Editorial: Technology in the youth swine industry — more than swine for sale

In the youth show pig industry, “passionate” isn’t just a word to describe an action. It’s something that kids who show livestock embody. Stock show kids have the drive and discipline to spend hours a day in the barn preparing their animal for a show. They spend their summers at the wash racks instead of the swimming pool. For them, it’s not about the money spent but the memories made. With the development of the Internet and other communications and social media technology, I believe the show pig industry has only become more rewarding.

Lydia DePillis recently published an article in The Washington Post entitled “Swine for sale: How kids’ livestock shows became a cutthroat (and expensive) business.” This article takes the stance that kids with the most expensive pigs at a hog show always win, making hard work a waste of time.

“While they made valid points, I thought they missed some really important aspects of showing livestock,” said Lexi Marek, communications intern for the National Pork Board and a livestock showman since the age of 5. “They completely missed the friendships, life skills and the values learned, even the memories made. Other families have different hobbies, this is just our hobby.”

Marek wrote a response to The Washington Post article on her agriculture blog, Lexi Marek: The life of a farm girl in a city of students. Her response post was shared on Facebook more than 90 times and had many responses from families that felt DePillis left out all the ways showing livestock contributed to character development. By responding to Marek’s post, youth are able to publicly and unanimously express their support for the industry they love.

In addition to promoting the industry online, stock show kids are now able to buy and sell show animals via online auction sites and through live webcasts from shows across the country. Because of the rise of social media and communications technology, the industry has become more competitive, but it still teaches the same values.

“While I think that the youth livestock industry has always been and will continue to be competitive, I think that the online auction format has added an extra layer of competition that wasn’t there before,” said Megan Wendt, COO and owner of www.showpig.com auction site.

Sites like showpig.com host livestock auctions that provide exhibitors with access to a larger number of animals. According to Wendt, during the spring and fall auction seasons, the site averages 80,000 visitors each month. This allows producers to gain more exposure to a larger audience than ever before. This also enables buyers and exhibitors the chance to connect with a variety of breeders.

“I love being a small part of someone’s story of creating a life based around living their dreams,” Wendt said. “I love hearing stories of families who have taken a road trip a few states away and made a connection with a breeder that they might not have had when purchasing at a live auction event. For those young people, they can be making lifelong connections with leaders in the industry.”

In her article, DePillis stated that those with disposable income could buy a chance at a ribbon, and those who can’t afford it are stuck with the leftovers. Many of the youth she interviewed stated they knew they didn’t have much of a chance and were defeated before they even came to the show. DePillis does make a valid argument that showing pigs is expensive. The dollars that go into the truck, gas, trailer, clothes, food, lodging, time, feed and the animals themselves quickly add up. However, this is only one side of the story.

“The public gets a misperception of why we show,” Marek said. “Yes, winning is fun. Yes, the money is fun, but the kids and families that are getting a lot out of it are the ones that are working hard everyday, that aren’t afraid of defeat, that really are truly doing it to make themselves better people.”

Keith Deitzschold, district supervisor of agriculture education in the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, agreed that youth gain many life lessons from showing in the livestock industry.

“Kids learn sportsmanship as far as winning and losing and how that parallels life,” Deitzschold said. “[They learn] how not everyone is going to be perfectly successful, but you still have that sense of pride in your work.”

Since the development of the Internet, youth have had a greater opportunity to fulfill their goals and dreams in the show ring and in agriculture. With all the lessons learned through these opportunities, youth can be advocates for an industry that has given them so many values.

“There are so many great stories out there waiting to be told,” said Wendt, “and there is an entire industry who needs the wisdom of our youth to help us tell them.”

Auction sites like showpig.com are a growing trend. Last year the Wendts hosted more than 900 online auctions from over 500 breeders nationwide that went to 43 different states. The Internet makes high quality genetics available to more youth than ever before.

“There are really no obstacles to getting an animal that is going to help you accomplish your goals in the ring,“ Wendt said. “Today’s buying options are truly outstanding.”

The response Marek received nationally from her article through email, Facebook, Twitter and in person show that people involved with the show industry put more value in showing than the money they spend. Through sites such as showpig.com and through live webcasted shows and sales, youth have more opportunities to pursue and reach their goals in the show ring.

“We raise pigs to raise kids,” Marek said “That’s how my family lives. We choose to do this.”

Lindsey Robinson

About the Author Lindsey Robinson

Agriculture began to influence me long before my first steps were taken or my first words were spoken. I come from a small, farming community in rural Missouri, and I can’t imagine loving any place more. Growing up on my family’s show pig operation has given me numerous opportunities and led me to the Science and Agricultural Journalism Program. With this major, I cannot only continue writing, but also pursue an emphasis in Animal Science, combining my two loves of livestock and writing. Never writing for a news publication before, I am excited to be a part of the CAFNR Corner Post team. With new experiences, come new possibilities and I am anxious to push my abilities as a writer to new arenas.