A Conflicted Mom’s Take on Showing Livestock During COVID

A million thoughts raced through my mind as we pulled out of the driveway. Are we putting our kids in danger? Is this the right decision? What will everyone think? I’ve never had those thoughts as we headed off to show our pigs at a national show before. But 2020 is different.

Some people will never be able to understand what drives us to invest so many dollars, so many hours and so much of ourselves into showing pigs. But when I look around at the four faces I’ve been blessed to do life with, I know without a doubt, there is no better investment.

However, I’d be lying if I said I’m not conflicted. 

Everything feels like a battle of my mind these days. I blame it on motherhood. Goodness, having kids changes you! You develop a “mama bear” mindset where you’d do anything to protect your babies from harm. Unfortunately, coronavirus is a difficult enemy to battle. 

Showing livestock allows us to focus on something together.

So, What Do You Do?
For nearly three months, I sheltered at place with my kids. My husband was the “sacrificial lamb” that we sent out for groceries, animal feed and the essentials. We have taken this virus seriously. We’ve followed the ever shifting and changing rules. We’ve tried to do our part.

But through it all, another enemy lurks quietly in the background – fear. 

As a parent, I feel like I am up against an impossible task – protecting their physical health and their mental health. My fear over making the right choice has put me on a rollercoaster of sleepless nights and anxiety.

Feeding and working with our showpigs allows us to focus on something other than COVID-19. It brings us together in the barn where we’re making memories and learning. From the moment we brought our pigs home, our goal was to do our best to win a banner. But, one by one, shows were canceled. When things started opening up again and the opportunity presented itself to get the pigs to a national live show in July, we wanted to give it our best shot to get there.

Day One: Social Distancing 
When we pulled into the fairgrounds, a wave of nostalgia and a joy I haven’t felt for some time flooded my heart. As we unloaded our trailer at 4 a.m., we couldn’t hide our smiles. It just felt good to feel normal again. 

We had quite a few talks with the kids, ranging in age from 6 to 14, about handwashing and social distancing. We left a state where you are supposed to wear a mask to spend a week in a state where it is not required. Those differences are hard to explain to kids. 

Regardless, I felt safe on day one. The barns were open-sided and we created a “camp” under a tent outdoors so we had a place to hang out. We were encouraged to stick to a smaller group of a few families to spend our time with instead of letting our kids travel more freely around the barns. 

Ring workers opened and closed gates as much as possible to avoid touchpoints. Staff wiped down gates every few classes with Clorox wipes and disinfecting spray during breaks in the show.

Day Two: Masks in the Ring
As we walked to the ring for showmanship on day two, it felt weird to see some of the judges and ring workers in masks. But I appreciated the gesture and their willingness to play it safe. The show rings were also located in open-sided barns and the bleachers were blocked off to create more space between groups of people watching the show. 

The shows were recorded live so when we weren’t showing, we were encouraged to head back to our tents and watch the show on our phones or computer to avoid crowds. These precautions gave me some peace of mind. 

Day Three: Adrenaline Kicks In
Typically, our kids are busy competing in skillathons and judging contests at these events when they aren’t showing pigs. But this year, most contests were held in advance virtually. In some ways, that was nice. But it’s not the same. There is no replacement for human interaction, face-to-face mentoring and the opportunity for your kids to learn from others in the industry. 

There’s also something to be said about the adrenaline that kicks in when the contest starts. I think that was one of the best parts of the show in real life versus virtual shows. The kids had the opportunity to get those butterflies in their stomach, work to calm their nerves and put their game face on and compete. I think that’s so healthy, especially when most of those opportunities for kids to compete have been taken away.

Showing purebred barrows on a hot, humid day was more blissful than ever because as we stood around the ring and watched our kids show, we all had a greater appreciation for the gift of showing livestock and what it meant to simply be united together under one building.

When your child wasn't in the ring, you were encouraged to watch the show online.

Day Four: I Don’t Want it to End
On the final day, our kids said it best: We don’t want this to end. There was just something bigger than COVID-19 in that moment and it felt so good. There was community. And quite frankly, we needed that.

As I looked around, I couldn’t help but be grateful for everyone. From the cranky old Duroc breeder who never misses a show and the young exhibitor who took their pig into the ring for the first time, to the girls taking photographs in the show ring and the people selling ice cream on the corner. 

We were in it together.

By the end of the show, we had achieved our goals. We added some banners. The kids’ hard work and efforts were rewarded with a sense of accomplishment. I saw them laugh more than they’ve laughed in a long time.

My son with one of his closest confidants during COVID - Daisy.

Was the Risk Worth It? 
I hope so. As we approached home, my chest tightened. The anxiety crept back in. For the next two weeks, I will be uneasy. Just like I was after we took our first trip to Iowa post-quarantine to celebrate my mother’s retirement. We are taking precautions. But COVID-19 doesn’t play fair. I could just as easily pick up the virus getting my groceries in town. That makes it tough. 

I’ve talked to doctors, nurses, veterinarians, mental health specialists, friends, family and even people I really don’t know about all of this. The one thing I do know about this virus is that it’s hard to know what’s right. No one agrees – not even the experts. 

When we returned home, we disinfected and sanitized everything that went to the show – just like we do with our pig equipment and supplies. We are back to wearing masks in our community where required. We are sharing with our friends and coaches where we’ve been. But is it enough? 

The challenge is that it’s hard to follow guidance that’s not available. Should you go to that basketball tournament out of state? How about optional band practice? Should you go on vacation? Stay in a hotel? Should you eat out? Go to Wal-Mart? Visit the dentist? Need I go on? 

At the end of the day, we had to weigh out what was best for our family and take a step of faith. I wish you the best in doing what’s right for yours. Because really, that’s all any of us can do right now. 

Listen to Jennifer and Guest Host Tyne Morgan on AgriTalk below.

Read more:

State Fair Cancellations Shatter Dreams Across the Country

Unpopular County Fair Opinion

The Show Will Go On at the Missouri State Fair

Indiana State Fair Canceled, Plans for Modified Youth Livestock Show