The objective of card grading is to evaluate individual animals relative to a breed standard and assess their potential as breeding stock. Card grading, with its evaluation of all individuals within a group of animals, strengthens breeders’ understanding of the characteristics and attributes of their breed and, in turn, encourages the protection of genetic diversity within the breed. This is in contrast to competitive judging, which encourages uniformity by rewarding only a single “best” animal within a show class.
Card grading is not complicated and, in fact, is the same process that successful breeders have always practiced. Each animal presented for evaluation receives a grade (represented by a card). This is another contrast to regular judging, in which the only evaluations made are the ribbons given to top placed animals.
The results of card grading evaluation can be used in conjunction with pedigree analysis to plan breeding programs for individual flocks/herds or for entire breeds, making card grading a powerful tool for conservation breeding.
The method of card grading evaluation has been used primarily for sheep and poultry, but it can be adapted for any species of livestock. Card grading may be used by individual breed associations to serve as the sole basis for evaluation or it may be used in conjunction with traditional competitive showing and judging.
Animals may be presented in a ring or in pens. If pen evaluation is used, there must be adequate room to observe the animals and not so much bedding as to obscure the feet. The advantage of card grading in a ring is that movement is easier to assess and observers are better able to follow the process of evaluation. It is a general practice that the owners of animals are not identified during the evaluation process.
Card grading is done by a team of three or four breed specialists, who must agree on the grade given to each animal. The team works from a breed standard provided to them prior to the event by the breed association or show organizers. Each animal is evaluated for physical soundess and for appearance relative to the breed standard. Some breed associations have developed a scale of points, with points being assigned to individual characteristics of the breed standard. Characteristics will carry different weightings, indicating their relative importance. Generally, the points are summed for an overall score. However, care must be taken in using a strictly numeric approach. For example, an animal with bad feet should be failed, regardless of its other redeeming qualities. Again, card grading is a strategy for assessing physical soundness as well as phenotype. To find point scales, contact the breed association or The Livestock Conservancy. The American Poultry Association’s has published scales for each of the poultry species in the APA American Standard of Perfection.
Animals are not compared to each other, but only to the breed standard. Allowances are made for age and sex, but condition and presentation should not be factors for evaluation. An evaluator should have no expectations about how many animals in a group will fall into a particular category. Theoretically, all animals in the group could fall into the same category. The goal is to evaluate each animal fairly without sub-consciously seeking a single “best” individual. Do not begrudge the use of blue cards; instead, identify all excellent animals as such.
When the evaluators agree on the grade for an individual animal, it is given a colored card to represent this grade. The card may be attached to the animal or to its stall or pen. One of the evaluators (or an additional scribe) records the results and evaluators’ comments. The scribe serves as an evaluator when animals belonging to one of the other team members are being evaluated. A verbal or written evaluation is provided to the owner of each animal. Written comments need not match a scorecard format, but instead should note characteristics significant to the assignment of grades.
If animals are to be auctioned after evaluation, cards should remain with them through sale to assist both seller and buyers. The grade given to each animal is made on that day and is not considered a permanent evaluation.
Use With Competitive Showing
If a level of competition among breeders is desired, all animals awarded blue cards may be called back into the ring to compete against each other for grand and reserve champion of the breed. This in not integral to the practice of card grading but an optional adjunct to it.