Call it Project Runway for pigs.
After a little spritz of water and a lot of brushing, they were judged on their ability to walk in the right direction. Judge Josh Krohn, of Tahoka, looked for enthusiasm and good eye contact, too, but from the pigs’ owners, not the pigs themselves.
A total of 27 youths, ranging from elementary to high school age, signed up to compete in junior pig showmanship Friday afternoon at the North Texas Fair and Rodeo, one of many Texas Junior Livestock Association events at the fair.
The nonprofit association sanctions a number of events around the state that allow youths to get experience exhibiting their animals before entering a major show, such as the State Fair of Texas or the annual livestock shows in Houston and San Antonio.
With the help of volunteers and donors, the association has contributed more than $2.4 million in scholarships during its 33-year history.
Participants, like McKena Taylor, 17, of Rice, earn points at sanctioned events depending on the competition, which is organized by the participant’s age, and the number of competitors. Friday’s show was Taylor’s second with her pig this year.
Eight kids ages 7 and younger did their best in the peewee class to keep their pigs walking and their eyes on the judge. The competition got a little stiffer with each age group, with eight participating in the junior class, for ages 8 to 11, and 10 participating in the intermediate class, for ages 12 to 14.
As he judged each class, Krohn noted that some participants and their pigs could have had a lot of practice walking together in competition, while for others, this could be their first time out.
It was hard to judge, too, knowing that the pigs could be hot and tired, he said.
Competition was tighter for the final senior class, for high schoolers ages 15 and older. Krohn started winnowing the group of 14 by carefully picking out five pigs and sending them to the holding pens with their owners. They would wait on the side for Krohn to bring them back to the ring a little later.
One by one, Krohn singled out other participants, shook their hands and thanked them for participating.
He told the crowd later he didn’t want to drag out his decision-making.
“Some of the pigs are being a little ornery — it’s been a hot day,” Krohn said.
When he had winnowed down to the two last pigs in the ring, he invited the other five back in. He watched them walk for a while, and he interviewed each of the owners briefly.
He picked Hunter Bell of Houston as the winner, and Bell will add a little more to the 200 points he has already earned this year in pig showmanship.
Out in the stands, Sadonia Melson sat with her husband and their two boys. The family just moved to Texas from California. The couple used to participate in pig and cattle showmanship when they were kids, Melson said. They brought the boys to the fair to see whether they might be interested in showing animals, too.
Garrett Melson, 7, paid close attention to the junior class after his mother challenged him to pick out the winner.
He did. He said he liked how Ashlyn Summers of Waxahachie used the little whip-stick to guide her pig.
“She did it really gently, and the pig was going where she wanted it to,” Garrett said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.