Showing pigs isn’t all about bringing home the bacon

02/06/2014 4:58 PM

11/12/2014 3:51 PM

Lexi Villarreal wasn’t thinking about what last year’s grand champion barrow sold for as she gripped the class champion’s ribbon her Duroc earned Thursday.

Madeline Baker, whose Duroc took reserve champion in the same event, didn’t know, either. Both girls said that money isn’t the motivator when they raise pigs for competitions like the Fort Worth Stock Show.

“It’s the excitement,” said Villarreal, 14, of O’Donnell. “It’s fun to raise pigs and it’s exciting when you win.”

Baker, 13, of Stanton, said pretty much the same thing.

“When I raise a pig, I’m not thinking about the dollars; I’m thinking about showing,” Baker said. “I’m into the glory, like when I got grand champion at the State Fair in 2011.”

Both girls’ eyebrows did rise a bit, however, when they were told that last year’s grand champion barrow went for $55,000 in the annual Sale of Champions.

That gave Villarreal and Baker something to think about when their pigs are being judged against the other winners that advanced to Friday’s final round of the two-day Junior Barrow Show.

The man who decides which pigs — out of the 1,200 or so exhibited — are championship quality, Jayme Sieren, said he looks at the porkers from inside out.

“They need a completely sound structure; feet and legs look comfortable, the angles correct in the skeleton,” said Sieren, 47, who’s from a pig-raising family and has bred show pigs for 25 years. “I mentally look at them with no meat on them.”

Once those skeletal details are set in his mind, Sieren begins to quantify the pigs’ muscle mass.

“The final thing is a total balance or attractiveness,” Sieren said. “They are attractive. That’s why we call them show pigs.”

Good show pigs can lead to college scholarships, said Villarreal.

But one of the greatest draws of raising swine is that they become a knot that holds a family together, Sieren said.

“They are a way of life,” Sieren said. “They’re tools to grow our kids into future leaders, teach them responsibility and a work ethic. And they give us family time.”

Sieren’s father, Dennis, said the family has always been in it for a way of living. The 77-year-old Sieren patriarch came with his son from their farm in Keota, Iowa.

“They’re nice to look at and nice to work with,” Dennis Sieren said.

Showing pigs is a family affair for most of the kids in the Junior Barrow Show, said Ron Rawdon, one of eight Stock Show swine superintendents.

“Moms and dads, sisters and brothers, they’re all here,” Rawdon said. “There are few things like that these days. This is for kids to learn how to show and compete. It also teaches them some facts of life, like how to deal not only with losing a competition, but losing something that you get close to.”

After so many years of such lessons, most exhibitors learn to separate themselves emotionally from their projects. Shelby Bradshaw, 17, with the Paradise High School FFA, said she started showing pigs when she was 5 years old, and cried the first few times she had to sell them.

On Thursday, Bradshaw was tending to a Chester barrow whose name was simply No. 3 of 12.

“Selling them hasn’t bothered me since the third grade,” Bradshaw said.

But like many others who raise show pigs, Bradshaw is grateful to them for bringing her family together. Her stepsisters, Lauryn and Lyndi Luttrull, 13 and 15, respectively, also show pigs.

“It’s something we can do together,” Bradshaw said. “We all have so many other activities that take us other directions, we probably wouldn’t be as close without them.”

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