Kids’ livestock shows have become an expensive business, Lydia DePillis for The Washington Post said.
Tiffany LaRue, 17, has been unlucky with her pigs this year, DePillis reports. One had its placenta detach, which killed its embryos. One was supposed to have been pregnant when LaRue bought her, but wasn’t. Another, just didn’t take.
LaRue had only one option left if she wanted a pig to show at the West Virginia State Fair this year, so she bought one from the pig farm down the road.
“By that time, it was so late that all we could get were these,” she told DePillis, while pointing at two pigs.
LaRue and her younger brother Levi took care of the pigs as they had been taught in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. They walked them daily to build muscle, bathed them and carefully measured their feed.
LaRue knew they would lose, however, because other kids could search the country for the best hogs, DePillis reported.
LaRue told DePillis that other kids go out of state and spend a lot of money on a pig that can win. She explained that other kids buy their hogs already muscled, so it is easier for them to win. “So all these family-run farms, we have to breed our own, and we try to breed for the muscle, but you can’t always do that, because you have accidents,” LaRue said.
Another competitor, Cody Taylor, shares LaRue’s frustration. The children’s frustration shows how farming has changed, along with junior livestock competitions. In the days of small-scale agriculture, kids could take their best pig, goat, sheep or heifer to the fair as an FFA or 4-H project. Then, the competition was about animal husbandry, and the most skilled kid could win, DePillis reported.
The number of hog operations fell by 70% between 1992 and 2009, which means fewer children have direct access to hogs and must purchase animals to show. This pushes up the cost of participation in these events.
Those who do purchase hogs, instead of raising them, can buy the animals from a number of places. The Vaughan family, LaRue and Taylor's competition, purchased hogs from both McCoy Genetics in Ohio and Travis Platt in Indiana. Both companies boast premium quality show pigs.
Prices on one website, showpig.com, average at around $963, but can get to $8,000, De Pillis reports. Rising hog prices are just one instance of the increasing prices, however. Premium feeds are also costly.
Not all champion pigs are expensive, though, Art Bartenslager told DePillis. His daughter's pig won the competition, and he said they only paid $500 for it.
He said that genes and judge's tastes also contribute to which pig wins. He also said that the kids who don't win might not be putting enough effort into it.
"Are those kids willing to give up going to the movie on Friday night to walk their hog?" he asked.
Some people involved in livestock shows have responded to The Washington Post article saying that those involved in the shows should spend their time educating the public about the importance of livestock shows instead of complaining about their loss. Others say the value lies elsewhere, such as in the friendships the children make and the satisfaction they feel while in the ring.
The responses also detail that the dedication and discipline that it takes to participate in the shows is valuable life experience, regardless of the cost.