There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t get asked, “Why do you do what you do?” or ”why are you always talking about show pigs?”
During the 2017 Indiana State Fair barrow grand drive judged by Western Illinois University’s (WIU) Dr. Mark Hoge and Andy Rash, no one could have described livestock showing better and what it means to me and many others. Andy Rash said: “This, livestock showing, is special. It’s not a hobby. I don’t care what you say, it’s not a hobby, it’s a way of life.”
Ever since I was born, I have been around show pigs. In the early 2000s, my dad ran a small show pig operation. Funny story — my dad sold out of the show pig business, and the following year I had the grand idea of joining 4-H and exhibiting pigs.
Some of my greatest memories and greatest friends came from my 10-plus years of exhibiting livestock at all levels of competition, meeting people from different states, and making connections that will last a lifetime and will help me in the near future. My connections and past experiences led me to where I am today.
If it wasn’t for the livestock industry, my passion or my drive, I don’t think I would have ended up in Mattoon at Lake Land College to begin my academic career. Fast forward, I’m a 20-year-old junior at WIU working towards a bachelor’s degree in agriculture business and animal science, member of WIU’s Hoof N’ Horn Club and Livestock Judging Team.
Back home, I co-run a 15-head sow farm raising show pigs alongside one of my greatest friends, Devon Fisher. As my show career has come to an end, I can reflect upon the saying, “You’re never done; your roles just change.” While I begin raising show pigs and finding hogs for families across the Midwest, I can only feel more excited than I ever did exhibiting livestock.
Being behind the sprayer or behind the breeding decision on a champion gilt or barrow is one of the best feelings I have ever felt. Growing up showing pigs, I never showed the best one. I had to learn, work hard and ask questions on how to find the right one and what to feed them. At the beginning of my show career, it was always a team decision within my family on what to buy and what to do with the animal. Now that my time is up, I thoroughly enjoy helping 4-H kids with their projects and being there for them when they need my help.
Part of that is because I never had that certain someone helping me. Assisting these kids is only going to keep making our youth better because one day, when they are in my shoes, they can lead by example and always lend a helping hand as I hope to.
Regardless of what anyone says, everyone in the livestock industry has trade secrets. That is where the non-helping side of the industry comes into effect and an issue today. That is exactly where I want to come into play for the youth and future industry leaders — to make them able to help whoever and whenever.
It doesn’t matter how much money you invest into your 4-H project. The smile that comes from those kids’ faces is what makes it all worth it and why I do what I do. While striving to always raise the best and one day lead the industry that I love, I can only hope I provide a positive impact for youth.
For me, this industry is about more than simply generating profit or raising ones that win, but it is about connecting with families who are hungry for success and making the best better.