for eating.”
Since the stakes for big cash rewards has gone higher, judges and veterinarians aren’t surprised by anything they come across. Their job is to just stay ahead of the owners who are unethical.
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