So, you want to show your Berkshires
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO SHOWING PIGS
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, for Berkshire pigs this is ear notches & tags.
When choosing show pigs, it’s essential to read the Berkshire breed standards. 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 these criteria, otherwise they really shouldn’t have been registered.
A calm pig makes for a much easier time in the show ring, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to train your pig and practice preparing them for the show ring.
Check show dates and entry cut off dates, and any specific requirements that individual shows may require. Make sure you have the showground CPH numbers and that you complete the required licences.
If you are “camping” at the showground, book your space and make sure you have the required vehicle passes.
Make sure you have proper transport to take your pigs to the show: a livestock trailer is required, with plenty of space for the pigs, in accordance with the DEFRA movement requirements, ensure you have completed your transporters licence and have a licence to tow (if applicable). Showgrounds should have washing out facilities for your trailer.
Although only pigs which are in good condition and the best of health should be shown, it’s necessary to isolate your pig(s) on returning from shows just in case they have picked anything up while at the show. You will need an approved isolation pen and biosecurity controls for your show team. This not only protects your herd, but also the herds of other breeders.
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. Take note of any advertising requirements in relation to show boards & white coats.
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 ring fence and your pig, with your board to the side nearest the fence, 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.
There are specialist shampoos for black pigs, which can enhance their natural colour.
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/fork 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.
- Smart show clothes – shirt, tie, show trousers, clean boots
- Don’t forget your own picnic foods, some shows also have “sharing” tables with drinks etc. It is nice to contribute to this.
Preparing for the journey
In the weeks leading up to the first show, train your pigs to load into your trailer, a good trick is to feed them in the trailer a few times and always give them a treat once they have loaded. Forcing pigs to load not only stresses your pigs, but the bad experience makes them difficult to load next time.
Leave plenty of time to load your pigs on the day of travelling to the show, even the easiest to load pig can become obstinate on show day.
Plan your journey and route, allowing for hold ups.
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. When you are penning your pigs, check with other exhibitors what pigs they have in adjoining pens, it is unwise to put boars next to each other or next to sows/gilts which maybe on heat.
The show rep and or steward will also check your pig identification to ensure you have the correct pig.
Aim to arrive early to give yourself and your pig(s) time to settle before the classes commence.
Other exhibitors will be more than willing to help you unload and show you the ropes, don’t be afraid to ask, everybody has to start somewhere.
Some exhibitors exercise their pigs in the show ring before showing starts, this helps the pig to acclimatise and you to get a feel of the ring and if there are any issues i.e. drains, potholes. When doing this make sure your pig is always under control and that you are aware of other pigs which may also be in the ring.
When moving pigs to the wash pens etc take notice and care of the other pigs being moved or are already in wash pens, this again avoids incidents with other boars etc. Also, there may be a “waiting list” for washing pens, so check before you take your pig out.
The day starts early, as classes may start at 8:30, and pigs have to be fed, watered, cleaned out, washed, and brushed, before you prepare yourself for the ring.
Remember your pens will be on show to the public, so need to be clean and tidy. Some shows also award prizes for the best pens.
Make sure you have a show catalogue and that you have checked the classes you are entered in and that you have your pig/class numbers. If there are errors discuss with the steward/show rep.
There may 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. There should be stewards who will give you a time warning for when your pigs are due into the ring. If you have more than one pig in a class or have a boar, don’t forget you made need to enlist the help of other exhibitors to help you in the ring. Remember that if you win a class, you will be put forward for another class, so again check with stewards.
If the show is 2 or 3 days, championships will go over into the next day, check with stewards if your pig/s have been put forward for the next day.
Exhibitors should always be well turned out with white coats and smart appearance. Standard show wear usually includes a shirt, tie ,trousers (not shorts) flat boots.
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.
Make sure you walk around the ring in the right direction, watch your own pig and other exhibitors’ pigs. If you are showing a boar, you must have 2 competent handlers (16yrs and older), keep a tight watch/head on your boar, the “backstop” should be watching the ring, other pigs and the judge, they must be switched on and be aware of what is happening around them at all times.
Observe the judge so you know when they are 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.
You should always have one eye on the judge and “show” right up to the point that rosettes are awarded, don’t stop once first has been awarded as the judge may still be deciding on places. Remember to tap your board when rosettes are awarded. Most judges will be happy to explain why they made their decision; they may do this is the ring or after classes are finished.
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.
It the class is large; the judge may eliminate some pigs early and you may be asked to take your pig out.
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.
At the end of the day, it’s time to relax, chat and dissect the day. Quite often with a glass of something and shared food.
Information taken from Scottish Smallholder Festival 2020