“Weight” a minute. Isn’t this about the kids?

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Welcome back to Darin’s Pig Pen! After more than a six-month hiatus, we are back and ready to roll. First, let me apologize to my readers who’ve been asking why there haven’t been any new posts. Many have sent their questions and sought advice privately, and I hope I’ve been able to help.

 

A lot has been going on with Cerdos, LLC and Kuhlow Girls Showpigs since the last post in the Pig Pen! We’ve been showing pigs and winning banners! We launched our new Fertify product which has far exceeded our own lofty expectations. We’ve been working to expand our products and services and running a little short-staffed. (We are hiring by the way). All those things and more have kept me extremely busy and running on little sleep. That would be a convenient excuse for the lack of new posts in the Pig Pen, but it’s not the reason.

 

The truth is I’ve been struggling. I’ve been overwhelmed with a deep feeling of intense sadness and it has impacted both my work and my family life. You see, last spring a friend of mine discovered that his son had a brain tumor. Shortly after that startling news, a beloved uncle of mine unexpectedly passed away, suffering a heart attack in his sleep. No, it’s not the first time I’ve dealt with the death of a family member, but for some reason this one hit me particularly hard. I began to realize that my parents are at the age where they could be gone in a moment’s notice and that realization frightened me. Growing up, my parents seemed invincible. Even as I became an adult, they were always so strong, smart, experienced; the people my sisters and I would lean on for help and advice. Never did they seem fragile, weak or vulnerable in any way. Then one day I look up from my busy life and realize they’ve become old people. While I wouldn’t consider them weak or fragile, age and medical issues are catching up to them. My uncle’s passing was a wake-up call for me to spend more time with them and cherish the moments while they are still here.

 

While we all lose loved ones in our life, we aren’t supposed to outlive our children. The news of my friend’s son’s battle with cancer hit me even harder than the passing of my uncle. There are different kinds of friends we’ll have throughout life. There are the friends we make in early childhood, the high-school friends, the college buddies and the friends we meet at our jobs. For me, most of the people I consider my friends are people I meet through the course of operating my business. While we don’t share the long history of childhood friends, the bond of friendship grows through things like working together on projects, attending trade shows, business dinners and livestock shows. When I meet really good, honest, caring people, it doesn’t matter how long I’ve known them. Those kinds of people are far too rare and I am grateful for them. My heart ached when I heard the news about the brain tumor and hoped that surgery and treatment would restore this little boy to perfect health. I followed the progress on Facebook, and I stayed in touch with my friend to see how he was doing. Not a day went by when their family wasn’t weighing heavily on my mind. I looked at my own children and realized how fortunate I’ve been that they’ve remained in good health. I couldn’t imagine the pain and suffering of having a child with a terminal illness and felt so helpless as test after test came back with more bad news. The treatment wasn’t working. When I came to the realization that they were going to lose their son I was horrified. I crawled into a mental hole from which I am just now beginning to emerge. I wasn’t a very good friend. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I was overwhelmed with fear and sadness for what they were going through while once again dealing with the realization of the fragility of life and how things can change so drastically in a moment’s notice. Just as the death of my uncle inspired me to spend more time with my parents, their tragedy served as another wake-up call for me to treasure time spent with my children. Their strength and courage through the illness and ultimate loss of their son will serve as an inspiration for me for the rest of my life.

 

It shouldn’t require tragedy to bring us into focus. I don’t know why we can’t live our lives with passion and integrity, treating others with respect and dignity while cherishing each moment with our family and friends as though it could be our last. I guess its human nature to become accustom to the daily grind and begin taking things for granted. I’ve challenged myself to appreciate more the things in life which are truly important and worry less about the “other stuff”. We had a pretty good summer showing hogs, with my daughter capturing the 3rd overall gilt banner at the World Pork Expo and Kuhlow Girls exhibiting the reserve champion York boar at the Summer Type Conference. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of those banners. I’m a competitive person, and my kids are the same, but at the same time I realize that without my kids, those banners wouldn’t mean a thing. What matters most is not whether my daughter was in first or last place; it matters that she was there. It matters that we were together, spending quality time together as a family, and treasuring the moment, win or lose.

