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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.
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 ALBC. 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.
Blue Card – An excellent breeding animal conforming to breed standard and free from any genetically based unsoundness. (Download and Print a Blue Card)
Red Card – A good breeding animal which shows most of the breed characteristics and is free from genetically based unsoundness. (Download and Print a Red Card)
Yellow Card – An acceptable, average breeding animal with no disqualifying deviations from breed standard nor genetically based unsoundness. (Download and Print a Yellow Card)
White Card – An unacceptable breeding animal which does not conform to breed standard, is of another breed, or is genetically unsound. These animals are excused from the show (and sale) and should not be used for pure breeding.
Use With Competitive Showing