Shelby Bledsoe is no stranger to the cattle industry. Her family has a commercial beef operation. However, she never shows cows at the Missouri State Fair. Rather, Bledsoe chooses to spend her days in the Swine Building caring for her crossbred market hog.
"I was always a smaller kid," the Eldon FFA member recalls. "Pigs were not as intimidating."
With her very first pig, Bledsoe realized the importance of having a mentor. "I had never shown hogs," she says, "but he was always there to answer any of my questions and guide me along the way." The mentor shared what he looked for in pigs, what she should look for in a market hog and ultimately, what a judge will look for in the show ring.
Now as a seasoned showman, the University of Missouri sophomore looks to share her knowledge with other younger exhibitors.
Guiding the next generation
"I know the importance of having someone to ask questions of," Bledsoe says. She says younger exhibitors should never be afraid to seek out older showmen in the barn. "You need to observe and ask questions," she says. "That is the only way to learn."
She spends time in the Swine Building at the Missouri State Fair just relaxing around her pens and the show ring. Bledsoe wants to be visible and available to answer questions and offer advice. Her best advice? You will never learn something the first time — especially in showing pigs. "It takes repetition," Bledsoe says. For many exhibitors, that repetition comes in handy when finding the "go button" on a hog.
Judges like to see a pig move at a steady pace in the ring. To get a pig to walk, there is a sweet spot between its shoulder and flank that, when tapped, signals the animal to move. Finding it and using it correctly takes practice. "You have to work at showing pigs in order to be good at it," Bledsoe says.
Educating the consumer
The MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources ambassador finds that exhibiting swine at the state fair provides a platform to help individuals who are not raised on a farm to understand animal agriculture.
"At the state fair, we are able to show those who visit the barns how we treat our animals," she says. For many, it is different from what they see on television or social media. Bledsoe says individuals passing by her pens are amazed at how the animals are relaxed and comfortable. "For me, these animals are like family. Many of the hogs are treated better than most house pets."
Whether it is educating consumers or future showmen, Bledsoe has found her place in the Swine Building. Without a mentor pushing to step out of her cattle comfort zone, she would've missed the experiences inside and outside of the swine show ring. "I like the relationships I have been able to make here," she says. "It is fun to come here every summer and spend time with people you have a common interest with."