A Show Pig Family: It's a Lifestyle
We are currently in our third year of showing pigs. I am using the term "we" because it is a family effort. It is actually my oldest daughter's third year in 4-H and showing, and our youngest's second in mini 4-H. Don't get me wrong, she does most of the work herself.
That being said, my girls are also involved in volleyball, dance, softball, gymnastics, and cheer, all while maintaining straight As, which is why everything is a family effort.
When the idea of showing pigs came up, of course, we were adding "just one more thing," However, it has ended up being SO much more than that. We raise these pigs from babies, take care of them everyday, walk them for exercise, learn how to feed them, and ultimately let go. This experience has been the best life lesson our children could have ever had.
Wait, Did You Say Letting Go?
I sure did. At the end of fair week, there is a livestock auction. We are allowed to sell one pig: a barrow. The others we sell individually. I'll explain. A barrow is a male pig that "can't make babies". Basically he is only good for meat and that is what he is judged on. Our family for the most part only shows barrows. We had a gilt once and it wasn't our niche. A gilt is a female pig that can have babies, after which she is called a sow. She is judged on how well she would be able to carry and birth piglets. If she is unable to reproduce or there isn't a need for her to she also will be sent to slaughter.
Yes, we watch these boys go to market after we have raised and cared for them. It is never easy for us and we do mourn them. The first year was the hardest, it gets easier from there. My daughters understand that a barrow will never quit growing and will eventually become miserable. He has a purpose in life; to feed and nourish.
Through selling they are also learning about agribusiness and managing money. They have to track how much money went into the pig and how much they get back. Our family has a system where they get to keep the money they get from selling. We started a special savings account for this purpose. They only use it to purchase new pigs or anything related to showing they might want. Mom and dad foot the bill for everything else. Our hope is that they will have a decent amount of money for a vehicle and/or college.
In the Show Ring
Our kiddos practice for months before it's time to show. During the school year they work the pigs once per day and when school is out they practice twice per day. This builds muscle on the pigs and allows the girls to work on their show skills. Aside from showing for the pigs to be judged they also do showmanship. Showmanship is when the showman is being judged. The judge looks to make sure the showman knows what he or she is doing. They have to know where they can touch the pig with the show stick, not to block the judges view and to make eye contact with the judge just to name a few. The one thing you can't account for is the number of pigs and other showman in the ring.
Hopefully by the time they reach the show ring they are 100% prepared. Although they can only truly control themselves. A pig sometimes has a mind of it's own. It is always quite evident though which kids really worked with their pigs and which ones did not. Ours are usually big babies from getting belly rubs and being worked with so much that we seldom have an issue with a pig not cooperating.
Showing pigs: A Showmanship Class
To show or not to show....
Would you allow your child to show livestock (pigs, cows, sheep, goats, etc)?
When Problems Arise
Just like with anything we sometimes run into issues that are problematic. One year we had a gilt that had a hip deformity. It was quite evident when she walked and that is no good while being judged. We tried to give her what she needed to fix it but nothing brought her out of it. She was shown anyway despite knowing we wouldn't place well, as we only had 2 pigs. This year we have battled a rash on our barrows. Sometimes the bedding will have mites and the pigs get bites. We're working on figuring it out. The poor guys are very itchy so I've been rubbing them down with benadryl cream and orally giving them benadryl in their marshmallow treats.
Yes! Pigs love marshmallows!
At the End of the Day...
Our daughter has been very successful in showing bringing home two champion banners in breed; the Hampshire class. We have yet to get that grand champion and honestly don't figure we will until she is older. Winning grand champion requires more money than we are willing to invest currently at her age. But it is not just about winning the banners or the titles. It is also about being with family, making lifelong friends and learning responsibility. Winning is just a testament to the hard work and time put in.
The Benefits of Showing Livestock
- Study show benefits of youth participation in livestock shows
To learn more about the benefits of raising livestock and showing them, read this article.