Virtual Pig Shows Provide Unexpected Opportunities

( The American )

Although no experience can match what it feels like to step into the show ring, exhibitors of The American say their first virtual hog show was one they’ll never forget. 

More than $28,000 in premiums were awarded on April 19 to deserving exhibitors over a Facebook Live “grand drive.” The organizers behind this inaugural event never imagined this show would attract 1,260 entries from 38 states. It shows just how excited people are for virtual show opportunities, says Kaley Bontrager, Virtual Stock Show and Next Level Livestock Camps chief operating officer.

“Although we can’t wait to get back to actual shows, I think that virtual shows provide an opportunity for kids from coast to coast to exhibit their animals against folks that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to before,” Bontrager says. 

When Cassidy Hayes of Port Lavaca, Texas, was asked to judge the gilt division of this virtual show, he says the first thought he had was “it’s a shame that it’s come to this.” However, he says his next thought was if this is what it takes to allow kids to have their animals evaluated and to keep everyone’s enthusiasm up about stock shows, he’s all about it.

A Different “Show” Experience

Hunter Logue, 17, of Liberty, Ind., has been working with his pigs at home this spring in hopes that he will be able to show them in the Indiana Junior Swine Circuit shows in May and June. But he’s not holding his breath.

When the information was released about The Amercan virtual pig show, he says he jumped at the chance. The process was fairly simple – register online and upload a video for each entry. Then, wait for the results to be shared during a Facebook live event. 

“I am very competitive, so I want things to be as close to perfect every time,” says Micah Malcolm, a 20-year-old from Garrett, Ind., who has been showing since he was 4 years old. “My Yorkshire barrow took two very good videos before I said, ‘Let’s video him one more time.’ I ended up using that third video on him to send in.”

That extra effort paid off when Malcolm’s Champion Yorkshire was later named Reserve Grand Champion Barrow Overall.

Barrow show judge Todd Beyers of Abernathy, Texas, says it felt odd to not be able to interact with the kids in the ring, but he enjoyed watching the kids interact with their parents and seeing the big smiles. 

“You could tell the parents and kids were enjoying it – maybe more than an actual show at times because there was less stress,” Beyers says.

Judging From Your Computer

Although he walked fewer miles sorting the 690 barrows online than he would have in a show ring, Beyers says it was much more tiring than he imagined. 

“I’ve been fortunate to judge some shows with larger numbers than this,” he explains. “But sitting in a chair and staying focused while watching hundreds of videos was truthfully a little draining.”

However, he says it was a lot of fun and was surprised at how easy it was to use the platform to judge the pigs. He said the entire process took him two long days of judging. The classes were sorted into about 5 to 7 pigs per class to make it easier to process in a video format. 

“It was no different than judging a live show, a rhythm was found after a few classes and it was easy to find a pace,” Hayes says. “I made sure I went through every video before I went back and began placing.”

The experience opened Beyers’ eyes to the number of different production environments out there. Some kids videotaped their pigs in their backyard, their driveway, basketball courts and even walking up the side of a mountain, he says.

“It was an extremely high-quality set. It was amazing to see the differences essentially from one side of the country to the other and everywhere in between of how people raise their pigs,” Beyers says. 

Micah Malcolm's video of his reserve grand champion barrow in The American.

Will Virtual Shows Replace Live Shows?

Logue says he appreciates being able to participate in virtual shows as a substitute under the circumstances, but he doesn’t think it could ever replace showing in real life. Trying to get the best video was not the same as working alongside his family and friends at the shows, he explains.

Even though he was excited when his name was called out in the Facebook live event for exhibiting the fifth overall gilt with his Champion Yorkshire, he says he is still hopeful the shows will be able to take place this summer.

“I don’t think you can replicate that environment of being at a show online – the interaction with people being there to see those animals and the feelings you have in the ring as a judge. For everyone involved at a show, there’s a whole range of emotion taking place – excitement and adrenaline that goes through you while show is going on. That same feel is not there online,” Beyers says.

Can it be done? Yes, but he believes youth exhibitors would miss out on many of the valuable benefits a livestock project provides. 

“I personally would say showing in a real-life show is better because you get to interact with other showmen, family and friends. That’s what it’s all about,” Malcolm says. 

Gavin Sinclair, a 13-year-old from Danville, Ind., agrees. He exhibited the fourth overall barrow.

“No question – real life showing is best,” Sinclair says. “It is more intense, and you don’t have that same feeling when you are showing to your dad on video. We miss out on the best part of the show by not getting to be with friends.”

However, Sinclair says the virtual shows have given him something to work for beyond just his routine chores at home. It also makes him grateful to be a country kid with a barn full of animals to care for during this time.

A Long Time Coming

Over the years, Bontrager says she’s had a few people pitch the idea of a virtual show to her. It wasn’t until she realized that Next Level Livestock Camps were going to be put on hold due to COVID-19 that she took that idea seriously. 

“Jeff Maynard, CEO of Next Level Livestock Camps and Virtual Stock Show, and I realized we were going to have some free time on our hands. It’s county fair season in Arizona, so we were seeing firsthand how these young showmen were being affected by the shutdown and wanted to do something about it,” Bontrager says.

Although there are a handful of other virtual stock show platforms, Bontrager wanted to focus on creating new opportunities for youth exhibitors 21 and younger for the national jackpots, and 4-H/FFA members that are dealing with their upcoming events being cancelled. And with Bontrager and Maynard’s previous experience coordinating national livestock shows, they had a great foundation to bring this to life.

For example, Virtual Stock Show hosted the first all virtual county fair and auction in the country for Pinal County Fair in Arizona earlier this year. The county fair used the Virtual Stock Show platform to show pigs, dairy calves, sheep, market goats and cattle. Bontrager says they also have a large number of shows coming up that will also include small animals and non-livestock 4-H projects. 

“I think there will never be a true replacement for a live show,” she says. “However, I hope that folks can walk away from this experience with a positive attitude knowing that they were still able to exhibit the animals they’ve worked so hard to get ready. Whether their show season is ending or just beginning, everyone is affected by this shutdown and we just hope that folks can look forward to these events while they wait to hear what might happen with their upcoming shows.” 

The American Announces Top Winners

More than $28,000 in premiums and prizes were awarded to exhibitors in The American, the nation’s first-ever virtual livestock show. The top winners from the barrow show and gilt show follow:

Grand Champion Barrow: Kade Jackson, Lathrop, MO
Reserve Grand Champion Barrow: Micah Malcolm, Garrett, IN
Third Overall Barrow: Meghan Weinrich, Willows, CA
Fourth Overall Barrow: Gavin Sinclair, Danville, IN
Fifth Overall Barrow: Kyanna Lankton, Leroy, KS

Grand Champion Gilt: Kailey Smith, Verona, IL
Reserve Grand Champion Gilt: Brody Everhart, Middletown, IN
Third Overall Gilt: Sam Janssen, Wellsburg, IA
Fourth Overall Gilt: Bryleigh Beyers, Abernathy, TX
Fifth Overall Gilt: Hunter Logue, Liberty, IN

Results of breed and crossbred division champions and reserves can be found here.

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