By Michelle Brooks
RUSSELLVILLE - Clayton Thompson is carrying on a 140-plus-year family tradition on the land of his ancestors.
Since he was age 5, Thompson has shown hogs.
As an incoming senior at Cole County R-5 Schools and the president of the FFA Chapter there, Thompson has even more pride and expectation in his work.
His father Mark is a seventh-generation row cropper. For Thompson, he enjoys being part of agriculture but with his own spin on it.
Some hog-show competitors buy already-bred hogs or they buy semen elsewhere, Thompson said.
"We raise our own," he said. "It's more rewarding when you win; you didn't just buy a pig."
His mother Pam added, "It's fun to watch them grow and change, too."
Contrary to the city stereotype, pigs are not messy or stinky, if given the chance, Thompson said.
They learn quickly and even develop personalities.
After more than a decade of competition, Thompson's interest in showing hogs has not slowed.
"It's an addiction; you get a little success and you just want to keep getting successes," he said.
Raising the show pigs takes a significant time commitment and can be unpredictable.
Sometimes the best-looking animal early on can get sick or a scrawny looking youngster can fill out unexpectedly.
He visits the barn at least three times a day to take on chores, like cleaning pens or giving the hogs a walk.
They love to be brushed and they look forward to their turn in the shower stall.
"Commercial pigs are not pampered as much as show pigs," Thompson noted.
His favorite is nicknamed "Spotter."
"She's got personality," he said.
After the show season, there's about a month of down time before the three-week breeding season kicks in. Then, it's 114 days of waiting for gestation and then the cycle begins again.
At the Cole County Fair show, Thompson looks forward to familiar faces and having a good time, he said.
But unlike others who will show there and then sell their livestock, Thompson will head on to the state fair show in Sedalia.
Thompson ear notches his pigs for identification, rather than tattoos or tags, because that's what is required for the shows.
Then when he travels to out-of-state shows, blood tests and veterinarian certified health statements are required, too.
"It's kind of a hassle," Thompson admitted. "But, I knew my pig got sick from someone else's, I'd be upset."
Livestock shows have a lot of rules. For purebred events, there are even more regulations, but the competition is smaller.
"It's fun and something different to show," Thompson said.
Last year, the Thompsons invested in an improved traveler trailer, which allowed them to go to shows further away, including the 2,600-pig show at the World Pork Expo in Iowa.
This year, they built a dedicated barn for the his hogs. Thompson built the iron gates and pens in his agriculture welding class this spring.
The specialized barn offers a smooth, cool concrete floor and the ability to individualize the food and watering needs of each animal.
Thompson now keeps a variety of feed bags at hand to either add muscle or mass or whatever a hog's needs are.
"It makes a huge difference in the quality of the hog," Thompson said.
How they look in front of the show judge reflects how well they'll eat after the butcher, he said.
The Thompsons enjoy their work at their own table, too.
"We eat our own, because we know they will taste good," Pam said.
This year, they're raising pure-bred Berkshires for the first time.
"We're anxious to see what they're all about," Thompson said.
The specialty prosciutto ham is made from Berkshires fed only acorns.
"We may look into that in the future," he said.
Although Thompson is unsure what his college major may be, he is certain he will remain in FFA until he ages out at 21.
"My goal is to show as long as I can," he said. "And then, I'll look for a kids to pass it on to."