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Steve Nichols
BELIEVES IN KIDS: Steve Nichols still believes kids learn and grow through projects like raising and showing pigs in 4-H.

Former hog judge shares thoughts about judging, industry

Steve Nichols watched 4-H change and the pork industry evolve over 45 years.

Steve Nichols, Delphi, walked into the show ring in buildings and arenas big and small for 45 years. He judged hogs at some of the smallest shows in Indiana and some of the largest national shows. He retired this year.

It wouldn’t be right to let him walk away without sharing his insights. Here is his exclusive interview with Indiana Prairie Farmer. 

IPF: What is one observation you’ve made about showing hogs in 4-H?

Nichols: It has definitely changed. Back when you and I showed in 4-H, we didn’t have all the feed products that they have today. In the end, though, it should still be about letting kids have fun.

IPF: What did you try to accomplish as a judge?

Nichols: I wanted to make sure that every time a kid drove a pig into the ring, the pig got a fair, honest look. Every kid deserves a fair evaluation of his or her animal.

IPF: Some people throw big money at animals today. How has that influenced the show ring?

Nichols: As a judge, that’s not what you’re there to worry about. Show organizers hired me to evaluate pigs. I tried to not be influenced by who was driving the pig. Some breeders like to stand behind a pig they’re connected to once the pig is in a placing pen. That doesn’t cut it for me.

One time we were sorting and giving some pigs the gate because it was a big class. I sent one out the gate, and the guy running the gate whispered, “You just sent out a $15,000 pig.” It didn’t bother me — the pig wasn’t good enough to stay.

IPF: What do you hope people watching thought about your judging capabilities?

Nichols: I hope they realized I gave every pig an honest look, and that I was consistent. One dad came out of the bleachers after a show to talk to me. “Well, you’re consistent. I didn’t agree with anything you did, but I must admit that you were consistent.” That’s good enough for me.

IPF: There are a few people who cheat, and many people know it. There is one camp that thinks if the judge knows an animal isn’t honest, he or she should bury it. How does a judge look at it?

Nichols: The late Hobe Jones, a longtime swine professor at Purdue University and the hog judge who got me started, told me that it’s up to the show committee to handle issues like that before animals get to the ring. Once they’re in the ring, it’s the judge’s job to evaluate them.

IPF: It’s common knowledge that many judges pick females more on meat traits and less on maternal traits. Show gilts often have problems farrowing. Do you agree with that observation?

Nichols: Yes, that’s true. But don’t expect it to change. The show industry has trended toward producing barrows. You would like to have a gilt with maternal traits, but she still has to have the right set of other qualities, too. It comes down to this. There are two industries today: the show pig industry and the commercial production industry. You may not like it, but that’s reality.

Read more of Nichols' memories from his judging career here.

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