Lawrence resident Rocky Swearingen began raising and showing sheep 30 years ago. Now he's bringing his sheep-showing talent to national TV, with an appearance on RFD-TV's “Tough Grit” at 6 p.m. on April 15.
“Tough Grit” is a do-it-yourself reality show, produced by Topeka-based Grit magazine, that combines rural lifestyle tasks with humor and challenges. The producers of the show were looking for a show-animal expert in the area and found Swearingen through connections with the Douglas County Fair Board.
“RFD-TV is a national television network that caters to rural people, and I think it’s a great way to showcase some of the knowledgeable folks that we have around here,” said Brandy Ernzen, a public relations manager for Ogden Publications, Grit's publisher. “Rocky, for instance, goes to national shows for sheep and sales, and he is very active. It’s just another way to get Lawrence out there.”
Swearingen started out raising and showing sheep through the 4-H Club. After years of fitting animals for shows, he became a frequent judge at regional competitions, county fairs and state fairs. Now he co-owns Syndicate Show Lambs and coordinates Jayhawk Jackpot, which shows market lambs and breeding sheep. He also helps many 4-H members and families prepare their show animals.
“I’ve just had a flair for it, I guess,” Swearingen said. “I’ve shown cattle (and) horses, and sheep seemed to be the thing that I enjoy the most and have the most success with.”
On a "Tough Grit" episode called “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” Swearingen will advise and judge two Future Farmers of America high school students—Joe Gleason, from Maple Hill, and Ann Flach, from Paxico—on fitting a sheep, or preparing it for an exhibition:
“We usually try to put two friends against each other because the whole thing is two rural neighbors sort of going at it,” said Caleb Regan, the co-host of “Tough Grit” and managing editor of Grit magazine. “For this episode, we went the 4-H route because we thought it would be fun and interesting to have kids compete.”
Flach and Gleason will compete in two challenges against each other with help from experts from Grit and sponsor Tractor Supply Co. The winner will take home a $500 gift certificate to Tractor Supply Co. for their FFA chapter.
During the recording of the episode in October, Flach admitted she felt a little sheepish herself. “I was shaking and sweating like crazy,” she said. “Everybody there had really great attitudes and worked with me and tried to make me laugh to loosen me up a bit.”
Swearingen said he loves to work with children and hopes more young people will become interested in 4-H Club and FFA after watching the episode.
Because of his past leadership roles in various fairs, Swearingen was confident during the shoot. He had a lot of fun, but he is slightly nervous to watch himself on TV.
“I probably started out with a fairly white head when we started, and I just got sunburned really bad by the end of the day,” Swearingen said, “so I’m wondering if I’m gonna go from pale and pasty to lobster by the end of the show.”
Swearingen’s wife, Rebecca, has a whole watch party planned for Monday night. “We’re going to have a traditional, farm-family dinner and watch the show for entertainment,” she said.
Swearingen jokingly said that he is now negotiating his options for “Dancing with the Stars” or “Splash.”
If you are unable to catch “Tough Grit” when it airs on RFD-TV on April 15, it will be available the following day at Toughgrit.com.