It wasn’t that long ago that Jesse Heimer was a 4-H and FFA member taking his pigs to county and state fairs. Now one of the nation’s top show pig breeders, Heimer uses that early experience, as well as his passion for and knowledge of the show ring, to help young people like Avery and Noah Gamm prepare for success.
For the Gamms, success has been enduring. Noah, 19, has been exhibiting livestock for a decade. A member of the Bowling Green FFA chapter, he has had numerous champions and reserve champions in the Pike County Fair and Missouri State Fair, where he exhibited the Champion Overall Barrow in Open Class just last year. Noah’s sister, Avery, is 12 and has been showing pigs for four years. She, too, has had success as a member of the Peppy Circle 4-H Club, exhibiting champions and reserve champions at both the county and state fairs. She has also taken home the showmanship title the last two years at the Pike County Fair by showing excellent technical skills and sportsmanship to those in the show ring with her.
Show Pigs Require Hard Work, Commitment
What is the secret to this success? Heimer says it starts with Avery and Noah’s dedication, willingness to learn and ask questions. “Years ago, when they first started showing pigs, they needed more instruction about feeding, showing and daily care,” Heimer says. “But at this point, they have a very good understanding of what they need to do every day to reach their goals. Now, my role is as simple as stopping by the barn, taking a look at the pigs, and giving Avery and Noah reassurance that they’re on the right track.”
Staying on the right track requires a sustained commitment and a lot of labor. It begins when the pigs are purchased in early to mid-April. At that time, they weigh about 60 pounds. When county fair time rolls around, the pigs will have gained more than 200 pounds. Getting them ready for the show ring means feeding them twice a day, walking and washing them daily, weighing them periodically, keeping accurate records, washing pens twice a week, and working with an expert on nutrition and health requirements.
On a typical summer day, Noah and Avery will be up feeding the pigs at 6 a.m. and then again at 6 p.m. They’ll often be walking, washing, weighing and caring for pigs until 10 p.m.
“People just see the finished product in the show ring,” Noah says. “What they don’t see is all the hours spent in the barn and yard walking and caring for the pigs.”
What Kids Learn From Animal Care
Caring for an animal so it thrives teaches a variety of lessons.
“Young people learn so much from a livestock project,” Heimer says. “There is plenty to be said about the knowledge they gain about the animals and how that might help them in their future career, hopefully in agriculture, but it’s so much more than that. They learn responsibility, commitment and how to solve problems and deal with adversity.”
Avery agrees. “I’ve learned a lot about responsibility by going up to the barn every day and feeding, walking and washing the pigs. And then there’s cleaning the pens, which I don’t like having to do, but I know it helps the pigs.”
The Gamms have learned something else, too – that the time and hard work are well worth it. They both enjoy the competitions, but more than that they enjoy the time they spend together with family and friends involved in showing animals. “I’ve been fortunate to win at the county and state levels,” Noah says. “But what I really enjoy is just spending time with my dad and sister in the show barn and my family and friends at the shows.”
Avery feels the same way. “The ribbons and plaques are nice, but the most satisfying aspect is spending time with family and friends at the competitions and seeing all the hours, dedication and hard work pay off.”
Oftentimes, that payoff also comes in the form of prize money that can help young people finance their education and future plans.
But those who show the animals aren’t the only winners, Heimer says. “I truly believe that young people, especially those who show livestock, are our best advocates for agriculture. By telling their stories about their livestock projects, they provide an insight for the consumer that is desperately needed and especially valuable today.”