by WES FERGUSON
Her wiry black hair had been spritzed and brushed. Her cloven hooves were nice and clean. But Socks didn’t care. Socks, in fact, was acting like a pig.
Moments away from her grand debut at the Hays County Livestock Show last Friday, Socks insisted on wallowing in a bed of wood shavings. She kept rooting around in her pen and getting dirty all over again, heedless of her good grooming.
To get Socks’ attention, her handler, Victoria Ratliff, a pint-sized girl in the eighth grade at Barton Middle School, started spanking the pig’s rump and jowls. After a few sharp swats the pig squealed in protest and lumbered back onto her feet.
“She didn’t want to get up,” Victoria said. “She’s stubborn.”
Victoria’s dad, Tommy Ratliff, came by and said it was time for Socks to make her way to the competition ring, where she was to face two other pigs in an event called the Judging of Breeding Swine. Victoria let Socks out of the pen and directed her toward the ring, tapping Socks’ shoulders with a guiding stick. With a tap on her left shoulder, Socks knew to go right. A tap on the right, she went left.
They say pigs are among the smartest of domesticated creatures, second only to humans.
But Socks was also 185 pounds of pigheadedness. At the first opportunity she bolted off, waddling between rows of pens where all the other pigs were waiting for their moment in the ring. Victoria and her father darted after the wayward swine, dodging other people and pigs as they ran.
A crowd of more than 450 kids competed in last week’s livestock show, which culminated in a live auction on Saturday at the Hays County Civic Center. Members of 4-H Clubs and FFA programs from all around the county showed off their prize goats, pigs, rabbits, sheep, poultry and cattle, as well as their home skills, arts and crafts, and expertise in agricultural mechanics.
When asked why they raised animals or participated in the show, most kids said they didn’t know, or that their dad wanted them to, or that it was fun. Parents and sponsors said the activity taught their children important traits like responsibility and dedication.
“When they graduate, most of them won’t have jobs in agriculture,” said Richard Parrish, the Hays County extension agent. But, he added, the life skills they learn will serve them well in any field. For instance, kids learn about science, such as life cycles and health management and nutrition. Budgeting for expenses teaches economics, and measuring things teaches math.
Socks goes before the judge
Not far from the spot where Socks ran off, Talon Bartz, a sophomore at Lehman High School, was brushing a red-haired duroc named Pinky.
“She kind of looked like a pinky to me,” he said.
Like the toe?
“No, the red color. It just came to me: Pinky. I don’t know.”
Durocs are the only breed of pigs that are red, Talon said. Talon has been raising pigs since he was nine.
“My parents wanted me to do it,” he explained. “They’ve been doing it a while. Dad used to do turkeys.”
When Victoria caught up to Socks, she guided the pig to the competition ring where Socks and two other pigs then modeled before the judge, as well as a bleacher full of spectators. Socks was on her best behavior now, but she still lost, to a white pig that had black blotches on its face and rump.
Of the winner, the judge declared, “She’s got a great back and a huge chest when she comes right at you.” The judge said that Socks was the most powerful pig, but a little shorter than the others. Her hair was coarser, too. She came in third place, in a class of three.
Afterward, Victoria’s dad told her that he was proud of her. Socks seemed content as she lay in her wood shavings.
“She’s a really good-looking pig, but I think she’s still a little too small,” Ratliff said, adding that he and his daughter would see about breeding Socks in time for her piglets to compete in next year’s show. “She has the making of a really good mama,” he said.
The Banda boys
Outside the civic center’s main area, the Banda brothers — Kyle and Kody, both juniors at Hays High School — were running a shop vac that sucked at the hide of their black breeding heifer. The work was in preparation for the Judging of Breeding Beef coming later in the afternoon.
“We just gave him a bath,” Kody said. “Now we’re drying the water out to get him nice and soft and clean.”
The twins have been raising cattle since they were in the fourth grade. “It teaches you how to be a better person and how to improve yourself,” Kyle said. “It’s not just hard work. You get some joy out of it that keeps your motivation up.”
