Kansas City, Mo. A Leavenworth County shepherd looks forward to a Kentucky show after his winning streak ended at the 1994 American Royal.
Rocky Swearingen knew early on that Monday wasn't going to be a good day for Silver Summit Farms.
He got his first hint when Rain Man, the farm's junior Hampshire ram, placed fourth in his class at the 1994 American Royal. Swearingen had expected Rain Man to finish first or second.
Moments later, Swearingen knew for sure it was going to be a mediocre day. Monarch, the farm's yearling ram, finished second in the championship class.
"When we didn't have the champion ram, I knew it was going to be a long day after that,'' Swearingen said later as he reflected on the show and the seven ribbons his animals won. "Up until now that yearling buck had been champion ram everywhere except the Illinois State Fair. That's one of the biggest and toughest shows east of the Rocky Mountains.''
After seeing his ewes finish in the middle of the next three classes, Swearingen scratched his entries in the final three events. Those events all would have involved showing different combinations of the same sheep he exhibited in earlier classes.
"There's no sense adding fuel to the fire when you see what's coming,'' Swearingen said of the judging by Dale Smith, a Southdown sheep breeder from Bowling Green, Ohio. While much of the judging is based on how well the animal conforms to desired breed characteristics, the judge's personal likes and dislikes also play a factor in the way a class is placed.
"He seemed to want more wool on their heads,'' Swearingen said when asked what Smith wanted in the top animals he selected. "(He) wants a little more bone to them, a little more frame.''
While Swearingen wasn't going home with a pile of blue and purple ribbons, the 26-year-old Leavenworth County resident did accomplish one thing at the Royal: He was able to get Monarch, Rain Man and two ewes ready for their next show -- the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville.
Swearingen, 26, and his wife, Becky, 24, leave Monday to show the animals.
"Traditionally I do better at the national show than I do here, and there's 10 times as many sheep,'' he said.
Swearingen's involvement in the sheep industry stretches back to his years as a 4-H member showing market lambs. In 1985 he began managing a Douglas County flock owned by Roger Flory. In 1987 he bought a ram and 16 ewes from Flory and started his own flock.
Today that flock has grown to 55 head and has Swearingen traveling to four major sales and five shows each year.
Part owner of a Lawrence construction company, Swearingen says his sheep are a hobby that help him relax from the stresses of the business day. Even the five to seven hours of work it takes to prepare each sheep for the show ring don't dampen his spirit.
"To make sheep excel and come on, they need a lot more care and TLC than cattle and horses do,'' he said. "There's a lot more work getting them ready (to) do right. It's my release really. I just like to go out, take two hours to do chores and watch everything eat. It's just kind of fun to go out and co-exist with nature.''