Livestock Showing, explained
The smell of pine shavings, the sound of fans blowing on full blast, and the sight of adolescents in plaid shirts with brushes in the back pocket of their jeans can only mean one thing: it’s a livestock show. Every summer thousands of American farm families gear up for the show circuit - and the opportunity to make some serious cash.
Y’all do what now?
From an outside perspective, livestock shows can look very similar to companion animal shows such as the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show. The purposes are ultimately not very different. Competitors guide their animals (typically pigs, cattle, goats, or sheep) to be ranked at the discretion of a judge. These judges search for certain phenotypical traits specific to certain species or breeds and rank each group in the ring based on how well they will perform at market or in breeding stock. Competitors can also be judged on how well they exhibit their animal and compete in a showmanship class. The specifics of how these shows operate often vary between species, breed, and even weight class. Shows can range in size from local county fairs to international livestock expositions.
Exhibitors spend an entire year preparing piglets, calves, kids, and lambs for the show ring. Getting up before school for farm chores like feeding, washing, and walking their animals is just a daily part of life. Developing a close relationship with show animals makes it that much harder to say goodbye at the end of the season.
At the end of the show, animals that qualify are able to be auctioned off. Most shows include monetary premiums or even jackpots for well performing animals. In 2016, the Houston Livestock Show paid a $3,457.95 premium to any junior steer exhibitor whose animal qualified for the market auction. The guaranteed premium for the Grand Champion Steer at this same show is $75,000. This past year during the Houston Livestock auction, country singer Zac Brown placed a winning bid of $330,000 for the mixed-breed reserve champion. Not a bad way to start a college fund.
Livestock showing is a lifestyle focused on young people. Many children begin showing livestock as part of their 4-H or FFA projects. These projects work in tandem with Career and Technical Education courses offered in many high school agriculture departments. CTE programs prepare students for real-world tasks and challenges that might appear in their future career paths. Youth involved in livestock showing or judging may seek work in animal science or veterinary fields.
While young people are the focus of livestock showing, it often involves the whole family. It’s not uncommon to see supplies and equipment branded with the name of the family farm, most of which have been around for generations. Livestock showing is a tradition that parents pass down to their children in order to teach them responsibility and good stewardship. Family “vacations” can consist of road trips to Dallas, Louisville, or Phoenix for high-profile livestock shows. Packing into a pickup truck for hours at a time gives a new meaning to family bonding.
The show ring is an ideal location for young exhibitors to develop confidence. It can take a lot of work to balance keeping yourself and your animal comfortable, all while making sure the judge is seeing what they need to see. Exhibitors develop friendships with their competitors that can span states or even countries.
Showing is the future
Livestock showing is a fast-paced and highly competitive world where exhibitors push each other to not only perform better, but to create better species as well. Animal husbandry is the epicenter of livestock shows. Animals with superior qualities become part of the breeding stock, advancing the overall genetics of the species to create a better supply for consumers. Those grand champion boars are the ones giving way to the higher quality pork chops and bacon that is found on shelves nationwide.
Showing livestock is the foundation of animal husbandry and sets rural youth up for success in a way that’s unlike anything else out there. So go to your county fair and take a moment to walk through the show barn, you may just have a new appreciation for the people - and the animals - inside.