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Youth Swine Showmanship
Livestock Update, October 1998
Allen Harper, Extension Animal Scientist, Swine, Virginia Tech Tidewater AREC
In Virginia and other states the number of commercial farms that produce hogs has declined while the number of hogs produced has remained relatively stable. This means that hog farms have become fewer in number but larger in size. Despite this trend, 4-H and FFA youth market hog project participation throughout the state has remained strong. In many cases non-farm kids in rural areas are participating in the market hog project or kids from beef, dairy, or sheep backgrounds. All of this is good because participation in the market hog project is a great way to learn about pigs and the responsible care and management required to raise pigs successfully.
Most market hog projects culminate with participation in a local or regional hog show. From Clarke County to Virginia Beach to Roanoke and points in between, youth market hog shows are alive and well. In the Virginia State Fair, youth market hog participation increased from 37 exhibitors in 1997 to 48 exhibitors in 1998. Many youth hog exhibitors have limited experience in hog showmanship. But, contrary to what some believe, good hog showmanship is not an undisciplined exercise in which kids drive pigs about in a show ring in random directions. The following are some points to focus on as youth exhibitors strive to improve their showmanship skills.
- Bring clean pigs to the show barn. By doing a good job pre-washing show pigs at home, it will be much easier to do light cleaning and washing at the show barn. For pigs reared in dirt lots or on heavy manure packs, it may take two or three washings to get all the dirt and stains removed. Use mild detergent, warm water and a non-abrasive brush. Rinse the pigs well but take care not to get water into the pig's inner ear. Return the washed pigs to clean, dry quarters; provide clean dry bedding if temperatures are cold.
- Plan on using the "natural look" when showing pigs in youth exhibitions. Complete body hair trimming close to the skin may be done in some major livestock shows but it really is not necessary (in fact it should be discouraged) in state and local youth shows. For 1998, the State Fair Junior Market Hog show has a new rule in which complete body hair trimming is prohibited. Some minor trimming (scissors work fine) to remove stray hairs along the face, ears, flanks and tail is certainly permitted and advisable. Another observation is that mineral oil application and talcum powder are often used so excessively that it detracts from the appearance of the pig. A SMALL amount of mineral oil wiped on with a cloth will give a slight shine on colored pigs. Likewise a SMALL amount of talcum powder will brighten up white pigs. However, too much of either is worse than if none at all were applied.
- Dress neatly and appropriately for the show. The clothes should be clean and neat. Slacks or clean jeans and a clean blouse or shirt is fine for both girls and boys. The shoes or boots should be a hard-soled type that will clean up easily. Vibram soled shoes are not advisable because manure tends to collect in the sole. A few youth shows even have a specific dress code for the show ring.
- Equip yourself with a show cane or show whip (slapper type) and a small brush for the show ring. It is a personal choice on whether the cane or show whip is used. Both are intended to assist in gently driving and guiding your pig in the ring. Either tool should be easily held in one hand. A brush should definitely be carried into the ring but it should be a small brush that can easily be kept in one's pocket when not in use. If dirt or bedding gets on the pig during the showing process, the brush can be taken from the pocket and used to discretely brush away the unwanted material. A common mistake seen among young exhibitors is they attempt to show with a cane in one hand and a large brush in the other throughout the class. In some cases they may use the brush to guide and direct the pig but this can be distracting to the judge.
- Know which classes your pigs are in and be prompt when classes are called. The main mistakes to avoid here are being late into the ring when a class is called or even bringing the wrong pig into a class.
- Remember your purpose: to give the judge the best look possible at your pig throughout the entire time that the class is in. Some exhibitors misinterpret this important point and attempt to move their pig directly to the judge each time he or she moves to a new location in the ring. Naturally the judge will move regularly during the class to get different views of the pigs. The exhibitor should be focused on the judge and respond accordingly when the judge changes position. But this does not usually mean moving the pig directly to the judge's new location. Rather it means that the exhibitor may need to turn the pig back into the range of view that the judge is currently taking. In fact it is preferred that the exhibitor attempt to show their pig at a distance of 15 to 25 feet from the judge to allow for good viewing from side, rear and front angles. Judges who want to get closer to or handle individual pigs will usually approach the pig and exhibitor. However, exhibitors not keenly focused on the judge may fail to recognize important opportunities to allow the judge to approach or give a better view of their pig when the judge changes position.
- Use the show cane (or whip) skillfully and judiciously. The cane or whip is a tool to assist in driving, turning, stopping and otherwise controlling the show pig in the ring. However, inexperienced exhibitors often misuse it. The most common mistakes include frequently holding the cane between the pig and the judge, striking the pig along the back-line or in the hams causing the pig to assume awkward positions, striking the pig too frequently or too aggressively with the cane. Often this latter problem only serves to frustrate the pig to the point that it becomes impossible to show and can cause bruising of the live pig and discoloration on the carcass. Exhibitors skilled in the use of the show cane or whip tap the pig, usually gently, on the shoulder or jowl to encourage movement in a given direction. The pig is typically tapped on the right side to turn left and on the left side to turn right. A little extra force is sometimes used when needed but this is not taken to the extreme. The cane may be held in front of the pig's snout if there is an opportunity to stop the pig to allow a standing view for the judge. Additionally, experienced showmen can change the cane from the right hand to the left and from the left to the right as needed to effectively move the pig without distracting the judge.
- The body position and movement of the exhibitor should be used to full advantage. The exhibitor should move along with the pig with their body positioned on the side away from the judge. When attempting to move the pig forward, it is best to be on the side but slightly toward the rear of the pig. A partially crouched position with the cane and free hand spread apart and below waist level will allow the pig to see the exhibitor, and hopefully will encourage the pig to be more responsive to the exhibitor. As much as possible the pig and exhibitor should be moving at a slow and deliberate pace. On occasions when the exhibitor stops the pig for viewing by the judge, the exhibitor can move discretely to a position directly behind the judge's view of the pig. In cases when the pig moves into a corner of the show ring, the exhibitor's best solution is to move along the ring fence and into the corner between the pig and the fence. This should encourage the pig to move away from the corner and back out into the open ring area. When it is necessary to move completely around the pig, the exhibitor should go around the pig in the direction that does not impede the judge's view of the pig. In fact the exhibitor should make a special effort to avoid obstructing the judge's view of the pig throughout the entire show class. It is not unusual for good swine exhibitors to perspire while showing because they are mentally and physically concentrated on exhibiting their pig during the entire time in the class. But they should also maintain a pleasant, sportsmanlike attitude and a keen awareness of the judge's position and viewing needs at all times. Work hard at it but have fun doing it.
- Arrive and leave the show with high ethics and a sense of good sportsmanship. Those who choose to bend the rules when participating really should not even bother to show up. Likewise, adults who foster unethical behavior among youth livestock exhibitors should find other ways to spend their time. Exhibitors who do their best with their project, who accept high placing graciously and accept lower placing honorably, will leave the show with a justifiable sense of pride and accomplishment.
Virginia Cooperative Extension