The life of a show pig is far from that of pigs that are raised commercially for meat. The show pig industry is a significant component of the American swine industry where pigs are bred and sold to be raised as exhibition animals by youth to compete in national shows.
Various breeds of pigs have specific qualities that are emphasized in the show ring. For example, Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web belongs to the Yorkshire breed, a popular breed in both United States and Canada. To be eligible for show, Wilbur must have a clean, white hair coat, clear eyes, excellent reproductive and foot conformation and overall muscling.
Show pig producers showcase these specific qualities by breeding extremely lean pigs. Some participants use feed-additives such as ractopamine, which increases the percentage of lean muscle mass by redirecting nutrients from fat synthesis to muscle growth.
It is important to realize that as with any food-animal, even a show pig’s career ends on the dinner plate. Research shows that as a result of selecting for leaner genetics, these animals are also genetically predisposed to Porcine Stress Syndrome (PSS) and produce pale, soft and exudative (PSE) meat. There are also concerns about illegal use of muscle enhancing drugs such as ractopamine among show animals that are sent for human consumption. Also of concern is the transmission of diseases among shows pigs. Disease caused by roundworms, whipworms, lice and mites as well as bacterial and viral pathogens is common. Veterinarians also frequently treat lameness and rectal prolapses in show pigs.
Each year in the United States, approximately one million pigs are raised as show pigs. It is imperative that swine veterinarians work closely with participants in the show pig industry to ensure food safety and animal care while keeping Wilbur show ring ready!
Check out my twitter @KashKuruppuOVC for a snapshot of when I got to meet Ka$h the show pig last week!