By Tanner Hood
Smells of fresh pine shavings and a buzz of excitement hung in the air around Teague Arena as youth showmen and their parents prepared for the 70th Alabama National Fair. Exhibitors from across the state attended the annual event Oct. 6-15 to show off prize-winning livestock while displaying their hard work, practice and showmanship.
“Showing is an 80-year family tradition for us,” said Destinee Bearden Patterson, whose children participated in the Youth Dairy Show. “The smiles, family and camaraderie the Dairy Show bring make it like a big family event for us. We call this our dairy family reunion.”
Patterson said it’s essential the shows continue, even as popularity wanes.
The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance annually sponsor livestock shows at the Alabama National Fair, one of many fairs supported by state and county Farmers Federations each fall.
The shows are months — or even years — in the making. Many exhibitors raise animals from birth or purchase them at a young age. Exhibitors grow the animals into the appropriate size and train them to be shown around other livestock and properly presented before judges. Showmen, like Jackson Cleary, learn a host of life skills preparing for the showring. That includes animal husbandry, correct technique and sportsmanship.
“I’ve put blood, sweat and tears into this for two years, quite literally,” said Calhoun County’s Cleary.
Cleary exhibited the Supreme Champion Gilt, which was also the Commercial Grand Champion Gilt in the Youth Swine Show. A gilt is a female pig that has not had a litter. Cleary is a senior at Weaver High School and is the Alabama FFA Central District treasurer.
“With showing swine, I’ve learned about patience, work ethic and determination. It teaches you life skills and about agriculture,” Cleary said. “For everything to finally pay off after two years means a lot.”
Cleary’s passion for agriculture is reflected in Sarah-Jane French, a professor of practice for youth livestock programs at Auburn University. French’s position was created through funding from the Alabama Legislature in 2022 with support from the Federation.
“It’s important to exhibit livestock — but the main reason we’re here is for the kids,” French said. “Showing livestock teaches kids to be respectful, work hard and examine the details of what goes into taking care of animals, so it’s a necessity we preserve this industry. The Alabama National Fair is a family focused tradition instilled in the kids and is where they come to make memories.”
Like French, Patterson believes livestock shows are about more than exhibiting animals.
“Whether it’s a dairy cow, chicken, pig or sheep, these kids are learning sportsmanship, how to win and lose gracefully,” Patterson said. “Livestock shows allow us to put the animals in front of the public and show them where their food comes from. It’s something we must preserve.”