Spoiler alert: This blog will be upfront and honest about my thoughts and feelings concerning 4-H livestock shows and, more specifically, showmanship contests.

I had the extreme privilege growing up of showing swine throughout my 10 years in 4-H, and I showed sheep for the last two years.

Although I never won grand champion barrow or market lamb, what I really looked forward to the most was the showmanship competitions, where the judge is not evaluating which pig is the most muscular in the show ring or walks the soundest, but the judge is looking for the one outstanding 4-H member who knows how to properly handle their animal.

Normally, this individual will know how to drive their pig around the show ring, leaving the proper distance between themselves and the judge and answering questions about their respective animal that the judge may choose to ask.

Unfortunately, even during my last couple of years in 4-H, it started to become evident that the better showmen in the senior and intermediate divisions were not placing or making the cut to show for division or overall supreme showmen because they didn’t have the right last name or didn’t purchase their animal from the judge’s line of show livestock.

I want it to be clear that I’m not saying this always is the case — because it’s not – but, sadly, it’s becoming more evident at the various shows I attend.

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet some amazing 4-H members in northern Indiana and watch them show their pigs. Because of timing and the travel from where I live, I did not get there in time for the showmanship contest, but as I was watching one of the boys show, I was instantly impressed with his amount of raw talent and ability to move his animal around the ring.

I was talking with his mom and asked her how he placed and truly was stunned when she replied that he didn’t even place. In fact, it turns out that the judge was barely even giving a look to the exhibitors who chose to use PVC pipes to drive their pigs instead of a pig whip — and her son had used a pipe.

There was one other time I saw this happen, and it was when I participated in showmanship open class several years ago. Although the judge never gave a really good reason why he preferred those using whips, I eventually switched because PVC pipes always would slip in my hand from sweating.

However, that does not mean the judge should automatically decide that an exhibitor is not going to win because they don’t show with one of the big, fancy whips that individuals participating in the junior swine show circuit use.

They could be discounting the 4-H member who spent every day of his or her summer getting up at 6 a.m. to feed and work with their hog to beat the heat of the day and then doing the same thing at 9 p.m. in the evening, but they show with a pipe, because either they don’t want to spend the money on a whip or they just prefer the way their animal handles better with a pipe.

In fact, some 4-H members get their pig trained so well that their driving tool is just there so the hog can see it, but they don’t actually have to use it.

For these reasons, this is why I believe — and have for a long time — that the showmanship judge and the judge of the actual pig show need to be separate.

Now, I realize that it’s hard to find quality judges that know how to evaluate livestock, but 4-H is all about making the members better. How is showing them that if you don’t buy the right driving tool or purchase your animal from a big breeder that one won’t win showmanship a good message?

In fact, I would volunteer to go to any county and judge their 4-H swine showmanship contest, and the only thing I would charge is a tank of gas – and I probably wouldn’t even do that.

Some people may think that’s crazy and I am out of my mind, but I truly believe in 4-H and especially like encouraging any member that wants to show livestock.

They are the future of the agriculture industry and our country. The only way to guarantee a successful future for both is to instill it in our youth.