Kyle and his brother were wearing matching belt buckles. Kyle’s shiny buckle commemorated his victory for a reserve breed in the 2008 Hays County Livestock Show, while Kody’s buckle noted his breed-show win at a Texas Junior Livestock Association field day.
Between them, the brothers own 11 head of cattle.
“They do most of the work,” their dad, Virgil, said. “When they’re busy in school I pick up the slack.”
Virgil grew up on a farm and ranch in Del Valle, where his father grew corn and ran a few cattle.
“My dad was a sharecropper for 38, 37 years,” he said. “My wife showed steers in high school, but I didn’t show livestock when I was in school. I wish I would. I was too busy farming.”
Steers – 38
Heifers – 12
Market Goats – 198
Breeding Goats – 27
Market Lambs – 43
Breeding Lambs – 4
Market Swine – 130
Breeding Swine – 13
Market Rabbits – 104
Breeding Rabbits – 23
Ag Mechanics – 21
Broilers – 28
Turkeys – 24
Grand Champion Senior Foods – Cassidy New, Wimberley FFA
Reserve Grand Champion Senior Foods – Carley Smith, Dripping Springs 4-H
Grand Champion Senior Arts and Crafts – Scott Miller, Dripping Springs FFA
Reserve Grand Champion Senior Arts and Crafts – Anna Weinheimer, Wimberley 4-H
Grand Champion Intermediate Foods – Marrissa Gutieriez, West San Marcos 4-H
Reserve Grand Champion Intermediate Foods – Samantha Mayo, East San Marcos 4-H
Grand Champion Intermediate Arts and Crafts – Avery Herron, Dripping Springs 4-H
Reserve Grand Champion Intermediate Arts and Crafts – Tanner Ritchie, West San Marcos 4-H
Grand Champion Junior Foods – Araya Feeney, West San Marcos 4-H
Reserve Grand Champion Junior Foods – Emma Cook, Buda 4-H
Grand Champion Junior Arts and Crafts – Hunter Leinneweber, Wimberley 4-H
Reserve Grand Champion Junior Arts and Crafts – Kyle Herron, Dripping Springs 4-H
Grand Champion Ag Mechanics – Hays FFA
Reserve Grand Champion Ag Mechanics – Hays FFA
Grand Champion Market Steer – Ryley Brooks, Wimberley 4-H
Reserve Champion Market Steer –
Ben Mikeska, Dripping Springs 4-H
Grand Champion Market Goat – Caresse McGee, Wimberley 4-H
Reserve Champion Market Goat – Dana John, Buda 4-H
Grand Champion Market Swine – Tenley Lehman, Kyle 4-H
Reserve Champion Market Swine – Lucas Snoe, Buda 4-H
Grand Champion Market Lambs – Caleb Shirley, Wimberley FFA
Reserve Champion Market Lambs – Lauren Bierschwale, Dripping Springs FFA
Grand Champion Market Rabbits – Claire Coburn, Buda 4-H
Reserve Champion Market Rabbits – Caleb Shirley, Wimberley FFA
Grand Champion Broilers – Kyle Huddleston, Dripping Springs 4-H
Reserve Champion Broilers – Brooke Barrett, Wimberly FFA
Grand Champion Turkey – Aaron Moy, Buda 4-H
Reserve Champion Turkey – Thomas Caleb Ritchie, West San Marcos 4-H
Grand Champion Breeding Heifer – Kyle Banda, Buda 4-H
Reserve Champion Breeding Heifer – Cade Krackau, West San Marcos 4-H
Grand Champion Breeding Goat – Elexa Chism, Kyle 4-H
Reserve Champion Breeding Goat – Stephanie Lorenz, Wimberley FFA
Grand Champion Breeding Swine – Konleigh Eben, Buda 4-H
Reserve Champion Breeding Swine – Cortney Johnson, Buda 4-H
Grand Champion Breeding Rabbits – Madison Hawkins, Buda 4-H
Reserve Champion Breeding Rabbits – Brett Williams, Buda 4-H
Grand Champion Breeding Lamb – Caleb Shirley, Wimberley FFA
Reserve Champion Breeding Lamb – Mikayla Wenzel, Buda 4-H
WES FERGUSON writes for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.