TRAINING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
Swine showmanship starts when you bring your pig home. Showmanship along with feed & health management training all begin on day one.
There isn’t a good swine management plan that starts somewhere “later on”. The foundation of showmanship is developing a relationship of trust and consistency which can be taught every day as you feed, clean, exercise and groom your pig.
To Develop Any Skill, One Must Take -
- Good Information & Instruction
- Study to Understand
- Daily Practice & Consistent Effort
- Correct Mistakes & Repeat Steps Over & Over!
With pigs, showmanship is about building trust and a relationship. If this is your first pig, you’ll be amazed at their “pet quality”. Begin by spending time to get to know your pig. A good way to achieve this is by sitting on a overturned bucket in the middle of the pen for 15-20 minutes daily. This gives you a chance to see what normal movements and activities are for your pig. Your pig is also given a chance to see you and get to know you. These are the first steps to trust. As your pig gets close or walks by you, slowly reach out to touch the pig. Soon they learn to accept and trust your touch and other movements. This leads to following your guidance and your pig will become calm and confident in you.
Exploring Outside of the Pen
It’s always a cautious feeling the first time you let a pig out of the pen! I’ve had a few bolt and run around, but were quickly brought back by the mighty power of the grain bucket! Most pigs are curious and want to investigate their surroundings. Letting them wander outside of the pen while you are making up their feed is a good start. They can check things out without being chased or controlled. This will develop a calm mindset that will be beneficial later on. To get them back into the pen, shake your freshly prepared feed bucket. This will encourage them to go back to their pen! Be ready to see them touch everything! They are very curious and putting their mouth on things is how they touch.
Always Supervise Your Pig! Their curiosity can get them into trouble! Or at minimum…they’ll make a mess exploring & having fun!
Introducing Presence & Whip Training
After a couple of weeks of letting your pig wander outside of the pen during feeding time, Start with walking behind your pig as it wanders around the yard. Don’t chase or try to direct him, just follow. Be your pig’s shadow! This allows the pig to become comfortable with your presence. After your pig can stay calm and walk with you by their hip, start carrying the whip. Initially, the whip should be used to touch and tickle areas of the pig. Touching the top or back of your pig, the sides or under the chin and cheek are all forward directing ques. If your pig has floppy ears, make sure that your whip placement is where they can see it. Sometimes the ears can block their view and they can be startled.
In the sprinkler picture the showman is getting his gilt “whip ready” while she wanders around the yard. He uses this relaxed state to move her forward. The sprinkler also creates a good state of mind. He can move her away from the sprinkler and then drive her back into the water. This is an instant reward for moving forward and it also cools her off!
WHIP TRAINING THEORY -
Whip training should be viewed as an extension of your hand to provide direction, body position and forward drive. The whip is not for beating your pig or causing intense fear. It is to correct, control, direct and drive. In the beginning, you will see red marks on the areas that you are tapping. As you train, the taps will be lighter and the marks will go away. In advanced showmanship classes, the showmen are quietly guiding and moving their willing pigs. The pigs are not running away in fear of the whip. They understand that it’s a communication tool. As a discipline tool, the whip is a great. The quick short snap at the wrist provides a small sting that gets the pig’s attention. Your hand movement should never look like your swinging your whole arm to strike the pig. This will give you a spooky and fearful pig and isn’t needed.
Goal: Extend your arm with the whip, and bend your wrist to discipline or tap to guide. Watch some advanced showmanship classes for good examples.
Skills to Correct, Control, Drive & Direction
Correct & Control – is the main communication purpose of the whip. It is to correct the body position and control the movement.
Drive is moving your pig in a forward, steady pace in the direction that you choose. It’s not running or scaring your pig. Drive is what pushes your pig to keep walking without stopping. This takes a lot of practice and exercising of your pig. As they get tired of walking, they will become vocal and begin throwing little tantrums. They may bite at the whip, stop or run off in a different direction. Just stay with them and keep training to drive them forward. As they gain weight, it will be very important to exercise them daily to keep their muscles caught up with their daily weight gain. To make them move forward (drive) when they don’t want will help keep them strong.
Training Keys for Drive & Direction:
Pick a COOL part of the day or early evening – pigs get easily overheated and grumpy in hot weather.
Time – Start with driving your pig forward for 5 minutes and gradually extend the time to 20 minutes. This will take some time to develop the stamina and fitness.
Change the footing (if it’s available) – walk your pig on grass, sand, concrete or any other footing that is available. A variety of footing will toughen up the foot pads and give your pig experience and stamina on different footings.
Daily practice moving your pig in a large circle or figure eight pattern. Don’t worry if your circle or figure eight is all over the place! It takes some time and practice to learn how to move in a set pattern. Just keep moving forward at a steady pace.
