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Irons in the fire: Out-of-town king

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 29 August 2018

Most summers, I am blessed, or cursed, with the opportunity to judge some county fair youth livestock shows. I don’t suppose I am any smarter than the average know-it-all parent who leans on the fence and distracts his 10-year-old during the junior showmanship class, but word got out several years ago I can talk a good line of B.S. and take abuse.

Hence, I get a call or two every year. Every now and again, I’ll even get asked to come back a second or third time. It probably depends on how well the chairman of the livestock committee’s kid fared in the show.

I got a call in June from the 4-H office in an eastern Idaho county to judge the hog show at one of their two fairs in August. Since it was so close to fair time, I naturally assumed they were looking to the end of the bench to see who might still be available to judge.

The first stringers usually get the call in January. Regardless of my social position on the livestock judging totem pole, I was happy to oblige. There’s a good back story here concerning the last time I was asked to judge the steers and hogs at this same fair a few years ago.

I ended up at the wrong fair, in the wrong county, and was subsequently nearly two hours late when I finally made it to the right show. So I figured I had some penance to pay. Of course I agreed to judge the show. Even if I had to make the 400-mile round trip on just three hours of sleep from the previous night, I was determined to make it there and make it there on time – which I did, with 30 minutes to spare.

The first class was a senior FFA showmanship class. A dozen blue corduroy jacket-clad teenagers sauntered into the ring, most of them more following a pig than showing it. During the course of the class, I approached each participant with one of several fairly simple questions. Things like: Where is the loin on your gilt? Where is the hock? What is the first line of the FFA creed? What is the FFA motto?

The closest thing to a right answer I got was when a lanky, shaggy-haired 16-year-old kid, in true George Costanza-like fashion and hoping to land a lucky punch, mumbled something and vaguely pointed to his pig’s back in response to my question as to where the loin was located.

When I asked the participants to individually take their pigs to one end of the ring, I may as well have asked them to rope a cat. The success rate would have been the same. After I asked them to leave their hogs with the ring stewards and meet me in the middle of the ring for some instruction and a good-natured scolding, a couple of the kids, upon returning to their animals, started showing the wrong pigs. It was that kind of a class.

The kids seemed to me to be good, honest, hard-working farm kids, just like you’d find at any one of the thousands of county fairs taking place that same week at locations all across the country. But they’d lost their focus somewhere along the line.

And the loss of focus wasn’t on show day. It wasn’t as if they were completely apathetic to the task at hand. This day was, after all, the culmination of a months-long project. It was apparent the loss of focus was in the days and weeks prior to show day, the pinnacle of the project.

I used my position as king of the barn for a couple of hours to pontificate my opinion. (Despite my lack of royal lineage or regal appearance, my word, as judge, was final. So, in that regard, I was the king.

Plus, I was not a local. Nobody here knew any better.) I opined that each one of the 100 or so days of the project, though not as visible or glamorous, was just as important as show day or sale day, and that if they had considered that to be so, they would have been more prepared and successful at the show.

Hours later, after the crowning of the grand champion, as I ate lunch in the 98ºF heat at the First Community Church booth, adjacent to the tin quonset hut that served as the art building, I pondered my preaching.

It all sounded good, and I believed it – but I realized I rarely lived it, which revelation brought me to another realization. There’s good reason you hire a judge from out of town. end mark

Paul Marchant
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