Farm Show runs in their family

By on January 17, 2018


Manheim Central grad Travis Dull shows a Junior Market steer at the PA Farm Show.                                                                        (Photos provided by Karen Dull)


For many people, visiting the Pennsylvania Farm Show is a tradition. This annual event celebrates and showcases the diversity of the state’s agriculture and food industry. There’s great food (think milkshakes, fries, chicken corn soup, maple-flavored cotton candy, and, yes, chocolate-covered bacon), the annual butter sculpture, animals, interesting contests to watch such as sheep to shawl, and a market place filled with Pennsylvania products.

While many attend the Farm Show as spectators, there’s also another aspect — being a Farm Show exhibitor. A number of Manheim-area teens were exhibitors at this year’s state Farm Show, including brother and sister Travis and Ashlea Dull.

A 2017 Manheim Central graduate, Travis Dull has been showing animals since he was eight years old. He said he’s shown at the state Farm Show at least six years, and due to age requirements, this will be the last year that he’s a state Farm Show exhibitor. He showed a steer and a pig, both of which placed fourth in their division (respectively junior market steers, crossbred, heavyweight; and junior market swine, Yorkshire lightweight).

“I’ll miss showing at the Pennsylvania Farm Show,” he said, “but I can still show at the Manheim Farm Show for three years after graduation.”

This year was different in another way. He and his parents purchased a 130-acre family farm in Penn Township in March 2017. They have 200 steers and also farm a major portion of the land. Additionally, Travis works full-time for a custom operator — a farmer who has specialized equipment such as a harvester and does field work for other farmers.

“It’s hard to be at the Farm Show when you know you have a farm at home to take care of,” he said.

Looking back at his state Farm Show experiences, he said the competition is more intense than at local shows.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but there are opportunities to learn different things,” he said.

Ashlea Dull exhibits her swine at the PA Farm Show.

Ashlea Dull is also a state Farm Show veteran showman, with nine years under her belt. This year she exhibited a pig and placed seventh in her class– junior market crossbreds, weigh division 10.

“Part of the fun of being a state Farm Show exhibitor is being with my family. We stay in a hotel with my grandparents, aunt and cousins,” she said with a smile. “We’re there for the show, but it’s also a family time.”

This may be her last time showing at the state Farm Show, too, but by choice rather than an age restriction.

“I don’t really want to show without my family,” she explained. “You can only show one pig per person, and there’s a lot involved in transporting it. I may just show at local fairs such as the Manheim Farm Show.”

She pointed out that for the state Farm Show, she and her family transported the animals to the Farm Show building in Harrisburg on Sunday for showing on Monday. They’re washed and clipped at the Farm Show prior to showing.

The intense cold that hit the area prior to and during Farm Show week affected the animals in several ways. Karen Dull, Travis and Ashlea’s mom and a veteran PA Farm Show exhibitor herself, explained that with the cold it was difficult for the pigs to get to show weight.

“They use all their energy to keep warm and don’t gain weight,” she said.

Additionally because of the cold, pigs, like many animals, grow more hair. Karen Dull said that hair is sometimes more coarse and wavy.

“What that means for an exhibitor is that you have to give the pig a full body clip right before showing, and it takes more time to prepare it in Harrisburg,” she explained.

Karen started showing at the state Farm Show in 1984, and in 1987, she had the grand champion pig. The daughter of recently retired Manheim Community Farm Show president, she was one of four girls, and all four of them showed at the state Farm Show. At various times, her sisters showed reserve champions. She continues to be involved in the Manheim Farm Show and in agriculture.

Karen Dull pointed out that like the agriculture industry itself, the state Farm Show has changed since the mid-80s when she was an exhibitor. Her grand champion pig weighed 222-pounds; this year the minimum weight to enter a pig is 240-pounds.

“The industry wants the pigs to be heavier, and the Farm Show follows trends in the industry,” she said.

What does this mean for exhibitors like Travis and Ashlea?

“You have to stay on your game better a home,” Karen Dull said. “Feed them higher protein food and weigh the pigs more frequently so you’re not disqualified when you get to Harrisburg.”

She said having show animals means learning to treat them properly.

“You learn to treat animals ethically from 4-H on up through FFA; every year 4-H members do an ethics training,” she stressed.

Karen Dull said the Farm Show is “absolutely a family affair; when the children are younger, parents are more involved — transporting them to meetings and transporting the kids and animals to shows. But even as they get older, parents are still there supporting the kids.”

As for the state Farm Show itself, she said it plays an important role in educating people about agriculture and what goes on in the ag world.

“This year’s Calving Corner was a great addition,” she said,” Farming is not an occupation; it’s a way of life.”

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *