Our homestead is not your typical farm set up. While we try to keep things as simple as possible there is always the issue of show pigs. Have you ever heard of the sport of showing livestock? No! Let me tell you a bit about it. It’s important for you to understand why raising show pigs has become the latest sport.
Aren’t All Pigs the Same?
The simple answer to that question would be no but let me explain a bit more.
For swine producers there are two types of production, commercial hogs and show pigs. While both produce pigs, their goals are very different.
Commercial producers are working to create food and lots of it to feed our nation. Efficiency in production is key for these producers. Their main goal is to get a healthy, quality meat animal out the door to a processor as quickly as possible. This generally takes about 6 months from farrow to finish.
Commercial producers also have to meet high quality standards. These standards are also constantly changing because of government regulations and our society. Testing for MQA (meat quality assurance) is required for individuals handling these animals.
With all of these demands on the way their animals are raised and cared for, the job as a livestock producer can be challenging but rewarding. Quality animal care and handling are musts for producers.
Let’s Pause for Pig Royalty
Right now I want to emphasize the show pig producers because they are going to be highlighted soon in a spotlight like never before. I wrote this article years ago but felt compelled to do a quick update after seeing that a new series is coming out on Discovery Plus. I wanted to take a moment to set the record straight on what the show pig industry is truly like, not what is portrayed on TV show.
So let’s start with what’s coming up for you to watch. Have you heard of Pig Royalty yet?
This TV show, found on Discovery Plus, follows the show season of two rival families in Texas. These two families appear to have competed against one another for a long time now and have no love loss for one another. The show is set to follow them through the season to see who will be the supreme showman. It’s not 100% certain if showmanship as well as the animal itself will be taken into account on how the final winner is determined.
Now let me say that parts of this show are indeed true.
Parts of it.
When you win, you do want more. But isn’t that true with any sport?
The livestock show industry is pretty cut throat. I have watched families melt down over a loss. People have stopped speaking to me because they didn’t win. But sadly this is true of every industry out there not just the show pig world.
There are many parts of this show that I’m sure are highly fabricated. I haven’t watched it yet and probably won’t since I know what a real show is like. Although with COVID I would love to just watch a group of individuals driving quality animals around the ring. All of these kids have worked their tails off to raise the best animal possible.
I also want to take a moment to explain just how loved and cared for these animals are treated. The animals that will be featured on this show were purchased at top dollar because the buyer felt they possessed something that would make them elite against other pigs their same age, breed and gender. They are fed quality feeds and cared for at a level unparalleled often times even to a common house pet. These pigs are treated like royalty.
Maybe that’s where the name of the show came from?
The kids showing these animals are attached to them. They love an adore these animals. They treat them with the utmost respect because they have been with them for so long. They have trained their pigs to walk, turn, stand still and be shown the same way dogs are taught to sit, stay and lay down.
Breeding Stock – Another Area of Show Pigs
Similarly to the show pigs, there is the industry of breeding the best quality animals that will be used to secure a genetic trait. I lump show pigs and breeding stock together as they can be intertwined at times, especially with females.
These producers and breeders are striving to achieve animal perfection. Creating a perfect hog is their dream goal.
What does a dream animal look like?
Well that’s the biggest challenge as the industry is constantly changing. So really the answer varies from year to year and even from breed to breed. Overall they are looking for an animal that has good muscling, heavy boned, solid structure that will last and the genetics to back it. To top it all off, these qualities must continue to the next generation.
Sounds easy?!?! Not so much.
Add to this the demands of showmen mentioned in the show pig section above and you get a stressful recipe.
Showing Pigs as a Sport
A great example of just how stressful things can get can be found at your local youth county fairs. Many of these kids take showing very seriously, as though it’s their sport. But how hard can it be? You just need the best pig right?
Well it is tougher than you think.
In the highly competitive sport of showing livestock pigs are purchased for a large amount of money. Show pigs can sell for as little as $250 but can also go as high as $22,000. Yeah, you read that right. The price really comes down to what the buyer is willing to pay if they think the animal is elite.
If you think these numbers are off please feel free to hop over to ShowPigs.com and see the auction results for yourself.
So after pigs are purchased you begin the task of feeding and daily care for the next four months. Feeding is a challenging task requiring a high protein diet. And pigs eat a LOT! Kids will pay from anywhere between 400-700 dollars to feed their pigs to get them to market weight. Mind you that’s just for one animal not the two or three they are probably raising. Not all feed quality is the same so you need to really look at your product labels.
Time spent on the project is a daily event. Not just feeding and watering but walking, yes walking, your pigs everyday for at least thirty minutes. Conditioning them for the long show really helps them to keep from getting stressed in the show ring.
Then, the day of the show will finally arrive. Pigs are prepped for the show. Given baths, ears washed, hair trimmed and made to look as fresh and youthful as possible. The kids do this to themselves as well to match their projects with pride.
The show will progress. Winners will be announced and awarded. Youth will congratulate others and thank the judge. Youth are taught at a young age to show good sportsmanship which is wonderful. These are skills that will help them grow to be successful adults.
The Biggest Challenge for Most Exhibitors
Sales for many of the youth are the hardest part. While selling your project is expected at the end, you are still sad to see your hard work end. This is something that kids learn along the way to prepare for but it still can be challenging.
So the next time you are at a county fair please don’t think that the pig project comes easy for the youth participating. Remember it started four months earlier with a choice, good feeding, watering, walking and general care daily to get to the final show. It has been hours of work and dedication.
Please show them the same respect that you would an athlete who practices everyday. These kids have worked hard to get to where they are today. Some kids may play sports but right now mine show pigs.