By Maggie Edwards
Cattle and swine took center stage in Montgomery as Alabama youth exhibited animals and showed off a year’s worth of hard work during the Jr. Livestock Expo (JLE) in March.
The inaugural Jr. Dairy Expo was March 11, while the Jr. Beef Expo and Jr. Swine Expo took place March 16-18. The shows, held annually during the Southeastern Livestock Exposition (SLE), were coordinated by the Alabama Farmers Federation and included over 200 exhibitors and nearly 500 animal entries.
For Becca Kate Thompson of Calhoun County, who began her show career as a toddler, showing livestock is a way of life.
“Showing pigs is so fun,” said 8-year-old Becca Kate, who competed in the swine show. “I brush my pigs every day and go down to the barn to walk them.”
She said her favorite thing about shows is spending time with pigs and the friends she makes in the ring.
“I get a little bit nervous and really excited when I walk into the ring,” Becca Kate said. “I want to show pigs forever.”
JLE included showmanship competitions, where exhibitors’ animal-handling skills were tested. Breeding and market shows also gauged animals’ structure, soundness and strength. Top animals and exhibitors participated in SLE’s Parade of Champions during Saturday night’s packed-out rodeo.
New this year, legislators learned the ropes of showing livestock during a demonstration before shows kicked off Thursday.
Becca Kate’s father, Jeff, said showing livestock teaches life lessons and creates an appreciation for agriculture.
“This program gets our kids out of the house,” he said. “It helps kids unplug and get back to the roots of raising their own food. Becca Kate just seems to really connect with the pigs, and she wants to continue to get better.”
Jeff started showing livestock in 8th grade and instilled that same passion in his children.
“Becca Kate started showing pigs when she was in diapers,” Jeff said. “It is a dream come true to see my kids be involved in things I was involved in.”
Like Becca Kate, Mason Smith of Marshall County has grown up in the show ring.
“People who play sports do it because it is what they love to do, but this is what I love to do,” said 13-year-old Mason. “It gives me the opportunity to excel at what I am good at.”
Mason credits his passion for showing to his father, Kirk.
“Both of my kids got their start showing lambs,” Kirk said. “They have done well in showing livestock, and they enjoy every aspect of it.”
Kirk said showing livestock opens the door to great opportunities for young people.
“The greatest benefit is work ethic,” Kirk said. “They learn about agriculture — and the fact that these are meat animals; that is what they are here for.”
Showing teaches responsibility, too. Mason cares for his animals every day before and after school, along with sister Mackenzie — washing the cattle, cleaning pens and practicing for shows.
“Showing has taught me the value of hard work,” Mason said. “I have worked harder with this calf than I ever have before, and it goes to show that working harder helps you in the long run.”