FORT WORTH -- Amid the chaos of a full hog barn at the Stock Show, a strapping 15-year-old named Trace Patterson took a minute to describe the ultimate goal of those assembled. That was to raise an animal that he called an "eye-opener."
"You're looking at a pig and say, 'Oh, wow. That's a good-looking pig,'" Patterson, of Spearman, said Wednesday.
But just what constitutes a good-looking pig?
"You can ask my ag teacher," Patterson said. "He'll give you all sorts of stuff."
We preferred to survey the young people who will show pigs at the Stock Show today and Friday. These animals are barrows (castrated males) that were piglets six months ago but oinked around the Stock Show on Wednesday at 270 pounds or more.
Kate Jimerson, 18, of Corpus Christi was in Fort Worth with her pig, Squirt, so named because he was a runty little thing at first. No more.
Squirt required a lot of time to feed and brush and had to learn to walk without running wild.
"You know how people look when they're done eating," she said. "That's how you want a pig to look, with a real big belly. You want them to look like they're full."
"Looking down from the top, you want the back to be square, not round, like the top of a box," Jimerson said. "A real nice, filled-out look. Big-boned. The bigger the bones, the better the meat is going to be."
Judges also look for a balanced gait, because pigs that don't walk well tend to spend a lot of time lying around, she said. A pig that lies around a lot does not get up to the feed trough enough. Hence, less bacon and ham and pork chops.
"This is all about food," she said.
Nonetheless, Jimerson always has a hard time saying goodbye to her pigs and expects that to be even harder this year, her last in a decade of raising pigs.
"It's my senior year," she said. "They're really well-trained. I can get them in their pen and scratch their bellies and they will lie down."
Austin Ellison, 17, in his first year raising a pig, said he takes a less-nuanced approach. He also said he did not name his animal because "we don't tend to name things we might have to eat."
"You feed them, water them, get them as fat as you can, and see what you do from there," Ellison said.
Ian Cannon, 17, of Bushland, near Amarillo, said beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.
"It's really between you and the judges," he said. "Some judges like short and stocky. Others like long and lean."
He herded his pig back into the pen and stood with his buddies, discussing the animal. What was something about pigs the average person wouldn't know? Cannon paused.
"They're real smart," he said.
"They're easier to train than dogs," said Jonathan Poe, whose 16-year-old son, Bailey, was showing a pig named Instigator. "Every one of these animals is no more than 5 months old and they've been trained to do more than a dog can do at 5 months.
"And they're really fun-loving animals, docile," Jonathan Poe said. "Out in the wild, they would attack you, but these are like little puppies. Scratch their bellies and you make their legs shake."
To demonstrate, his son got into the pen with Instigator, so named because he tended to initiate squabbles with his neighbors. Not now.
Bailey began to tickle the pig's tummy. Instigator dropped immediately into the straw, clearly in hog heaven.
Tim Madigan, 817-390-7544