Tips for Figure Eight Perfection
The purpose of the figure eight pattern is to demonstrate to the judge control, pace and all four sides of your pig. A large figure eight is about 15’ to 25’ in length. As you steadily drive your pig forward, make large sweeping turns, not sharp U-turns (they are not reining cow horses!) By placing the whip on one side, will cause the pig to move away from the whip and change directions.
Steps to Perform the Figure 8 Pattern:
Left Side: Driving the pig to the left will require you to place the whip on the right side by the head & shoulder. Tap as needed to keep the pig driving forward.
Center: as you pass the center point, place the whip on the left side to get ready to drive the pig to the right.
Right Side: Driving the pig to the right will require you to place the whip on the left side. Tap as needed to keep the pig driving forward.
Forward: To drive the pig forward and increase his pace, place the whip on the back gently & tap.
Chin Up: To encourage the pig to walk with their chin up, place the whip under the chin and twirl or tap gently.
Watch the placement of the whip. It indicates the direction of the pig.
Every day, practice these 5 steps. Be patient and persistent! You may not see a figure eight for the first couple of weeks or so, but then things will start taking shape! As long as the pig is moving forward and you are attempting to change his directions, the figure eight will happen! Start by driving the pig for 5 minutes and each week increase your time by a few minutes. By time you reach the show, your pig should be relaxed and walking as you direct for 20 minutes or more. Because they are gaining weight rapidly, increasing the driving time is important to building stamina and muscles to equal their size.
The Showmanship Benefit of the Figure 8 Pattern
The greatest benefit of the 15’-25’ figure eight at the show is to demonstrate control. While all the other pigs are running into the corners or cluttered into a herd, you’ll be steady, calm, confident and showing your great pig to the judge. You’ll make it easy for the judge to see all sides of your pig. For the other exhibitors caught in the herd, it’s impossible to show a pig if they are all bunched up! The figure 8 will keep your pig at a distance that the judge can easily evaluate his conformation. It also makes it easy for the judge to find you when they need to make a comparison. You won’t be buried in a corner or in a herd!
Getting Ready for Showmanship
GROOMING: Be sure that your pig has been completely clipped, clean, conditioned and fed a ¼ ration of food and electrolyte water.
EQUIPMENT: Have a show whip, body brush along with a 2 quart jug for watering your pig while you wait for your class. Keeping your pig hydrated and cool is very important. Whips come in different lengths. Pick a length that is comfortable and matches your height and length of reach.
A True Showmanship Story!
An intermediate showmanship class had a large herd of pigs traveling around the arena fence line and the showmen were unable to catch up to their pigs. The judge ordered the ring steward to open the gate. As the herd came around the corner, they flowed right out of the arena! The parents were in an uproar thinking that the ring steward had made a huge mistake. The judge announced that if the kids had control of their pigs, they would have never been able to leave the arena! Wow! It was a tough lesson for them! The only showmen left were the top showmen still working in their figure eight patterns. So be prepared to control your pig!
Clothing: Whether you wear a uniform or not, be sure to have clean, orderly clothing that is clean and sharp. Always wear a long sleeved shirt for showmanship. Tuck in your shirt, have new pants, clean boots and a matching belt. Ladies: be sure to have your hair pulled back out of your face. Remember, your presentation to the judge includes your clothes, pig training and grooming skills.
Style: Have your own style in the ring. The amount of time that you train your pig will help you to stand out in the ring. I have twin boys, and even though they look alike…they have completely different showing styles. Watch the intermediate and advanced classes to watch for style presentations. You’ll see a style that will click with you.
SPORTSMANSHIP: Be a good sportsman! No tricks, nasty looks or rolling eyes! Smile, work hard and be gracious and humble regardless of your class placement. If you have the opportunity, make an effort to shake the judges’ hand and thank them for their time. Keep showing and presenting as you leave the arena. It’s ok to feel disappointed if you didn’t place where you had hoped, but you need to keep those feelings out of the arena. Sportsmanship, pleasantry and good eye contact with a firm handshake are still in style!
SHOW TRICKS: There may be tips and techniques that are good in the show ring, but keep in mind, your judge is educated in conformation, health, breeding and showing of swine. They judge and see thousands of pigs each year in the show ring and many are in the swine industry as a career. I guarantee there isn’t any trick you can pull that the judge won’t know about! So keep it honest, show your pig to the best of your ability.
Showmanship is a skill that is improved with time and years of experience. This article is a stepping stone to more strategies in raising and showing a market pig. Look for our Showmanship Spotlight interviews! We’ll be getting the inside scoop of the exhibitors who are at the top of their showmanship game!