 

The show-livestock industry has done an outstanding job of promoting livestock shows as a family event. The junior organizations continue to grow at an amazing rate. We often hear the phrase, “It’s about the kids”. Indeed for some livestock breeders, selling show stock to “show families” is a full-time business, while for many more it is a side-business or a hobby. Whether a business or hobby, there is little doubt that it’s the junior projects that drive the show stock industry. I enjoy seeing the pictures which customers send to us of kids with their projects! The smiles on the faces of those kids serve as a great reminder not only of why we raise livestock, but of what our real purpose should be. It really is about the kids. All of it. I’m not talking about just the show ring, but in a larger sense. Without children, what would become of the world? Isn’t it our responsibility to raise them with honesty and integrity?

 

There’s been a lot of controversy recently in the purebred show pig world revolving around breed purity and “over-aged” pigs. The NSR informed breeders that in order to combat the over-age issue, breeding stock at national shows would no longer be shown by age, but instead all hogs would be weighed with classes broken down by weight. I suppose this is in response to complaints about hogs appearing to be much larger in size for their age bracket than others in the same class. The controversy arising from this announcement eventually led to an amendment to the policy that classes would still be broken down by age, but hogs would also be weighed with WDA (weight per day of age) being published in the show program. At the same time, a change to the breed-purity test for the Hampshire breed was being implemented which resulted in the registration papers of several animals being nullified. As you can imagine, this stirred a lot of controversy as breeders began to learn that many of their upcoming “Hampshire” litters would now simply be crossbreds.

 

There isn’t an apparent simple solution to either of these issues. There are complexities that deserve consideration in order to arrive at the correct and proper way to move forward. I’m certain we’ll be discussing this in upcoming posts in the Pig Pen, but while the solution might not be readily apparent, the root problem is very clear. CHEATING. DISHONESTY. Allowing the desire to win to have more importance than integrity. Let’s just speak honestly. The widespread contamination of a breed doesn’t happen by one or two simple mistakes. Hogs which are way out of class in terms of size and weight are not a recording error. The NSR has trusted it’s breeders to be honest and to operate with integrity, and that trust was largely misplaced. They are trying now to take steps to correct that and they are meeting resistance.

 

This is the ugly side of the show ring. For as much as I love to see the smiles and the backdrop pictures, I equally despise the “win at all cost” mentality that allows people to justify dishonesty. Chasing the banner or chasing the money can cloud people’s judgement. For all the great things our children can learn showing livestock, there is plenty of bad they can learn as well. While attending shows and sifts over the years, I’ve had parts and pieces stolen off my trailer hitch, spare tires stolen, display products stolen not only off the display table, but from boxes stashed underneath the table hidden by the table cover as well! Kids at World Pork Expo will grab anything off the display table that isn’t nailed down. If I leave to use the bathroom without someone to guard the booth there won’t be anything left when I return. I’ve witnessed more public drunkenness around children at livestock shows and much more foul language in their presence than at just about any other “family event” I’ve participated in. If it’s really “about the kids”, what are we really teaching them? To get drunk and act foolish? To steal tires, whips, and AI rods? To lie about the age of their pig? That anything you do is ok as long as you win the banner or get the big payday?

 

What can be done? I think it’s up to each of us to hold ourselves to a higher standard. It took a couple of tragic events this year to really focus me on what’s most important. Many have asked my opinion about the over-aged issue at national shows. My response? I don’t really care! We’ve had the biggest hogs in class before and we’ve had the smallest. We’re going to continue to declare the hogs as their actual age, care for and feed them the best we can and show in whatever class we get put in. If we’re asked to weigh them, we’ll weigh them. If we’re asked to DNA-test them we will do that too. We’re going to focus on what’s important. We’re going to work together as a family and continue to make great hogs the best way we know how. We’re going to follow the rules and trust that the judge and fellow breeders can see the value in our hogs. We’re going to sell honest hogs to our customers and treat people the way we would like to be treated. We’ll continue to ignore the gossip and rumors that constantly swirl around the industry and stay focused on doing things with integrity. We’re going to continue to hug our kids just a little bit tighter each night and cherish each moment we have with them. We’re going to set an example for them which we’ll be proud to see them follow! We’ll make mistakes, and we’ll learn from them. None of us are perfect, but we owe it to our children to try. I invite each of you to do the same. After all, it really is about the kids.


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