Seven morals you learn showing livestock

416 - Swine - WM

During this past weekend’s Little International Livestock Show, I heard several comments while in the stands about the amount of work the showmen put into it the animals for 21 minutes of arena time. The basic content of the conversation was, “What are the benefits for the people who spent a month working on these animals and didn’t place?”
Showing livestock teaches numerous valuable life lessons such as patience, persistence, kindness, leadership, teamwork, integrity, and definitely humility.

Breaking an animal to lead with a halter, getting them to stand properly, and fitting the animal all take an insane amount of work and patience. The show animal is probably stressed and confused at their new life as a show heifer, you’re frustrated at the slow progression of progress, and it is a melt-down waiting to happen. Taking a breath and realizing this will go a long way for your show success if the animal is given time to adjust to new environments and experiences.


Sometimes heifers refuse to get their ears clipped. Sheep try to leap off the stands instead of standing nicely to be shorn. What is a showman to do? Patience plays in here again, and they try again, or find creative ways to get the job done. This year my Little “I” heifer hated anything even touching her head, and would go into a full-on temper tantrum if the clippers came near her. It may have been the worst clip job done on her ears and face, but with a slow clipper speed and a different environment it eventually got completed.


Knowing basic animal behavior and what causes a negative reaction in your animal will help you treat your animal kindly. Separating your sheep from the flock and not allowing it to see or hear the other sheep could cause your animal to panic, since sheep are instinctively gregarious herd animals. Trying your best to keep your sheep calm and relaxed will help with clipping and showing, and by working with the animal in its comfort level is showing kindness. Sure, it may be easier to snag a stand and shearers when every other sheep is in the arena, but is messing up your clip job due to a panicky worth the extra 15 minutes of stand time? Kindness to your animal is pretty much kindness to your sanity. By working with what the animal needs most, it will be willing, relaxed, and easier to work with.


At Little International, you have the ability to show in two categories; Novice and open class. There are novice showman who have often time never handled their specific species of animal, and if you have experience with them stepping up and offering some advice or catching a loose heifer is an opportunity to lead. Spotting the level of a topline in the early morning hours not only helps the showman, but also hones a critical eye to apply to your own animal. Seeing a mess of hair that was left in the chute by the person before you and taking it upon yourself to clean it up is leading by example. It might not have been yours, however cleaning it up shows respect and care for the barn workers and the person who will use it after you.


One of the most challenging time of preparing for Little “I” is that first night out at the barn where it is complete chaos of trying to read ear tags, herd the heifers into the barn, and halter for the first time. The showman are trying to catch their own heifer as a first priority, and then will continue to help others to catch theirs long into the evening. Team work is more than just corralling animals. It is bringing food or coffee on late nights for friends, double checking why a clipper is making a grinding sound, or sharing show sheen right before you walk into the arena. Each species will attest to the fact that by the end of the show, everyone has turned into a family and works as a team. Old friendships are strengthened, and new friendships are developed.


Ethics play a massive role in every show circuit. Little International has an entire ethics committee dedicated to the safety and integrity of the show and animals. Keeping animals eating the correct diets without treats or encouragement keeps it fair. Baiting a pig to walk by treating marshmallows is a trick used by numerous showmen. During Little I however, treats are not allowed to keep integrity and animal health as the top concern. Injections, being overly-rough with your show animal, or having any help fitting your animal. The pride of knowing that you won entirely by yourself without outside help is a great feeling. Integrity can be a fleeting moral, however in the show circuit it is alive and well.


After the numerous hours you spend working on your animal, fitting, training, bathing, clipping, they could still misbehave on the show day. Your heifer may take off running and drag you around the ring. She might lay down during the show and refuse to stand up. A great part of working with animals, is that they will always keep you humble. Even if you have the most perfectly behaved pig during training, someone outside of the arena may rustle some papers and startle it, resulting in the contestant not placing. A topline may be pristinely perfect to the showman’s eye, but the judge will see unblended hair and drop them a placing.

Showing livestock isn’t a waste of time. Even if you only walk around that ring for 21 minutes, you learned skills and morals during the fitting process. You get out what you put in, so make sure to always give it your all in everything you do.

92nd Little I

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