Spoiler alert: This blog will be upfront and honest about my
thoughts and feelings concerning 4-H livestock shows and, more specifically,
I had the extreme privilege growing up of showing swine
throughout my 10 years in 4-H, and I showed sheep for the last two years.
Although I never won grand champion barrow or market lamb,
what I really looked forward to the most was the showmanship competitions, where
the judge is not evaluating which pig is the most muscular in the show ring or
walks the soundest, but the judge is looking for the one outstanding 4-H member
who knows how to properly handle their animal.
Normally, this individual will know how to drive their pig
around the show ring, leaving the proper distance between themselves and the
judge and answering questions about their respective animal that the judge may
choose to ask.
Unfortunately, even during my last couple of years in 4-H,
it started to become evident that the better showmen in the senior and
intermediate divisions were not placing or making the cut to show for division
or overall supreme showmen because they didn’t have the right last name or
didn’t purchase their animal from the judge’s line of show livestock.
I want it to be clear that I’m not saying this always is the
case — because it’s not – but, sadly, it’s becoming more evident at the various
shows I attend.
Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet some
amazing 4-H members in northern Indiana and watch them show their pigs. Because
of timing and the travel from where I live, I did not get there in time for the
showmanship contest, but as I was watching one of the boys show, I was instantly
impressed with his amount of raw talent and ability to move his animal around
I was talking with his mom and asked her how he placed and
truly was stunned when she replied that he didn’t even place. In fact, it turns
out that the judge was barely even giving a look to the exhibitors who chose to
use PVC pipes to drive their pigs instead of a pig whip — and her son had used a
There was one other time I saw this happen, and it was when
I participated in showmanship open class several years ago. Although the judge
never gave a really good reason why he preferred those using whips, I eventually
switched because PVC pipes always would slip in my hand from sweating.
However, that does not mean the judge should automatically
decide that an exhibitor is not going to win because they don’t show with one of
the big, fancy whips that individuals participating in the junior swine show
They could be discounting the 4-H member who spent every day
of his or her summer getting up at 6 a.m. to feed and work with their hog to
beat the heat of the day and then doing the same thing at 9 p.m. in the evening,
but they show with a pipe, because either they don’t want to spend the money on
a whip or they just prefer the way their animal handles better with a
In fact, some 4-H members get their pig trained so well that
their driving tool is just there so the hog can see it, but they don’t actually
have to use it.
For these reasons, this is why I believe — and have for a
long time — that the showmanship judge and the judge of the actual pig show need
to be separate.
Now, I realize that it’s hard to find quality judges that
know how to evaluate livestock, but 4-H is all about making the members better.
How is showing them that if you don’t buy the right driving tool or purchase
your animal from a big breeder that one won’t win showmanship a good
In fact, I would volunteer to go to any county and judge
their 4-H swine showmanship contest, and the only thing I would charge is a tank
of gas – and I probably wouldn’t even do that.
Some people may think that’s crazy and I am out of my mind,
but I truly believe in 4-H and especially like encouraging any member that wants
to show livestock.
They are the future of the agriculture industry and our
country. The only way to guarantee a successful future for both is to instill it
in our youth.