Lee Pitts: A change in the air
“Give me a pig. He just looks you in the eye and treats you like an equal.” – Winston Churchill
If the smell and the small talk I heard in the barn at our fair this summer are any indication, there’s been a change in 4H and the FFA since I showed livestock. Instead of the smell of shoe polish, hair spray and previously been chewed alfalfa, there was something distinctly swine-ish in the air. The fairgrounds were a giant teeming mass of pork as 400 show pigs hogged the limelight and sucked all the air out of the place.
Lambs were king in my day. You started out with a lamb and if you fed it semi-regularly, cleaned its pen occasionally, and qualified for the auction, and IF your mom, ag teacher and the bank gave their approval, you moved up to a show steer. Lambs were nothing more than steers with training wheels; tutorials for the steer leagues. But at my county fair this year there were more corn dog vendors than steers and what few lambs were in attendance were getting bowled over by runaway hogs. When the local newspaper ran the compulsory 4H kid laying next to his or her animal the cute little tyke was laying in shavings next to a blue-butted pig, instead of a steer.
When I was a kid the animal you showed was determined by what species you felt a particular kinship with. But today’s kids are much more practical and the decision is based solely on economics. Which animal can they show which will require the least amount of work with the biggest pay day at the auction? That’s a no-brainer: it’s the pig, which explains the smell in the livestock barn at the fair.
Hipster steer jocks, like myself, back in the ’60s thought that the relatively few kids who showed pigs either had something genetically wrong with them, or their parents owned a pig farm. If you smelled like hogs and walked with a cane you were an outcast from 4H and FFA high society. You were a boar, pardon the pun, and, more than likely, you were held back a year in school. Evidently that’s no longer the case if the conversation I overheard at the fair is any indication.
“Next year, I’m gonna show another hog,” said a newly minted 10-year-old pork tycoon laying next to his hog in its pen the day after the auction.
“No Harley, no,” said his swineaphobic steer buddy Steve. “Don’t go over to the dark side again. You know the only good purpose for a hog at a fair is for racing.”
Sounding like he’d performed a cost/benefit analysis on his smart phone, Harley countered, “No Billy, if you tried one I think you’d find that pigs are far superior to sheep and steers in terms of return on investment, hours worked and labor required.”
“But I don’t like hogs,” countered Steve. “They stink.”
“No Stevie boy, that’s the smell of money. Hogs are a strategic asset that requires a minimum outlay of capital with a windfall when the project is terminated.”
“But hogs aren’t cool like steers are. Girls dig guys who show steers and they think hog showmen are a bunch of dweebs. Hogs have zero ‘cool factor.'”
“I don’t care what girls think, this is business,” proclaimed the hard-nosed 10 year old. “The fact is, steers are more dangerous than hogs and I’m not getting killed for a measly two Benjamins per pound. And consider your social life. With a steer you are out of circulation for what, six months? You could go through high school without a date at that rate. With a hog it’s 90 days and you are back in the game. And let’s talk practicalities. With a steer or lamb you have to get up early to feed them, whereas hogs feed themselves. You have to exercise your lamb or steer and practice showing it, but with hogs you can fake it. I’m living proof. There’s also less emotional attachment with a hog. There’s no sobbing at sale time. If you make the switch Stevie, my man, the only tears you’ll shed come auction time will be tears of joy. You’ll crying all the way to the bank,” said the future CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
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