Illinois State Fair pig

Hard lessons learned in show barn

The State Fair Season is upon us. I so enjoy walking the barns and soaking up the energy of the youth as I visit with them about their pigs. As a parent of livestock exhibitors, I am taking full advantage of my extreme remote office at the Illinois State Fair to absorb the youth spirit present in the hog barns.

Izzie Bradshaw is showing for the second time at the Illinois State Fair.

Although the temperatures were soaring to 100 degrees on Aug. 11, the kids were dedicated in keeping their pigs comfortable and cool with many rinsing every hour on the hour. After all as 9-year-old, Izzie Bradshaw says “pigs do not sweat.”

While showing pigs is often criticized, it is still a great place to blossom the next generation of real pig farmers or, at minimum, builds character and fosters individuals with excellent work ethics. Just ask 800-meter Olympian Clayton Murphy. His dad contributes some of his success to raising show pigs. Mark Murphy tells Runner’s World, “Clayton loved to show the pigs. And I can tell you, he is just as good a pig salesman as he is a runner.”

In an unofficial poll of Illinois junior swine exhibitors, the No. 1 life lesson learned while being a pig’s caretaker is being responsible. As the kids told me over and over again, the pigs cannot feed or water themselves. We have to provide the food, water and other essential needs.

One young exhibitor, James David Adkins shares another valuable lesson he learned this state fair. “Check your ear notches yourself,” says Atkins.

His registration papers were correct but the ear notches on the entry form, taken from veterinarian paperwork, did not match. A common error many swine exhibitors have made over the years and a hard lesson to learn when your pig must sit out of the show.

James Atkins is taking a setback in the showring in stride.

Yes, Adkins’ barrow will be staying in the pen. It is a rough lesson to learn since this was the last show of the season. Still, both pig and owner took it in stride. Adkins was still smiling and very proud of the barrow he raised. Moreover, he says next year “I won’t make that mistake and probably bring more than one pig to fair.” 

Over the next few days, the Illinois pig kids will be heading to the show ring to compete and show off his or her pig to the best of their ability. Win or lose, I encourage all exhibitors and supporting family members to take everything in stride, just like James.

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