It’s the final drive of showmanship. You’ve made it through the first heat, got penned and are now driving past the judge in an effort to win the coveted award.
Halfway through the final drive the judge approaches each exhibitor, asking a question or two that will help determine the final placing. Even if an exhibitor has had a perfect drive and a banner day, the response to questions can keep the showmanship title out of reach or solidify your spot as the best.
Kelton Mason, Montgomery, Texas, manages The Stud, a 200-head crossbred sow operation and a 20 head boar stud dedicated to producing quality show pigs. The Stud has shipped semen to almost every state in the U.S. Additionally, they sell pigs through online and live auctions and via private treaty.
Each year Mason hosts “Be A Stud” showpig showmanship camps and just finished the winter camps in south Texas. He teaches young people how to train their hog to walk, feed properly and about good hair and skin care management. Part of his training is based on showmanship techniques, and he says by the time a young person gets to the point of being asked a question in a showmanship drive, they should feel honored.
“Just to get to the point of being asked questions is a big deal,” he says. “Normally kids might feel like questions are a form of interrogation and it’s not supposed to be that way. They should take it as an honor to get to the point of being asked. You can take confidence that the judge already likes you if he is asking you questions.”
Mason says judges use showmanship questions as a way to communicate and learn more about the young person. Kids who are prepared can answer the questions in a conversational style, which is ideal. Mason says providing comfortable responses shows a level of personality, industry knowledge and makes for a more obvious showmanship winner.
For young, junior division showmen Mason suggests preparing for questions about the pig itself. Most common questions for juniors might be:
- How much does the pig weigh?
- What breed is your pig?
- What do you feed your pig?
- What are your ear notches on this animal?
Mason says preparation for this comes from basic work at home. If a young person is in tune with what’s in their barn then they should be able to answer with ease.
“These questions will not be as specific but will generally allow the judge to surface the kids that know their pig,” he says.
The next group of showman is an intermediate age. The set of questions they should be prepared for are about involvement and can include:
- How do you get ready for a show?
- Who is your support team at home?
- What is the hardest thing to get ready for a show?
Mason says the judge wants to see if the exhibitors take ownership and how involved they are in show ring prep and decision-making.
The senior division kicks up the question and answer session another notch. The questions for this group can include:
- How much protein, lysine or fat is the pig given?
- How much weight has the pig converted per day of age?
- What is the exhibitor’s end point or goal with the pig?
- How does one read the pig’s pedigree?
Mason says to also be prepared for questions about cuts of pork, breed characteristics and evaluation driven questions.
“When you get to seniors they are the most experienced group, which means more industry-based questions,” Mason says. “How should you portray your 4-H and FFA program, how should you portray the swine industry, what problems face the industry and what you think of meat quality of pork versus other meat, these are the questions you need to be prepared for as a senior showman.”
Mason showed pigs as a youth and says he relied on a swine handbook published by a land grant university as a reference for his swine project questions. He suggests finding a resource like this to read and review often, especially prior to a showmanship contest. There are also online publications from the National Swine Registry as well as other credible online swine and pork websites. Many state and national swine shows also offer skill-a-thon events, which would be great to participate in and expand an exhibitor’s overall livestock industry knowledge.
At a market-based show, Mason would expect showmanship questions to be about the weight of the pig, fat thickness and where cuts of meat like pork chops, bacon, Boston butt and picnic shoulder are found on the animal. In a breeding hog show, exhibitors should be more prepared to describe the positive and negative physical attributes of their pigs and be able to discuss the gilt’s pedigree and potential matings.
When an exhibitor comes out of a showmanship class Mason suggests taking a minute to write down the question the judge asked so it can be reviewed before the next show. Being able to answer a question on the spot is important in a showmanship final and having a set of questions and answers to fall back on can help with in-the-moment jitters.
Mason says competition is tough in today’s show ring, which makes the need to be prepared and find a way to stand out even more important. His advice is for kids to not think of showmanship questions as interrogation but rather an honor that the judge is talking with them. If the young person’s presentation is flawless, but so is that of another exhibitor in the ring, then questions are a great way for the judge to make a final placing.
“Normally we sort out the kids we think drive the very best then start asking questions,” he says. “In a larger show I like the person I use to win to not only be talented in the ring but also an ambassador for us in the swine industry. They are the one others will ask and learn from later on, the one the camera goes to and the one who will get interviewed quickly by newspaper. They need to be ambassadors for us.”
Still, the major piece of the showmanship puzzle is how an exhibitor drives their hog in the ring. Mason says driving the pig is the most important thing, but answering questions correctly and with confidence is the final piece of the puzzle.
“Great showman can make an average hog look great,” he says. “A kid that can show a pig is the one I want to be driving our pigs every day. Showmanship questions are what separate them in the finals.”