At Stock Show, victory may be sweet, but other stuff stinks

02/06/2013 11:47 PM

03/14/2013 3:41 PM

FORT WORTH -- Rachelle Link is having a ham sandwich for breakfast, but she can't smell it because the air is thick with the odor of methane and ammonia.

After years of raising show pigs -- officially called barrows at the Fort Worth Stock Show -- at the family's New Home ranch, Link doesn't mind.

But for the groups of schoolchildren strolling through the livestock barns -- noses wrinkled and breath held -- it's clear what they think:

The Stock Show stinks.

Especially the pigs, whose poo produces a pungent smell that will follow you home.

Wayland Stewart, who has shown barrows with the Iowa Park FFA for 21 years, said he's more offended by the smell of ammonia produced in urine, which he said "will be really bad" by Friday morning.

Stewart, whose granddaughters, Karah Scobee, 8, and Micah Scobee, 11, are showing hogs, said the swine barn has a unique smell.

"To me, it smells like money," Stewart said. "Money we've spent."

With hundreds of steers and barrows on the grounds for the junior shows today and Friday -- the Stock Show's premier events -- tons of manure must be dealt with.

Last year, workers hauled away 3.8 million pounds of animal bedding and manure. The material is taken to a landfill on the south side of Fort Worth, combined with city yard waste and composted, said Matt Brockman, administrative manager for the Stock Show.

Folks work hard to keep it all under control, raking pig pens, shoveling out cattle stalls and sweeping barn floors. But even with the best efforts, the stench remains strong.

Some of those who are showing hogs insist that their livestock smells better than steers.

But when you're standing in the swine barn, it's a tough sell.

McKinley Lee, 10, of Iowa Park explained that hogs are basically clean animals. They like to do their business in one area of their pen, opposite from where their food is.

They don't sweat but wallow in mud to keep insects from biting them.

As McKinley spoke, her hog, a 6-month-old, 270-pound Yorkshire named Maverick, quietly dropped a load.

While it was certainly hard to ignore, McKinley was unfazed and kept talking.

Over in the cattle barns, the air is less offensive.

Exhibitors use heavy-duty blow-dryers to groom their freshly washed steers.

"We wash 'em every day, blow-dry them and groom them," said Jeff Jones, a Graham FFA teacher whose students are showing three steers.

The cattle are washed with Dawn dish soap, followed by an Herbal Essences moisturizing conditioner.

Jones pointed to the pens and said the bedding is changed every other day or so, which helps control the smell.

"It's just a big Kitty Litter box," Jones said.

Jeff Hilton of Olney theorizes that since hogs stay in their pens all the time and steers sleep outside at night in a tie-out area, the cattle barns contain less waste.

Cattle don't really have a designated bathroom, Hilton said.

"They're going to crap inside or outside, just like a baby," said Hilton, who is with the Jacksboro FFA.

Most everyone agrees that the warm weather is helping control the stink because windows and doors are kept open.

"We were here the year of the Super Bowl and it was so icy," said Link, finishing her breakfast. "They had to shut all the doors, and that made it worse. That was awful."

Stock Show maintenance worker Winfred Williams has evaluated the variety of droppings produced during the 23-day show. Cow patties are mushier than hog waste. And goat droppings look like bits of chocolate.

"We sweep it and shovel it and put it in the Dumpster," said Williams, 37. "We try to keep it so it won't pile up and it won't stick to ... boots and won't stink as much."

As far as the smell following him home, Williams has a plan for the end of the Stock Show.

"My clothes and shoes and everything I've worn, I'll throw them in the Dumpster," he said. "I'm not taking them home."

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown

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