Wednesday night wasn't just a big night for the Rodgers and Lackey family who won Grand and Reserve Grand Champion Junior Market Swine, respectively. In the background, another family was experiencing overwhelming emotions. That family is the Heimer's, led by Jesse Heimer of Heimer Hampshires based in Taylor, Missouri, who raised both champion pigs, and began this tradition of winning 20 years ago to the date.
Heimer remembers the day he sold a pig in the fall of 1997. This belted hog (see image below) showed 10 times before exhibiting at the 1998 National Western. After being named Champion Hampshire, he was eventually named Grand Champion Junior Market Swine that year.
"Wednesday was a monumental day, but we all have a beginning, " Heimer said.
Heimer's beginning included growing up on a traditional Midwestern farm. His dad grew row crops and they had a small herd of commercial pigs. Heimer's father stopped farming around 1990 and the sow herd was phased back. The goal of raising pigs then was for Heimer and his siblings to show them as 4-H projects and potentially sell a few here and there.
Heimer said, "Back then, we didn't really have an identity. We were just pig farmers from Missouri."
That was the theme for Heimer's time in high school and college. When Heimer graduated college in 2003, the family stopped raising pigs. After Heimer spent some time outside of the pig business, he realized that raising and selling pigs was exactly what he wanted to do. So, in 2006, they restarted their pig business.
"Raising pigs was a very early passion, but it took some time to figure out that's exactly where I needed to be and what I should be doing," Heimer said.
The relationships Heimer has built since he began this journey are extremely important to him.
"The most rewarding part of this industry are the kids and the families I get to work with," Heimer said. "When I shut down for the night, I feel like I've made a difference for someone else. It's pretty cool."
Having grown up showing and his son now in their hometown's 4-H program, keeping the junior livestock show program sustainable is one of Heimer's top priorities.
"I believe in the program and I believe in what the program does for young people," Heimer said.
Heimer expressed that as someone who makes a living off of these stock shows, he wants to do whatever he can to make it a program that's worth fighting for. He hopes that it will continue to be something that his kids and future generations have a chance to experience.
Industry wise, he believes that breeders as a whole, whether it's cattle, sheep, pigs or goats, have a responsibility to ensure that future generations of young people can continue to benefit from all the positives of the experience.
That passion for the junior show came out Wednesday night. The win was more special for Heimer because it was close friends that won. Heimer has seen the kids grow up and he's been friends with the parents for a long time.
"I haven't wrapped my mind around it yet," Heimer said. "I have an incredible team, and it was definitely a team effort."
Outside of the 2018 National Western Grand and Reserve Champion Market Hogs, Heimer raised the Champion and Reserve Hampshires, another Champion and Reserve Champion winners in the Crossbred Show, and a couple of other class winners.
"Collectively, it was an amazing day," Heimer said. "I don't even have words big enough to describe it."
Heimer continued to reflect on Wednesday's successes, as well as the past 20 years of what it took to make another champion.
"If you dream big enough, you begin to think that it's possible," Heimer said. "But to actually do it, to actually achieve the dream, that is something that's really hard to comprehend. When the dust settled and the grand drive was over, it was pretty cool to reflect on everything that has happened in the last 20 years."