“Lucky, nothing,” I said. “Those awards represent hard work.” The Fair is fair; hard work pays off.
The 2017 Weber County Fair was fair; fairly fun, fairly successful, fairly intense.
This year’s show animals presented a new challenge for us. Rather than worrying about making weight—lambs must weigh at least 105 lbs. and hogs a minimum of 220 in order to compete—this summer we worked to keep the animals’ weight down. While there are no maximum weight constraints for show animals, animals that are too heavy do not show well. They are classified as “over finished” and they finish at the bottom of their competitive classes.
The FFA advisors were at our place bi-weekly weighing the animals. We adjusted their diets and exercise routines accordingly. At one point Miles’ pig was put on a beet pulp and oats diet (high in fiber to fill her belly but low in fat and protein to slow down her weight gain) and Grace began running her lamb, up to 2 miles a day. They worked hard this summer to prepare their animals for the Fair.
And the hard work paid off. On Tuesday of Fair week Miles’ hog weighed 287 lbs. and Grace’s lamb weighed in at 167 lbs.; both were on the heavy end of their respective cohorts but neither’s weight was excessive.
There were 16 classes in the hog show with the lightest hogs in the first class and the heaviest hogs in class 16. Miles showed his hog in class 14. Time after time, as the judge gave his reasoning for placing certain hogs above others, he cited “flexibility” and “agility” as positive traits and “stiffness” and “rigidity of movement” as reasons for lower placings.
I began preparing Miles to receive a red ribbon. (NOTE: Fair animals are judged using the Danish system where blue ribbons are given to animals judged to be of excellent quality, red ribbons given to animals that are average and white ribbons signify poor quality. Typically, in a class of hogs, the top 7-9 will earn blue ribbons and the rest will get red ribbons.) We nicknamed Miles’ hog Sumo because she looked like a sumo wrestler. She was extremely broad and well-muscled across her chest and through her thighs, like a sumo wrestler. She walked like a sumo wrestler too….and sumo wrestlers aren’t known for their agile, fluid movements.
Miles did a great job showing Sumo in the ring. He’d been coached to show the judge Sumo’s front and back view, as those were her strong points, and to avoid displaying her side. He did such a good job with his assigned task that the judge had to ask Miles to let him see a side view. The purpose of showmanship is to display an animal’s best qualities and it really does make a difference in how well an animal does in the show ring…..but it is hard to make a sumo wrestler look like a ballerina no matter how good a showman one is….
In the market classes, the first hog penned is the hog that places last in the class. Sumo was not the first hog penned. Nor was she the second….or third…. Much to my surprise (and joy) she was one of the last two left in the ring. In fact she placed first in her class and advanced to the division finals where she was named Heavy Weight Division Champion. She ended up placing 4th overall; 4th of 170 hogs at the Weber County Fair. It is the highest a Hislop hog has ever placed and Miles was ecstatic. Hard work paid off.
Hard work paid off in the showmanship competition as well. In the morning the judge evaluates the animals, in the afternoon he evaluates the kids’ ability to show the animals. Showmanship is a team effort and Miles worked hard to make Sumo his teammate. They spent up to 30 minutes a day ambling up, down, and around our pasture. Sumo had a sweet personality and got to the point where she would walk docilely wherever he directed. As a result, they were selected to compete in the championship showmanship class where Miles was recognized as an elite showman and placed 6th in his age group (grades 6-9).
There were thirteen market lamb classes and Grace’s lamb was in class 13. Heavy weight again. The lamb placed third in its class and earned a blue ribbon. Grace earned praise from Mr. Smalley, her FFA advisor. “There is no way that lamb would have placed as high as it did,” he told her, “if you had not worked so hard with it.”
She did work hard with it. In addition to jogging with it (some people run their dogs….others run their lambs…) she trained it to flex. As anyone knows who has ever felt a taunt muscle, flexed muscles feel firmer. In lambs, a firm feel means more muscle and more muscle means more meat which means a higher placing in the market lamb class therefore teaching one’s lamb to flex is a good thing. Grace taught her lamb to push back when she pushed against it. Pushing caused flexing and flexing caused firmness. Whenever the judged touched her lamb (market lambs are largely judged by how they feel), it felt as hard as a rock. She also made her lamb a teammate. Using only one hand under its chin to guide it, could lead it anywhere she wanted to go.
My Grace is a fierce competitor and a gifted showman. Watching her in the show ring is inspiring…and intense. Very, very intense. For almost 45 minutes I could hardly breathe as I watched her compete. Dead silence in the show ring. Animals and showman operating as one. Fiercely focused. Ardent. She was worried that she would not make it into the championship round because there were three experienced, polished showman in her qualifying class. Not to worry. She advanced handily to the championship round, was singled out as one of the elite showman at the fair, and ended up placing in the top 10 overall. “I love showing animals,” she said. “I love it.”
The 2017 Weber County Fair was a wonderful experience for us. Ribbons, honors, awards…. Some would say we were lucky. We were blessed—very blessed—it is true. But it is also true that the Fair is fair. Hard work works.
NOTE: We want to give a huge SHOUT OUT to those who helped make our fair experience so outstanding. Thank you to the FFA advisors--Ray Smalley, Cheyenne Reid, Cody Zesiger-- and to our 4-H leader--Joe Giordano--for the their countless hours of help and countless words of encouragement. Thank you to Brian and Terri Douglass (Weber County hog supervisors) for their words of hog wisdom. And a huge thank you to Les Schwab Tire of Roy for buying Miles' hog and Grace's lamb at the auction and to Weber County Farm Bureau for buying Miles' ;lamb. And thank you, thank you, thank you to Gary and Elayne Sorenson, Stan and Joyce Brown, and to all the rest of you who so generously supported the kids with monetary boosts. (We won't know who you are until they send the boost checks in October...)