Patient judge ponders pigs as handlers chase their charges

01/27/2014 4:36 PM

01/28/2014 3:55 PM

Nine fat pink pigs waddled into the show ring Monday morning, snorting from one end and doing what pigs do unthinkingly from the other.

The judge folded his arms.

He studied one animal, then others in silence, and stroked his bearded chin.

To an untrained eye all nine pigs looked exactly alike, as identical as sausage links on a restaurant Grand Slam breakfast.

But Brandon Anderson from Haskell is an expert on pigs, and a patient man, and patience was the watchword in the Swine barn at the Fort Worth Stock Show.

Class after class of pigs — pink pigs, red pigs, spotted pigs — entered the ring, but not before several, without warning, broke free from their handlers and took off at a mindless sprint, grunting and squealing gleefully, hurrying up and down the rows of pens as fast as their short, stout legs would carry them.

Their young handlers sighed and gave chase.

The exhibitors, who began caring for their animals when they were piglets, eventually regained the upper hand by using the trainer’s primary tool. Wielding their show sticks, they tapped the pigs on one side or the other, to steer them right or left.

The judge dutifully remained in the ring all morning, standing and squatting, observing each animal’s structure and musculature. Finally, he eliminated those entries he found lacking and awarded colored ribbons to his favorites.

“This guy’s a really good athlete,” the judge said of a champion boar.

He praised one female for her “underpinnings” and “feminine look.”

Pecos Vaughn, 15, saw his patience and hard work rewarded when his 325-pound gilt pig, a Landrace breed, won first place. The Cisco youth has been training his 7-month-old companion daily since September.

If the Stock Show issued a Perseverance Award it arguably should go to Dana Farrell and her brother Daniel Beckendorf from Austin, who are contracted to take the official Stock Show photographs of every champion pig.

The Williams family of Nocona raises show pigs. Savannah Williams, 22, a student at Tarleton State University, hit the jackpot Monday when her red, 300-pound Duroc boar was judged best in breed.

After the event, Savannah headed to a makeshift photo studio near the show ring, where she and her parents and sister knelt on a bed of green pine shavings, in front of a white backdrop decorated with the Stock Show logo.

They were eager to be photographed with their prized boar.

But Elvis had other ideas.

“He can’t think straight. All he cares about is being with the ladies,” Savannah explained, and the scent of female pigs was everywhere.

While Farrell focused her lens, her brother Daniel tried to coax the boar into standing in profile in front of the family. The pig chose to bolt. Daniel, whom his sister jokingly calls the “Pig Whisperer,” retrieved the porker, then spent several minutes attempting to turn him and position the animal just so.

Unlike other Stock Show creatures, pigs don’t have halters or leashes. They are too big and strong to hold in place, so getting them to cooperate — for just a second — requires luck and remarkable forbearance.

Beckendorf uses a small trough filled with feed and water to lure the pig into the picture frame. Then, just before his sister snaps the photo, he tugs on a rope attached to the trough, dragging it out of view.

“Look here! Look here! Look here!” Farrell called out, peering into her viewfinder and sounding like a baby photographer.

Elvis stood still, but all four legs weren’t showing in the photo.

So Farrell tried again. And again. And again.

“The feet look good,” the photographer announced, looking at the frame. “But the mouth is open.”

Forget it. Good enough, the Williams family agreed.

Farrell sat down, wearily, and waited for the next squealing subject to arrive.

“Do I get impatient? No,” she said, and broke into a smile. “I’ve got a 2-year-old at home.”

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