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 were March 16-18. The shows, held annually during the Southeastern Livestock Exposition, were coordinated by the Alabama Farmers Federation and included over 200 exhibitors and nearly 500 animal entries.
For Becca Kate Thompson of Calhoun County and Mason Smith of Marshall County, showing livestock is a way of life, with both beginning their show careers as toddlers.
“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 barn to walk them.”
She said her favorite thing about shows is spending time with pigs and the friends she has made 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, and top animals and exhibitors participated in SLE’s Parade of Champions during Saturday night’s packed-out rodeo.
Becca Kate’s father, Jeff, said showing livestock teaches important life lessons and creates opportunities for responsibility and appreciation for agriculture.
“This program gets our kids out of the house. It helps kids unplug and get back to the roots of raising your own food,” Jeff said. “Becca Kate just seems to really connect with the pigs, and she wants to continue to get better.”
Jeff got his start showing livestock in 8th grade and instilled that 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.”
Much like Becca Kate, Mason enjoys spending time in the showring with his prized steer, Ralph.
“People that 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, an agriscience teacher at Susan Moore High School.
“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 echoed Jeff and said showing livestock opens the door to great opportunity for young people.
“The greatest benefit from showing is work ethic,” Kirk said. “They learn about agriculture – and the fact that these are meat animals and that is what they are here for.”
Mason said he cares for his animals every day before and after school, giving the steers proper hair care, 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.”