High on the hog
By Brian Besch
About 18 months ago, the Enterprise featured Livingston High School’s Halle Hawkins after she won awards with three different animals at the Texas State Fair in Dallas. She captured two reserve championships and a supreme champion at the show, winning over more than 1,000 competitors.
She has done it again, this time winning an even bigger show. She can now add San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo Market Barrow Show Grand Champion to her impressive list of awards.
Halle’s father, Livingston Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins, said Fort Worth is like the Indianapolis 500 and Super Bowl of stock shows for steers. He said the same goes for San Antonio when showing pigs.
“It is the hardest Barrow show in the world and a whole lot of that has to do with Texas money,” he said. “They refer to it as the Super Bowl of pig shows. It is the Mount Everest and every kid that dreams of the stock show and pig show business, dreams of winning San Antonio. Everything else is just a smaller mountain.”
Dr. Hawkins said a breeder once termed winning the Barrow show at San Antonio like buying one ticket at the convenience store and winning the lottery, then being struck by lightning on the way back home.
“What makes ours more difficult is she doesn’t have some of the things that the other kids have,” Dr. Hawkins said. “Her daddy doesn’t own a boar stud. There was a kid in the grand drive that she beat that had 60 pigs on feed. To feed pigs is about $1,500 apiece. You can see how much money they have invested. I saw a fifth in class pig that I know I was at the sale for, and that daddy gave $80,000 for the pig. She beat a $40,000 pig in one of the drives. We can’t afford those pigs. There are a lot of kids in the state of Texas that have million-dollar barns. The barns don’t have anything to do with it; it is the animals inside. There are kids in the state of Texas that insure their pigs for over a million dollars. We don’t have the ability to do that, so we have to work harder and work smarter in order for our little amount of money to go up against the giants.”
Dr. Hawkins said $2,000 was paid for Wehmer, the latest overall champion shown by Halle. There are multiple millions of dollars that do not even make it into the grand drive, the final contest that decides a grand champion.
“I just work hard,” Halle said of her secret to success.
Halle is out at the barn more often than anyone else and has a wide knowledge that gives her an edge.
“Every day after school and on the weekends I am out there walking them, washing them, and just giving all of my time to them,” she said.
Some of the more affluent pig owners hire people to walk, wash, and train the animals. Some of Halle’s success is that she does all of that work herself. From August to February, she spends three to four hours after school every day and eight to 10 hours on the weekends. She was kept away from the animals for about an hour to be interviewed.
“We normally start it by feeding them and then we will give them time to eat,” she said. “Then, we will start exercising them, sunning them so that they can get darker, and washing them.”
The pigs are oiled up for the sun to become the right color, then they are washed with soap to get the oil off the skin. They are conditioned and dried, then a different oil goes on to prevent the hair from drying out. It is a skin care routine that would make movie stars jealous.
Feeding doesn’t just involve going to buy a sack. There are eight different barrels of feed that goes into a pig meal. Grains, pellets, oats and about 10 different supplements that are good for anything from more body to joints all combine for a winning mixture. Each supplement has a different amount of protein, lysine, and fat content. Dr. Hawkins said 40% of success is being able to feed the pig.
“It is the way that you build them out of that feed,” he said. “It is adjusted every week and you weigh every Sunday. You have a target show date on that pig, so you are looking at the average rate of daily gain and trying to figure out what weight you want this pig to show at. You’re monitoring the average and increasing or decreasing the volume of your base feed. If they are too lean, you start adding some fat supplements in there in order to put more conditioning on that pig.”
Halle’s father and uncle have a talent for finding the diamond in the rough. They do not spend the type of money that others can, but have a good idea what to look for in potential prospects.
“The pigs are more unpredictable than a steer,” Dr. Hawkins said. “When you look at a steer, you imagine it bigger and that’s what that steer is going to look like. When you look at a pig, it is hard to predict what he is going to look like.”
There’s also a certain way to show the animal, where the sides, back and front are profiled for the judges. That is also an everyday practice. With all the work Halle puts in with her pig, they become one with her whenever it’s time to show.
“Every day after school, we train them and exercise them. They have to have the lungs to walk around the ring the whole time they are in there.” Halle said. “They have to be able to hold their head up.”
There is footwork, where their heels must be conditioned to make sure the animals do not bust a pad. Pens are cleaned every Saturday, lasting about two to three hours. The animals have to walk a certain way, as their head must remain up. They must be able to strut for 45 minutes, meaning they must be trained to do so. In order to condition the pigs, Halle walks with them for hours at a time. If the animal is not in condition and breaks down, that contestant will not win.
Halle did collect $75,000 for sale of the animal, but says she would give it all back if she could have kept Wehmer. All who participate in the grand drive win a $10,000 scholarship, which she has tentatively planned to put toward nursing school at Stephen F. Austin University.
While the $75,000 is a lot of money, it may not have covered the expenses of travel, pigs, feed and supplements. Supplements are a big expense, including one that is now $462 per 20-pound bucket. Dr. Hawkins said the price has grown exponentially, since it is made from 1,000 eggs. A few years ago, the bucket was $75, but grew to as much as $650.
Participants usually are not into showing animals for money, it is a love for the animals and participating in the events.
“It is the thrill that she got, and to see your kid,” Dr. Hawkins said. “I’ve got pictures of her back when she was at the Pineywoods fair in Nacogdoches doing Pee Wee shows. She was four years old. There is no telling how many miles we have traveled. We have flown and caught a plane in Houston and flew to the Midwest to rent a car to look at pigs. Father and daughter have traveled a lot of miles together. When you see your kid walk into the greatest show in the world and see her win, and you see the emotion that went into that win – to me, I walked away from that show knowing I have a young lady now. She has been raised in that showroom and that is what we do this for. We are raising kids.”
Halle has a few contests in Houston and will try to extend her incredible success at the world’s largest livestock show.
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