Showing hogs isn’t a hobby for the Forkner family, it’s a lifestyle.
Nathan and Ashley Forkner both grew up competing in the ring. When their oldest son, Mason, was 3 years old, Forkner wanted him to have the opportunity to show as well.
“We bought three gilts from Truline Genetics to show in the open shows at Ozark Empire Fair and the Missouri State Fair,” Forkner said.
Mason had fun in the ring, Forkner kept the gilts as breeding stock and M&R Genetics was born.
“After Mason had a positive experience, I decided if we were going to do it, we would raise the pigs ourselves vs. buying them,” he said.
The Vernon County, Missouri operation is named after Forkner’s two sons, Mason and Rhett.
“We started with Yorkshire and Durocs. As time went on we started into the Chester White program,” Forkner said.
Now, with a recent herd acquisition, M&R Genetics has added Berkshire and Poland hogs to their lineup of nearly 100 sows. They sell approximately 400 show pigs each year, along with breeding stock and market hogs.
Since Forkner started showing 30 years ago, competing at the Missouri State Fair has been an annual tradition. Now during the gilt shows, Forkner is able to visit and network with other breeders.
“I really enjoy that part because I get to talk to different breeders from around the state and nation. We’re all there because we love a certain breed of hog,” he said.
And while the boys are serious competitors in the ring, once the class is over it is time to play.
“You develop a really strong friendship and bond with everyone. The kids are more like siblings than friends and we cheer each other on,” Ashley said.
But it’s more than friends and family that make showing at the state fair so special.
“It’s what we work for all year. We go to 40-plus shows each year. We hit a lot of national shows, but for some reason the Missouri State Fair is the one,” Forkner said.
He and the boys enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere of the barn.
“It’s a tradition and it’s neat to go to a hog barn that was built 100 years ago and is still there today,” he said.
The love for the Missouri State Fair hog show has led them to support several improvements in recent years. Three years ago, the Missouri State Fair Foundation began raising money for renovations in the barn. M&R Genetics donated funds for the rings and bleachers.
Once the rings were complete, the foundation decided to use green chips in the 4-H ring and blue chips in the FFA ring.
“We received a call from the foundation to sponsor the chips,” Forkner said.
The improvements throughout the barn helped the Missouri State Fair win the Agricultural Excellence award in 2017 from the International Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.
In 2018, the fair was also awarded the Unique Partnership Award for their collaboration with M&R Genetics and Culvers of Columbia. This award recognizes a partnership between the fair and a private organization.
“It goes beyond what would be a normal sponsorship,” said Wendy Faulconer with the Missouri State Fair Foundation.
“The state fair is such a big event and a learning opportunity for kids to be exposed to new things. We want our kids to be a part of that,” Forkner said.
A plaque showcases a photo of exhibitors dumping the bags of green shavings in the ring. Faulconer said this is an important tradition in the barn. Once the shavings are delivered, all the exhibitors are called to the ring to bust bags.
“The kids absolutely love to spread the shavings. It makes them feel like it’s their deal,” Faulconer said.
M&R Genetics is glad to be a part of the honors received.
“Ashley and I are both products of the youth livestock programs and we have received good things. It’s part of giving back to a system that helped us,” Forkner said.