Around 20 swine are ushered into a circular pen to be judged on their quality of meat. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

The main grounds at the San Antonio Rodeo attract the largest crowds each evening, but it’s the barn area and stock show behind the AT&T Center that bustle with activity in the early mornings and daytime.

San Antonio’s Stock Show is one of the largest livestock shows in the country. This year, the event will draw thousands of people from all over the state and show around 20,000 different animals in both market and breeding shows over the three-week period, said San Antonio Rodeo staff.

The 2016 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is expected to draw more than 1.6 million people with its festivities.

Justin Morrison, a sophomore at James Madison High School, was just one of the thousands of students who competed in this year’s stock show. He and his 285-pound pig Bocephus, named after country singer Hank Williams Jr.’s nickname, have been preparing for this year’s stock show since Bocephus first stepped foot in her pen at the Madison High School barn.

“We’ve been maintaining her health and just making sure she’s been gaining weight,” he said, adding that on top of feeding her one and a half bags of feed each week, he has also been giving her fat supplements and powdered milk to beef up.

Swine are judged on their overall breeding to determine their quality of meat. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Swine are judged on their overall breeding qualities and their quality of meat. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone Credit: File Photo / San Antonio Report

While some shows like the Bexar County Stock Show put a weight limit on the animals, Morrison said, when it comes to pigs at the San Antonio stock show it’s all about getting them “just as big as you can get ’em.”

Bocephus competed in the breeding show where judges score the animals on their overall breeding and maternal qualities. This includes inspecting several physical qualities on the pig like the way their stomachs “drop,” Morrison said. The lower the drop, the better her qualities are as a sow, or a mother of piglets.

Animals in the market shows are evaluated by their quality of meat which can be determined simply by looking at their appearance. The animals with the seemingly best meat quality, or milk producing qualities in the case of dairy cows, advance to the shows which award top dollar to livestock owners who will eventually have to part with their animals when they’re sent to slaughter.

Other qualities that are judged include the way an animal “carries its fat” and whether or not they have good joints, Morrison said.

Around 20 swine are ushered into a circular pen to be judged on their quality of meat.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Around 20 swine are ushered into a circular pen to be judged on their quality of meat. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

In the end, Bocephus didn’t place in the junior breeding show, which is restricted to students in grade seven through 12, but placed 11 out of 11 in the open show, which is open to all ages. Since she didn’t place high enough to make it to the next round of showing, this year’s showing season was over for Morrison and his family who returned home without a ribbon or prize money.

They sold Bocephus to a breeder in Seguin on Friday.

“It was a little disheartening, but now she’s going to go make little piglets on the farm,” Morrison said.

Had Bocephus won the highest prize at the San Antonio stock show, she would have gone to the Champion Drive show for her species, Poland China. The first place winner then advances to the Best in Show Champion Drive, where livestock owners have the opportunity to win big money.

“Morrison said there’s a “nervous excitement” that comes with showing animals. It can mean more money for college, or going home empty handed.

Beyond the many hours of care and maintenance required to raise an animal for a stock show, there are also high costs involved. According to Morrision, Bocephus’ feed alone costs him around $32 a week, and her supplements tack on another $42 per bag.

Morrison’s mother, Rebecca, said his participation in the San Antonio show was made possible by winning an $800 scholarship from the rodeo’s Calf Scramble, a competition that awards a monetary certificate to members of 4-H and Future Farmers of America who successfully catch and guide a calf across the finish line in the AT&T Center.

Rebecca said the certificate goes towards the purchase of a breeding animal, that will be raised and shown at the San Antonio Livestock Show the following year. 

The money he won covered the cost of buying Bocephus, but some people can pay anywhere between $500 and $1,500 for a piglet, she added.

Other animals like dairy cows and steers are worth even more, she said. But as the saying goes, with great risk (or cost, in this case) comes great reward. At last year’s San Antonio Stock Show, the grand champion steer was auctioned off for $130,000 in the Junior Steer Market Auction, the winnings went to the 13-year-old steer owner out of Anson, Texas.

Pigs, unfortunately, don’t have the potential to go for a very high prize amount. Morrison’s biggest win was last year at the Bexar County Auction when his pig won him a $652 prize that went straight to his college savings.

Rodeo staff corner a pig as the judging round comes to a close.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Rodeo staff corner a pig as the judging round comes to a close. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Rebecca has raised show animals since she was her son’s age. Her knowledge of all things livestock is extensive, but her passion for it is even deeper. Morrison purchased her first pair of pigs, using the money her mother earned by selling canned vegetables, and she raised them in a humble barn built by her father.

Over the years, she has come to appreciate the skill set she has gained through livestock raising, and is proud to share them with her son.

“At some point, you have to really know how to take care of yourself,” she said. “(My husband and I) want to expose our children to as many experiences and opportunities as possible so that they’re prepared for the world.”

Much like the stock show which is overshadowed by the AT&T Center’s bull riding competitions and musical performances, Morrison feels that most people don’t recognize the impact livestock raising has on everyday food consumption and production.

“As you get more people in the world, there’s going to be a need for more people who have a basic conceptual understanding of how food production works,” she said. “Those are skills we’re going to need in the future.”

*Top image: Nearly 20 swine are ushered into a circular pen to be judged on their quality of meat.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone 

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Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is