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Rain drizzled outside the livestock trailer at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds where Jay Deaton was preparing Thursday for the show ring.

His mother, Sydney, was helping adjust the plastic and elastic harness that he and other contestants wear to display their numbers for judging.

With black jeans, a white shirt and boots, Jay, 18, was dressed for the occasion. His bolo tie and height made him stand out among others in the senior division with whom he would be competing.

Jay, who’s slim and serious, finished his senior year at Capital High School and will be heading to Montana State University in Bozeman to major in agri-business.

He had but a few minutes to talk before Sydney told him it was time to go into the ring. From the back door to the livestock trailer a plywood ramp was placed and Bear, a gray pig mottled with black and born Jan. 2 of this year, was led from the bedding of wood shavings where she was kept.

The wood shavings were brushed off her. An aerosol can of conditioner was sprayed on her coat before a final brushing.

Bear has already been bathed and had her skin conditioned to prepare her for showing. A judge will dock points if the pig’s skin doesn’t look well groomed. 

Jay took Bear for a walk in the pasture that morning as a workout, Sydney said, so she’d be ready for competition.

Neither Jay nor Bear are novices.

Jay has been showing pigs for roughly 10 years and said, “This is our seventh or eighth show this year.”

“We’re leaving for state fair next week, then we have a week off,” he continued and noted then they’re off for two shows in Billings.

Attending competition in Boise involves a nine-hour drive, he said. Competition in Wyoming is six hours in the truck.

He went to Louisville, Kentucky, but not to show. Instead, he went to watch the competition.

The family has a place in the Scratchgravel Hills, north of Helena, where Jay has 10 pigs he raises as part of his breeding project.

His pigs are crossbreeds, he said, and explained that raising pigs is a hobby for him.

“I really enjoy it. I really enjoy working all my animals every day and getting ready to show,” he explained.

Sydney shows a cellphone photo of him around 5:30 a.m., just before Bear and another of his pigs were loaded into the trailer for the competition. Jay and Bear are walking in a field. This is something he does often to prepare his pigs for competition.

“It’s fun training an animal, as it is another living thing,” he said.

His father, Dennis, is inside the fairgrounds multi-purpose building helping prepare for the 7 a.m. showmanship competition when Jay and Sydney arrive.

“Jay’s pretty serious about it,” Sydney said.

Friends call him up to talk about showing and pigs, and the conversation will go on for an hour, she added.

Passionate is how she describes his interest in showing his pigs and explained, “You’re taking care of another animal that can’t feed itself.”

Jay and more than a dozen competitors are in the show ring and use canes or flexible 3-foot “whips” to guide their pigs by tapping them on the shoulders and jowls.

Most of the pigs walk about silently. An occasional squeal comes when a pig is encouraged to move from a corner where something has caught its attention.

Their owners are silent too, focused on their animals and on the judge, Chip Kemp, an instructor and director of youth leadership programs for the Division of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. 

Kemp offers encouragement to the competitors and tells them they’ve got to keep the pigs where he can see them.

“Your job is to keep it in the judge’s line of sight,” he said.

Showing pigs is making something that’s chaotic make sense, look controlled and relaxed, he explained.

Bear and Jay make the cut and wait in a pen while another group competes. Bear stands relaxed near Jay. She’s been rewarded with marshmallows and vanilla wafers, a drink of water and some water sprayed on her to keep her cool.

Jay and Bear are back for the championship round. They’re one of six competitors. Kemp provides individual tips and encouragement before the top two receive ribbons.

The gold goes to Jay for winning the competition.

His trip back to the family’s livestock trailer is as relaxed as it was when he and Bear entered the ring. Bear saunters back into the trailer. Her work is done.

Jay accepts high-fives and congratulations. Winning feels good, he said, and no, he wasn’t nervous.

“She’s done it before,” he said. “I had confidence in her. I walk her about a half an hour every day. Walk her out on the lawn to train her. Showmanship. What she just did.”

To show at a high level takes work and practice, Kemp said after Jay had left the ring.

What goes into winning, Kemp explained, is “a lot of experience, a lot of hard work, a lot of luck. But you really have to want it.”

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Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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