HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — For more than 100 years, the Pennsylvania Farm Show has been a proving ground for livestock. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, there are 11 departments of animal competitions, a total of 8,510 classes or individual competitions.
“It’s very competitive,” said Terry Flasher, of Three Springs.
Flasher has been competing in livestock competitions for almost 15 years. She started competing with 4-H when she was in school and now helps her kids compete.
Flasher says her family focuses on raising natural, clean animals and enjoying the experience, but she says some exhibitors are motivated by money and prestige.
“For some, it’s all about the banner. If you are a supreme champion, you get the name, the recognition, a trailer, prizes, publicity,” Flasher said.
This year, the grand champion steer was auctioned off for $20,000.
“Part of that is about bragging rights. Part of it is about the sales and marketing opportunities that come out of it. So, there is pressure on these kids to really perform while they are here,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said.
The push to be the best may lead some to cheat.
“Some people use twine. Some use artificial hair to make the animals look bigger and fuller,” Flasher said. “There are quite a few things that have happened that I am like, ‘no we are not doing that.'”
Allison Schmuck has been competing for 10 years and says she has seen some questionable practices.
“I don’t really want to say what, but yes, there have been a couple of things. In times, it has made that animal win when it probably shouldn’t have,” Schmuck said.
According to the rules, competitors cannot alter an animal’s performance or its appearance by using paint or fake hair. Animals are also not permitted to be injected with banned substances like hormones and steroids. Some of these substances can help an animal build muscle mass, dehydrate an animal to make muscles look more defined, or make an animal’s hide look more smooth.
The Agriculture Department says since 2011, seven competitors have been disqualified for using banned substances during livestock competitions at the Farm Show.
“There aren’t big problems, but you do occasionally find an issue. To have people cheating the system, it’s not fair. We don’t want them in that competition,” Redding said.
Redding says all Farm Show competitors must sign a code of ethics and a certificate of veterinary inspection is required 30 days in advance. During the Farm Show, animals are checked by a veterinarian for visible signs of disease as they are unloaded from trailers. The state also pays for testing to screen for banned substances.
“Every junior market animal that is exhibited is blood tested and every champion is blood tested,” Redding said. “That is also important because these animals end up in the food supply.”
Those who violate the rules can be stripped of prize money and titles in addition to being banned from future competitions.
“We expect them to do the right thing and if they don’t, they are not welcome here,” Redding said.