Some pig: How judges choose the top hogs of Routt County Fair swine contests
HAYDEN — From the other side of the corral fence, a swine show looks a bit like a circle of chaos — 4-H’ers driving their hogs this way, then the opposite way, with the pigs sometimes running into another contestant’s hog. Competitors move in every direction, constantly flicking hog whips, looking up at the judge and rotating the pig around.
Inside the ring, that work in showmanship is anything but chaos.
The Routt County Fair hosted its swine showmanship contest and market swine show for 4-H and Future Farmers of America members Wednesday. Three age divisions were available for showmanship: junior, for kids 8 to 10 years old; intermediate, for kids 11 to 13 and senior, for those 14 to 18. Hogs competed by weight class in the market swine show.
Showmanship, the first of the two competitions, tests how well the kids can show off their hogs in the ring, as well as their knowledge of their animals and how to care for them. They’re trying to catch the judge’s attention and show off all angles of their pig.
All of that moving around in the ring is for a reason — to make sure the judge can see the pig from all angles to evaluate it. There are tricks to it to make a pig look good, keeping the pig moving forward and having it hold its head up to make it look more attractive from the side. When a 4-H’er drives their hog with a show stick or hog whip, they’re working to make sure the judge can see all those angles.
“What I’m focused on in the ring is making sure that my pig is being presented well,” said Katelyn Olinger, who took home the grand champion ribbon in senior swine showmanship and third place in her market swine class. “And keeping good eye contact with the judge, giving him a good view of my pig from all directions, making sure that (the pig is) kept comfortable with some water, making sure that they’re happy the whole time so they’re not squealing.”
The market show requires showmanship skills, in that a competitor has to know how to make their hog look its best, but judges will also focus on the hog’s bone structure, muscle structure and how fat or lean the pig is.
Grace Olinger, who earned third place in senior showmanship and first place in her market show class, said she won’t work so hard to keep her pig, Stewart, near the judge in the market show, and while she’ll still show off all the hog’s angles, she’ll focus a bit more on her pig’s most flattering angles.
Running around the ring can wear out a pig. Before the show, contestants work with their pigs to build up its endurance — both Katelyn and Grace said they work their hogs daily. In between heats in a show, hogs will get a chance to rest and drink some water.
“Kind of like an athlete, you give them a chance to cool off and get a drink, and maybe get them filled up a little bit with some feed,” Grace said. “Usually they’re pretty good about that themselves because they’re pretty tired and hot.”
During the show, a judge will send a contestant and their hog to a pen at the side of the ring to focus on judging a certain group of pigs or to ask contestants questions. While in the pen, parents often walk over with water bottles, which are sprayed on the pig to keep them cool and comfortable, or sprayed into the pig’s mouth to offer it a drink of water. The pigs might get a quick swipe with a brush or a pat on the head.
Personal water bottles are not the only way show hogs are pampered. They’re typically washed and brushed before the show. Katelyn said she sometimes rubs her hog, Ladybug, with coconut oil to make her skin and hair softer and more attractive. Ladybug also loves to eat marshmallows as a treat.
The dozens of kids who competed in swine shows Wednesday will take home more than their prize-winning hogs. While Grace said it’s just fun to work with pigs because they’re smart animals with a lot of personality, she also sees showing at the Routt County Fair as a way to represent the swine industry and agriculture as a whole in a positive way.
Of course, there’s responsibility, too. Beyond keeping another living thing alive and helping it thrive to become a ribbon winner, she says that showing hogs teaches kids how to be accountable. The choice of how a hog is fed has consequences in the show ring as the judge considers a hog’s structure.
“You are required to make decisions regarding feeding and to assess the situation and the condition of your hog and make decisions accordingly, but at the same time you’re also accountable for the decisions you make, whether it ended up being a good one or a bad one,” Grace said. “So just being able to make decisions but also be responsible for those that you make.”
Grace and Katelyn will head to college in the coming weeks.
Grace plans to attend Northeastern Junior College, where she plans to compete on the livestock judging team as she works toward degrees in agricultural education and animal sciences.
While Katelyn won’t be working hogs daily as she works toward a degree in music education in Utah, she’s taking skills she learned in Routt County across the state line.
“What you put in, you’ll get out,” she said of showing pigs. “It also teaches you how to be responsible for another animal and make sure that it’s maintained well, well-fed, well cared for. That’s the overall goal. 4-H tries to teach us all how to care for animals, be responsible, and have good leadership and work ethic.”
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