DOWNEY — There’s no guesswork involved in assessing the quality of animals raised as 4-H projects for Idaho’s county fairs, thanks to technology made available by a group of University of Idaho Extension educators.

As UI Extension Regional Educator Scott Nash and his colleagues weighed in cattle, sheep and hogs at the Bannock County Fair on Tuesday, they also performed an ultrasound of the livestock.

The specialized ultrasound equipment makes it possible for fairs to award prizes with a great degree of certainty for highest meat quality of each species.

“We’re measuring the amount of muscle and the amount of fat in the steers to find out how big the ribeye is and just the eating quality of it,” Nash said as he rubbed oil on the back of a steer, which helps the ultrasound machine capture a clearer image.

Nash and three other Extension educators pooled their personal funds to buy the ultrasound machine about 20 years ago. Ever since, they’ve shared the machine, and they cover about 20 different fairs combined per year.

“A group of us decided to provide educational opportunities for the kids, so we bought the machine and started doing fairs,” Nash said.

They print out ultrasound photographs to give to the students. From each image, numbers are generated measuring ribeye size, marbling and percentage of fat. Computer software crunches those numbers, using a linear equation developed several years ago at University of Tennessee and assigns a score that correlates with a quality grade, such as choice or select.

Nash said the average fair steer comes in close to industry standards.

“There would be some low choice and high select,” Nash said of animals evaluated in Downey.

On Saturday, 4-H students will auction their projects. Nash said the animals are well raised and provide buyers with an excellent product.

“It provides the opportunity for kids to know how well they raised their project,” Nash said. “When I grew up, there was the potential to go in the packing plant and see the steer you raised before they made steaks out of it. Now there isn’t that opportunity for kids, so this is a way for them to get information right now so they can know how good they did.”

Nash said there are also private business people who provide the service.