So you have decided to take your pig to a show but now it all seems a bit daunting… Here’s a quick guide to getting started in the ring.
The basics of showing pigs
Most shows will only accept registered, pedigree pigs which are properly identified to British Pig Association standards (or other recognized breed club). This is normally an ear tag and either a tattoo in light coloured pigs or ear notches in the case of dark coloured breeds.
When choosing possible show pigs, it’s essential to read the breed standard for your particular breed. This lists the points that the judge will be looking for; size, coat and markings, body shape, confirmation and of course the all important underline (the placement and uniformity of the teats). All pigs sold as registered breeding pigs should meet this criteria, otherwise they really shouldn’t have been registered.
A calm pig makes for a much easier time in the show ring, for this reason it might be easier to start with an older pig, but even young pigs can be trained quite easily given enough time and practice.
Make sure you have proper transport to take your pigs to the show: a livestock trailer is really the only option for anything other than newly weaned pigs.
You may want to think about setting up an isolation pen on your holding, this can be a SGRPID approved pen to allow for shorter standstills during the show season, or just a separate pen for your own use. Although only pigs which are in good condition and the best of health should be shown, it’s always wise to isolate your pig(s) on returning from shows just in case they have picked anything up while at the show.
Ensure all vaccinations are up to date; discuss this with your vet if you’re unsure which vaccines your pigs might need.
Order your white coat and make sure you have a pig board and pig stick. Boards and sticks can be homemade, or purchased from breed societies and smallholder supply companies.
And lastly – make a copy of your entry form (so you remember who was entered and in which class) and ensure that the original is sent off in plenty of time to guarantee you meet the deadline.
Getting started with pig training
You should give yourself and your pig plenty of time to prepare for the show ring, ideally training from a young age or at least 6-8 weeks before the show.
Construct a makeshift ring at home (using hurdles or a corner of a field) and practice walking your pig round in a clockwise direction using the board to block their field of vision and the stick to move them forward.
You should not hit your pig with the stick. Instead use it with light, regular pats to keep the pig moving. You should position yourself between the edge of the ring and your pig, with your board to the side nearest the ring, this allows the judge to see your pig clearly as you move round the ring.
Practice for 20-30 minutes as often as you can in the weeks running up to show day, the more you do it the easier it becomes. It’s worth mentioning that if your pig gets used to only walking for 5 minutes at a time when practicing then that is what they will do on show day, before causing all sorts of mischief in the ring!
Get your pig used to being washed and brushed, not only will they enjoy it and it will help you to build a good bond with your pig, but it will improve the condition of their skin and coat.
Regular applications of pig or baby oil will ensure they shine in the show ring – though be careful on hot or sunny days that they don’t burn. Don’t forget to clean their ears and trotters too. Many pig keepers bring their show stock into a smaller pen or onto concrete in the run up to show season, this allows you to keep them much cleaner, work with them more easily and gain a little extra body condition.
What to take
To minimise the stress on the day use this checklist of kit to make sure you’ve got everything ready in plenty of time:
- A kit box for all your bits and pieces, this saves you forgetting anything and provides a handy seat for worn out show legs.
- First aid kit (for humans and animals).
- Troughs for pig food and water, pig food and a bucket for collecting water.
- You may need to provide your own straw – check the show guidelines.
- Wash and brush up kit for the pigs and wellies and waterproofs for you to wear while washing them.
- Shovel/brush for cleaning your pig pen – there’s nothing worse than having a perfectly clean pig who decides to roll in something smelly!
- Small tool kit for running repairs.
- Promotional information, business cards, breed information (if displaying).
- White show coat, pig board and stick. Bulldog clips for attaching your exhibitor number to your coat.
Preparing for the journey
Check your trailer well in advance to make sure it’s roadworthy and safe for your pigs, especially if it’s not been used for a while.
Ensure you have completed your movement form and take a copy with you to the showground.
On arrival at the show you’ll be directed to the pig pens for unloading. Find the chief steward before unloading your pigs, they will need to check over your paperwork, ensure your pig is fit and well and show you to your allocated pens.
Aim to arrive early to give yourself and your pig(s) time to settle before the classes commence.
There will be a class order posted in the pig area, check what time your class is due to start. There may be delays in the running order, but be patient and keep your ears open so you don’t miss your chance.
Exhibitors should always be well turned out with white coats and smart appearance. Standard show wear usually includes a shirt and tie and flat black boots. Wellies or high heeled shoes are not appropriate, nor helpful if you have to run after a wayward pig.
When you get into the ring give your pig a moment or two to get acclimatised to the new surroundings, it may stand rooted to the spot, empty its’ bladder or take off running – whatever happens stay calm and don’t panic, just keep calm and carry on. You won’t be the first person to have this happen and you certainly won’t be the last – but pigs wouldn’t be pigs if they didn’t keep us on our toes.
Observe the judge so you know when he is looking at your pig and this gives you the best chance to show it off. If you’re asked to stop your pig, placing the board directly in front of its’ snout usually does the trick and be prepared to answer questions about the pig; date of birth, bloodlines, breeding history etc.
Try to avoid walking in front of other exhibitors when the judge is looking at their pigs (it’s bad etiquette) and be polite to the stewards, judge and other competitors.
And lastly, try to relax and enjoy it! Pig keepers are a friendly bunch and showing your pigs is a great way to meet new people, attract potential customers and gives you the chance to show off the very best of your stock. If this is your first show and you only know a few people there it is advisable to seek out the show steward and speak to them, s/he will then look out for you and guide you through the day.