Let Them Show

“Nothing worth having comes easy.”

 -Theodore Roosevelt 

I’ve spent the past couple weekends at the Great Indiana State Fair. Now, I’ve shown livestock for fourteen years, and my brother is currently showing his eighth year of 4H, so the majority of my summers have been spent on these fairgrounds. Almost every year is the same. Same great people. Same greasy foods. Same annoying strollers clogging up the aisles of the hog barns. 

But this year, despite all of these similarities, something had changed.

This year, I saw dads walking pigs around the barns. I saw older brothers (who were long out of 4H) taking pigs to wash racks, unloading trailers, or test weighing pigs. I saw more “show jocks” treating skin and mixing feeds than I’d ever seen in one place at a time.

What I didn’t see were the 4Hers. Exhibiters were not scooping pens or brushing hogs or walking their animals through the aisles. In fact, there were very few 4Hers working in the barns at all. That is, until they all showed up dressed and ready to go on show days. On these days, kids followed their dads/show jocks/personal pig whisperers, who were still leading their animals, to the arena. The 4Hers never touched their pigs until they were shut in their holding pens. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I love collaboration. I think it’s a vital part of our organization. Children should be taught how to properly care for, fit, and present their livestock. But these adults weren’t teaching their eight, nine, or ten-year-old to spray a can of Pepi or to not get water in their pigs’ ears. They were completing the swine project for their sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen-year-old, glorified “showman.” The child didn’t learn about the swine project, livestock, or the agriculture industry. They simply got dressed and showed. 

Dear parents/show jocks/23 year-old 4Hers that don’t know how to retire: 

What exactly are you attempting to accomplish? When you do all of the work for your child and he turns up on Sunday for a ring run and a ribbon, what have you taught him? 

Because, from my standpoint, you’re showing him that hard work doesn’t matter. That any person can be successful as long as they have enough money or a big enough name. That someone else will always do the work for him, and he’ll still reap the rewards. By competing this way, you’re breeding an entitled generation full of arrogance. 

It seems as though everyone is so committed to winning that honesty and the learning process have been eliminated from the show ring. The lessons the barn teaches are being ignored as the quest for banners and prestige continues to grow. 

But the pride felt during that “Grand Slap” doesn’t stem from the awards won. It’s the product of thousands of hours spent in the barn. It’s the outcome of tears cried over stubborn animals that refused to walk in May but strut across the ring in August. That pride is the result of endless efforts—knowing that you did everything in your power to make this animal the best he could be and knowing that, for once, your best was good enough. Sharing that moment with an animal you’ve known its entire life, the thing that you’ve laughed with, cried with, and spent your entire summer beside, is priceless.

When the effort is removed and the bond between showman and animal does not exist, a banner is handed to someone who doesn’t truly deserve or appreciate the accomplishment. You’re teaching your child to value success more than the experience. You will create children who don’t love to show and only love to win—who expect a trophy instead of cherishing the greatness that they’ve worked to achieve. 

As you take away the hard work from the project, you demolish the very essence of the 4H program. The organization that was founded on diligence, dedication, and passion is further destroyed each time a father takes the whip from his son and drives his pig to the show ring.  

Teaching a child to fail is a greater and more important challenge than providing the successes for them. There is a difference between doing it for them and helping them to do it themselves. Do not hand your showmen banners. Teach them how to earn them. Let them show.  

Author’s Note: All of the negative feedback this post has received has brought the conflict of the start of school and the Indiana State Fair to the forefront of the argument. To clarify, this situation was and is not limited to the Indiana State Fair swine barn. This post was written in that specific barn, but the practices it describes can be observed in different species and shows across the country. While I’m sure many hardworking kids had their parents help them feed while they attended their first days of school, many 4Hers attend shows throughout the year with animals that they did not care for themselves in order to hang a banner. This post is directed toward that practice. Not the honest family or the 4H member in general. Simply that practice. I wholeheartedly stand by my observations and my belief that the 4H project is founded on hard work, integrity, and passion. 



13 thoughts on “Let Them Show

  1. I was in the swine barn last Saturday to watch my nephew show his gilt. I came away with the same thoughts. As we waited, I observed many adults in the pens with the hogs, brushing, feeding, spraying, grooming and several even walking animals. As the day progressed, there were so many people sitting in chairs in the aisles that you could only get through single file. Let me just put it this way. The whole barn was a hot mess! I may be biased, but my nephew puts in the work! He shows “his” pigs. As for the start of school issue, I agree that some of the kids were in school on a weekday, but there should be no reason the adults should be doing the work on a weekend, let alone the day of the show.


  2. I guess it makes me sad that the spotlight has shifted from the good to the bad. I have to say that I saw way more hard working, passionate kids than not. Our industry doesn’t need added negativity. It would be great to be sharing all of the positives and putting less emphasis on this. There will always be those that show up on show day…it happened in my years of 4H and I am sure it happens now. Why can’t we celebrate the good though? Why take the focus away from the kids who are filling their own water buckets, cleaning their own pens, and prepping their own pigs? Why can’t we be happy that families are working together as a team to make dreams come true. I encourage everyone to really think about all of the positives. The life lessons. The responsibilities learned. The relationships. Seriously people. Be an agent of change for the positive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve lived the positive. My 4H and agriculture experiences have been primarily positive. If you would like to read about the positive that I have seen and experienced, then I suggest that you continue to read through my page. By doing so you’ll realize that I’ve documented those as well. Feel free to check out “Raised in a Barn” or “Our Money Grows in Rows” or “So God Made the Farmer’s Daughter.” I will be the first person to shout our organization’s, our lifestyle’s, praises. But, personally, I feel as though it is healthy to evaluate ourselves and our industry in order to continue to build us and make us stronger. The situation that this post describes does not apply to every family. There are many honest families. But I believe that, sometimes, identifying potentially damaging realities can be beneficial in the long run. In my opinion, this post promotes the values that 4H was founded on while simultaneously discrediting dishonesty and, to be blunt, laziness.


