Some say champions are born while others will argue they are made. In the world of livestock, both are true.
The old romantic notion that Ferdinand the Bull saw Bessie the Cow across a field and admired her beauty, brought her a bouquet of clover, courted her, fell in love, worked hard and raised a family of little cows and bulls before heading out to pasture really isn’t true. If you want to raise a livestock champion it takes science and a lot of hard work and dedication.
“When we pick out livestock we always start with a good structured animal that balances up well and have enough power and muscle,” Tyler and Emily (Montgomery) Gerke, of Gerke Livestock, explained.
The couple would know. Both have shown award-winning livestock throughout their youth. Prior to marrying Gerke, Emily exhibited the Reserve Champion barrow in the 2015 Sale of Champions at the Missouri State Fair. Last year, after the couple’s marriage in April, she showed the Reserve Champion Steer in the sale.
Missouri State Fair Livestock and Beef Superintendent David Dick agrees with the couple’s assessment.
“In each breed, there are breed characteristics that are looked at to be consistent such as the color patterns in Herefords, for example,” Dick explained. “Some are really apparent and some are more subtle.
“Each breed classifies their characteristics and the animal must meet these qualifications to be exhibited in the show,” Dick continued. “Some breeds have a breeders committee that does this prior to checking in for the show. Judges use this as part of their evaluation.”
Once an animal is chosen as a potential show animal, the work begins.
“When we get our animals home we start the training breaking process,” Emily Gerke said. “We sit with them and get them used to us before we try to walk them or put a halter on them.”
After the couple gets used to them and the animals respond and are well behaved, the Gerkes begin the daily process of brushing and conditioning.
“For the calves, we rinsed and worked their hair before 5 a.m. every morning and again in the evening,” Emily explained. “When it came time for them to go into the cooler we did the same thing but after the evening rinse we put them back in the cooler and let them out at 10 p.m. or so when it’s dark.”
As far as the pigs go, their hair is brushed and conditioned twice or more each day and rinsed after the pigs are walked.
“We choose to walk our pigs once a day for a long period of time,” Gerke commented. “Some people choose to walk them twice a day and it’s just a personal preference and what works for each showman. We walked once a day for 30 to 45 minutes when we got closer to show day.”
Gerke added keeping the pens cleaned daily is an important factor in the grooming process. The clean pens help to ensure the livestock’s skin and hair always stays clean and in good condition.
“Skin and hair is very important in show pigs and cattle and often times it could be the difference between winning a class and getting second,” Gerke added.
Dick said he believes grooming and the appearance of the livestock is an important factor judges consider when evaluating livestock.
“It is extremely important,” Dick commented. “Clean goes without question and grooming can help accentuate the good things and cover or hide any flaws.”
Although there are specialty products available, many exhibitors use common household products such as shampoo and dishwashing liquid to bathe their animals. Hairdryers, shop vacs and air drying are used to dry the coats. Dyes are not permitted, according to Dick.
“The general rule is no color can be used above the hock,” Dick explained. “This is a food safety issue as well as regarding product revenue. There are hair products that enhance the hair but natural appearance is keenly important to the judge.”
Those in attendance at the fair Saturday can see what the judges have selected as the 2019 Reserve and Grand Champion livestock during the Sale of Champions. The sale begins at 1:30 p.m. in the Lowell Mohler Assembly Hall.