Invisible banners

We just completed the 10-day stretch known as the Nebraska State Fair and it was quite a fair. While we may not have taken home quite as much “hardware” as we have in the past, it was still considered a success in our book.

Showmanship has always been a big contest for our family—dating back to my years in 4-H. My dad always told us that we couldn’t afford the most expensive livestock to show, but we could always compete and potentially win showmanship because that came down to how hard we were willing to work. From my early years in sheep showmanship, I determined who my main competition was and that’s who I worked hard to beat.

Throughout the years, the trophy went back and forth between the two of us but the lifelong friendship and the head-to-head, winner-take-all attitude we each had when we stepped in the show ring was present every time. The trophies are all packed in a Rubbermaid now and sitting in my parents’ house waiting to be picked up. I was recently informed that after 40-plus years of trophies and banners decorating the walls and filling the shelves, it was time for my five siblings and me to take them to our own homes.

We’ve shared this same philosophy with our girls—work hard and prepare to win. Don’t just show up and hope to win. True, even though you are prepared to win, that doesn’t mean you are going to win but if you don’t prepare it’s a pretty sure bet that you won’t win. It’s also handy to know how to be prepared when you don’t win as well because statistically that’s going to happen even more often and a gracious “non-winner” is a welcome sight.

So they walked the pigs. They walked in the rain, they walked in the heat and sometimes they even walked in the dark, which turned out to be a good training tool because it really helped build trust between the showman and the animal. They rinsed and washed and conditioned and walked and walked and walked. They walked up hills, down hills and around every obstacle they could see. They walked in gates and around cows and even a little too close to the garden a couple times. But walking they did and it showed. The pigs, most of them anyway, were pretty much show ready.

But then it happened. The fair was here and it was time to compete. They walked on the trailer, they walked off the trailer. They walked on the scale and walked to their new homes in pens much like the ones they had at home, belly deep in wood shavings. It seemed that all was well, so far.

Showmanship is always first and it just so happens that you can show the same pig in the show and in showmanship quite a few times at the Nebraska State Fair if you are in the open show, the futurity and either 4-H or FFA. While this is a good opportunity for different judges to evaluate your pigs, being in the same ring so many times can lead to pigs that know where the exit is and like to keep their showmen in close proximity to said gate. And then there is the squealer—the pig that never made a peep through all of the miles of walking decides to let his voice be heard—all through the entire class of senior showmanship. Not really a good way to earn points with the judge.

The girls had some success in showmanship but not quite the “make it to the backdrop” experience they were hoping for. The pigs did respectable in their classes and what we found a little ironic was that in numerous classes, pigs we sold to other kids ended up just one place ahead of ours. I think we’ve determined that we will be changing up our feeding regime a little bit to give us an edge there but at the same time we are super happy for the kids who had success with our pigs.

Despite the fact that there aren’t a lot of state fair awards on the trophy shelf this year, I think the girls earned what we will call some “invisible banners.” First off, they earned the respect and admiration of numerous young showmen that they helped prepare to come to the show. They taught kids about how to train their pigs at home and get them ready. They helped get pigs to the ring and were always giving them younger showmen tips on showing their animals.

They also took home a couple “invisible banners” that we get to share as parents that came about from all the parents and show staff that complimented us on how well the girls did but mostly about how they were always humble and always willing to help others, share their knowledge and truly be great competitors—win or lose. Now those are banners that we will cherish forever and never pack into a Rubbermaid. We don’t raise kids to raise great livestock, we raise livestock to raise great kids! While there’s always more work to do to improve for next time, we will celebrate the victories that we’ve earned.

Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at, or email Trent at [email protected].