  3. I agree completely!! It’s not that new, but it is becoming more prevalent and as a 4-H leader and as a former 10 year 4-H member ( of Saddle, Goat, Swine and Dairy Feeder clubs), it’s extremely disheartening. It happens across the livestock spectrum. (Back when you had to qualify to go to state fair) I qualified for Western Horsemanship and was ecstatic to go show at the state fair. We went down the night before and I spent most of the night practicing in the arena to ease both my nerves and my horse’s. The next morning after I had bathed and clipped and banded my horse myself, the girl across the isle showed up. She was already dressed in her show clothes, and carried only her makeup bag and a chair which she set up outside of her horses stall and sat in immediately. She stayed there while her dad brought her horse and all of her tack, groomed her horse, saddled it up and helped her onto her horse. She rode into my class and won. Out of the arena she took her place in the chair while her dad, again, did all of the work. What good is that doing? What is that teaching anyone? If that’s how you choose to operate, choose open shows, not an organization that is here to teach and shape our youth into responsible, respectable members of society. *rant over*


  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. This was my first time at the State Fair. I was in a different barn. The biggest thing I walked away with was how little the actual 4Hers were doing. I commented that at home, parents and kids worked side by side. At the state fair, it seemed as if adults were doing all the work and just using the kids to show. Glad I wasn’t the only one to notice this difference.


  5. I absolutely agree! Some kids are being cheated out of being able to be truly rewarded & their self worth will suffer for it. As for the school issue, by state law schools cannot count them absent for time spent at state fair in Indiana. They do miss instruction time & have plenty of work to make up, but in our house, the sacrifice is worth it for the lessons learned. As they get older & start AP classes, I fear this will get much harder, though. I think each family needs to weigh their own situation, assess the stress levels that their particular kids can handle, weigh the lessons missed at school against the lessons learned in their projects & make a decision that works for them. We have 3 4-Hers (3rd, 5th, & 6th years) who all showed at the state fair this year. School started for us on Aug 3rd – the day we had to have livestock in at the fair. My kids missed the 1st 2 days of school for the first show, went back for 2 days, then were absent for 3 days for the next round of shows. They missed 5 of the 1st 7 days of school to show in 4-H shows. We discussed taking the livestock down for them & having grandma bring them down later, but in the end we felt they would learn more in Indy. Was it easy? No. Are they stressed over homework? Yes. Is it worth it to them to see a long summer’s worth of hardwork through? Absolutely!


  6. You are completely missing the issue. The kids are in school until show day. We cannot show at the IN state fair, because school starts 8/2. My wife, who teaches special education, cannot miss school for it either. Don’t jump to conclusions. Ask those folks where the 4Her is. I bet $, they say at school.


    1. Again, I would argue that this is a completely different issue. Am I against school starting so early and depriving many families of missing the opportunity to show at the state fair? Of course. This post is not directed at the families. Here, my opposition is directed toward the families who choose to spend their money on “show jocks” and have breeders or placers fit and care for their pigs all summer instead of having their kids put in the work themselves. If you don’t see this happening, then you’re probably doing 4H (what I would call) the right way, but at county fairs, state fairs, and open shows, a lot of the dirty work has been completed by adults and the child simply walks the pig in the ring. Obviously, this isn’t true for every family, and based on your words it’s not true of yours, but it does happen.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. What do these kids do from the time school is out until it’s time for bed? The should be able to find time to work with their animals. We have a young lady keeping her goats at our farm (she lives in town with no place to keep them) but manages to drive the 15 miles down almost every day to work her goats. She is getting ready for the Kansas State Fair, will be going to school and playing volleyball. She will make time and loves doing it.


  7. Amen our county has a few 17+ year 4Hers that kids are competing against. We have goats for our grandkids no high priced animals in the least. To me the real prize if showing at the county Fair is not the banner , ribbon or trophy won with the animal it’s the lifelong friends and life experience that can only be gained in “The Barns”.


  8. I agree with the sentiment here. The 4H’er who isn’t involved in their own project has missed the point. But I would also point out that many schools in the state of Indiana started classes before the State Fair began. There are several families that are making the State Fair work for their 4H’ers through the help of older siblings, cousins, friends and parents.


    1. As a future teacher and a former 4H member, I understand how difficult dealing with early start dates can be. I was fortunate enough to have parents who allowed me to miss my first days in order to fulfill my livestock commitments. Obviously, some families choose education over the state fair or attempt to do both. However, the situational difference between a 4Her that misses a pre-show day for school when they did all of their own work at home and a kid who chills at the state fair after their pigs were trained, fit, and fed by “professionals” all summer is glaring. This difference in work ethic and value is what I was attempting to communicate.


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