Finding a show
Show schedules, which include lists of classes and entry forms, start dropping through letterboxes from about March – even though the actual shows may be during the summer. Many of the big shows have extremely early closing dates, so if you have a particular show in mind, check with the organisers now and make sure you get a schedule sent to you.
The vast majority of shows are for pedigree stock only, though smaller, local shows may have non-pedigree and novelty classes. The most prestigious shows are those with ‘royal’ or ‘county’ (or both) in the title and are often accredited by the British Pig Association (BPA). Anyone can enter a pig as long as it is registered as pedigree, owned by the exhibitor, and the exhibitor is a member of the BPA.
Each pig must be tagged with your herd number and also tattooed with your herd designation letters (HDL) and the pig’s individual number. Without this secondary ID, you could be banned from competing. Whilst double-tagging is fine for pedigree registration, BPA shows still insist on a permanent form of ID. Make sure that the numbers on your pigs match the numbers on your entry form.
Bear in mind that shows can be risky places for pigs, so make sure yours have their vaccinations up to date, particularly erysipelas. When they get back from a show, keep them apart from the rest of the herd until you are satisfied they are disease-free.
Showing can be time-consuming, so make sure you can be there each day. You will normally be expected to get your pigs on site the afternoon prior to the show or very early on the day, so check the arrival times. You will also be expected to be on hand to feed and water your pigs day and night – or arrange for another exhibitor to do so. No-one minds doing this, and you only have to ask.
Anyone transporting livestock more than 65km (40 miles) – or on a journey which lasts more than eight hours – needs to have a certificate of competence. You have to sit a test which involves a series of multiple-choice questions regarding the health and welfare of the relevant species. Shows are starting to check these certificates on arrival, so remember to take yours with you.
What to show?
Serious show-goers organise their breeding programmes to produce stock to suit the various age classes. The key “red letter days” in the pig breeding calendar are January 1, July 1, and September 1. Entry forms will specify classes for young pigs born on or after these dates (though not all shows have a September class).
So if, for instance, you had a gilt or a boar born in March 2011, it could be shown in the class for pigs born on or after January 1, 2011. You have to bear in mind, however, that your pig will be up against those born in January, and which will therefore, be older and bigger. With some judges – but not all – size matters.
This is why breeders aim to have a litter early in the specified month, and work backwards to the day their females need to be served – e.g. September 8 for a January 1 litter, March 8 for July 1, or May 9 for September 1. There will also be classes for older sows and older boars. There may be a pairs class (either same sex or opposite sex), and occasionally a ‘progeny’ class, which is a group of three, all related (e.g. the same sire or dam).
If you need help with selecting stock for showing, contact your breed society and see if a local breeder can help.
Most shows will have classes for boars born after July the previous year, but don’t consider showing a boar this age unless you are sufficiently experienced. A mature boar can appear as meek as a lamb at home, with his harem of sows – but take him into new surroundings, within scent and sight of other males (plus females in season), and his natural reaction will be to fight. This is why two handlers are required whenever a boar – even a January one – is shown.
Entry fees have to be paid in advance, and you will also have to pay for pig pens at most shows. Some shows automatically provide a ‘kit pen’ for you to store your belongings, your feed, mucking out tools, pig-washing items, and other bits and pieces, but with others you have to pay for an additional pig pen. Do check in advance. Most fees are non-refundable after a certain date, and there is also a cut-off point for substituting pigs, so if your pig goes lame after this date, you can’t swap it for another one, and you won’t get any money back.
Show ring practice
Some people train their pigs religiously to walk clockwise around a home-made ring. It definitely pays to practise, so that your pig grows used to a board and stick but, no matter how much you rehearse, you can’t predict how an animal will react on the day. January-born pigs can be particularly difficult to control, still being in the ‘playful puppy’ stage of life, so don’t be surprised if they go racing off with a joyful ‘whoop, whoop, whoop’ sound as soon as they enter the show ring.
Washing and grooming
Try and get your pigs washed before you leave for the show, and maybe consider taking them indoors the night before so that they keep relatively clean. There will be washing facilities at the show, but it helps to get the worst of the muck off beforehand, so you don’t have too much to do on the day.
Setting off for a show
If you’re going to be going away for a few days, you will have lots of things to remember to pack. I make exhaustive lists – separate ones for myself and for the pigs – and meticulously tick things off as I pack them.
If your pigs aren’t used to being loaded onto a trailer, leave plenty of time before you have to get them on board, and make sure you have a few pairs of spare hands and plenty of boards or hurdles to help guide them in. Don’t feed much the night before and don’t give them any breakfast – you will need food to entice them up the ramp. Place an old carpet or plenty of straw on the ramp, because most pigs get spooked when their feet touch the metal. Be patient – loading can be an art form and it’s a lot easier to coax a pig on board than to try and force it.
Make sure you talk to other exhibitors – particularly those showing the same breed – so that you know when you are due in the ring. Showing may start at, say 9am, but there is no set time for a class, and some judges will be more thorough than others. So be prepared for a lot of hanging around. You won’t be able to move far from the pig building, so ensure you have some food and drink in your kit box, plus something to sit on.
When you get called in, bear in mind what I said earlier about pigs getting excited and misbehaving. You may feel panicked and embarrassed, but just let your pig get everything out of its system, making sure it doesn’t come into contact with the other animals. Others will be experiencing the same thing, so you won’t be alone. And the crowd will love your pig for it.
Walk clockwise around the ring, keeping the ring on your left side and the pig on your right at all times, remembering never to block the judge’s view of your pig. You will be expected to steady your pig, possibly in a corner, while the judge examines features like the underline, so if you expect this could be a bit of a challenge, take some tasty treats like small pieces of apple in your pocket just in case.
If you get awarded a rosette, shake the judge’s hand. If you don’t get placed, don’t be afraid to ask why. You can learn a lot from a judge’s comments and it will help you make a better selection next time.
- Liz Shankland is a three-times winner of the Tamworth Champion of Champions competition and the author of the Haynes Pig Manual. She can be contacted on 07846 449023 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
What to take with you
Copy of your eAML2 movement licence
Certificate of competency and Transporter Authorisation if the journey is sufficiently long
White coat (a lab coat will do)
Board and stick
Pig food (and your own food!)
Containers for water
Washing kit – and waterproofs
Shovel/fork for mucking out
Display boards and business cards
A folding chair for the kit pen
Camping and overnight kit