If you don’t think kids today are smart just go to any county fair and take a big whiff, filling your senses with the sights and sounds of the fair. Amongst the sounds of barkers hustling their games and the organ-ic sound of the merry-go-round, you’ll hear the distinct sound of squealing pigs. In addition to the smells of deep fried Twinkies, beer battered cheese curds, egg rolls, and cinnamon buns, you’ll be overwhelmed by a distinct smell you’ll remember for the rest of your life and that will be retained in your clothes longer than that. You can’t escape the swineish smell at the top of the Ferris Wheel, in the rodeo arena or in the most distant parking lot.
When I was a kid the beef barn was packed with steers and the sheep and swine shared a ramshackle barn on the outskirts of the fairgrounds. That’s as it should be. Beef had top billing and I figured that the sheep and swine deserved each other. Any kid who chose to show a pig was, how should I delicately put this so that my swinish brethren will not be offended? To be blunt, pig showmen were “different”. In my FFA chapter typically we had five steer exhibitors and one pork showman and we didn’t mix or fraternize. Now hogs outnumber the steers by 20 to 1 and I think that’s a perfect example of how far we’ve fallen as a country.
My sister showed a hog and for months while I was exercising, bathing, and grooming my steer she was not doing anything because you had to own a steer for six months but a hog was a quick turnaround project. No wonder many pig persons don’t cry when they kiss their pigs goodbye. They hardly knew them.
What kids these days have figured out, that my generation didn’t, is that pigs have a better CIAHW than steers. (That’s cash income for amount of hours worked.) Pig showmen don’t select hogs because of their sense of humor, intelligence or pork chops but because hogs have a better ROI (return on investment). Intelligent pig exhibitors are willing to live in shame just as long as they don’t have to halter break anything or invest much money. It makes you wonder if they’re all going to end up working for the Post Office.
Pigs also have a lower barrier to entry. With a steer to be competitive you’ll need a fitting chute, fan, cold box for growing hair, halters and ropes, a showbox full of bovine beauty products and a trailer to haul it in. Whereas I’ve seen pigs arrive on the fairgrounds in the back seat of a Ford Fairlane. You don’t need a team of show jocks either to fit your hog as I’ve yet to hear a judge say, “Look at the hair on that hog!”
The winner of hog showmanship is usually the person who does the best job of falling his or her hog around the ring wherever the hog wants to go, while the showman tried to make it look like it was his or her idea. And if a pig steps on your toes you may not even notice while I still walk with a limp from the time my steer stepped on mine.
Junior livestock auction buyers have figured it out too. One year my wife and I partnered with friends on a fat show steer and before the first steak was eaten we were no longer friends. We ran out of freezer space and had a big fight over the sweetbreads. And I don’t even know what they are. I woke up at night in a cold sweat wondering if I got too much flank steak and not enough filet mignon.
The proliferation of hogs has gotten so bad I’d almost rather go hear a fair concert of some old rock band with no original members than to sit through a swine show. Who wants to have their senses assaulted, be run over by a Duroc, or get smelly sticky stuff on your shoes that you can’t get off with a sandblaster? The time has come to put fair pigs in their place and that’s in a segregated barn far far away, in the pig races or in chicken fried bacon on a stick.