AMBOY, Ill. — Kirk Miller knows how tough it can be to make conversation with a judge in a livestock show ring.
“When I was younger, I wasn’t very good with public speaking,” the part-time livestock judge said.
But standing in the ring at the Lee County 4-H Fair swine show showmanship class, Miller also knows what can improve those skills.
“Being in ag classes helped and these kids, being in 4-H and FFA, are becoming better speakers,” Miller said.
Miller’s fair judging gig is a part-time one that he fits between farming full time with his dad, Bob, near Melvin, running his showpig breeding operation, Miller Farms, and working as a crop insurance adjuster.
When he steps into the show ring of one of the four to five fair swine shows he judges in the summer, he is focused on the task at hand.
“With showpigs, I’m big on structure. So, they have to be built from the ground up. Once you have the structure, you start looking at the skeleton and the amount of muscle, the general overall look and balance that the animal has,” Miller said.
As far as the young people moving their pigs around the ring, Miller wants to see the results of time spent preparing for the show.
“You can tell the kids who have put in the extra work at home, getting their animal out and walking them, getting them trained and working on the skin and hair condition and things like that, those are all the things you look for,” he said.
When it’s time for the showmanship interview, where Miller goes one-on-one with each competitor, the questions vary by age.
“I ask them general questions about their projects, what’s the price of hogs, what are you feeding them. Some of the older kids, I ask them where the different cuts of meat come from. I ask them to tell me why showing pigs is important and what it does for the ag industry,” he said.
Taking The Lead
Miller judges each breed impartially, but he has a soft spot for Spots and Herefords, a domestic U.S. breed.
“We raise Berkshires, Chesters, Spots and some Herefords. My dad started with the Spots when he was in high school, so that’s kind of what we’re known for. About 10 years ago, I took a pretty big liking to the Herefords,” he said.
Miller applauded the quality and quantity of the Lee County 4-H Fair swine show.
“I was here last year and the quality is better than it was last year, so I commend the exhibitors and the breeders in the area,” he said.
Despite swine numbers being low in the county, the Lee County 4-H Fair and Junior Show still drew the numbers. The 2019 fair had over 1,600 entries in total, including livestock and non-livestock projects. The 4-H fair had 56 swine entries and the junior show swine class had 130 entries.
Miller added some words of encouragement for those youth who struggle with public speaking.
“By the time I graduated, I was able to win showmanship in my senior year at the Illinois State Fair, so that was a highlight of my showing career,” he said.