LEONARDTOWN, Md. — The smell of fresh sawdust, shampoo and showsheen filled the early morning air. Young voices chattering excitedly could be heard down the barn aisles, intermixed with baas, moos and the occasional oink. It was the soundtrack of the annual Southern Maryland Invitational Livestock Expo, also known as SMILE, held June 21-23 at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds.

SMILE is an annual three-day show event in southern Maryland that is a way to further engage youth, ages 8 through 21 years, in agricultural livestock production. For over 13 years, SMILE’s relaxed and friendly format has attracted hundreds of children and youth from all over Maryland to compete with their animals.

The show includes educational instruction, fitting and showing, and market and breeding competitions for domestic livestock species of beef and dairy cows, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s open to youth competitors from around the region and offers a unique mix of competition and camaraderie for youth in agriculture, while providing an important opportunity for them to socialize and compete with others who share the same interest in farming and raising animals.

New this year, the SMILE Expo featured a “pee wee” showmanship class for children 4 years old and no older than 5 years of age.

“We were so excited to offer this new opportunity,” said SMILE Chairman Jay Farrell. “It’s a great way to get our little ones involved with livestock at an early age and have their siblings and more experienced kids mentor and help them along.”

Pee wee’s were accompanied in the ring by an adult and either used a sibling’s animal that was already registered in the show, or a different animal with the appropriate health papers.

SMILE is designed to be more educational for the participants, and to prepare them for higher level shows at the county and state fairs. The SMILE organizers place great importance in encouraging showmanship and communication; and the SMILE show emphasis is on refining skills and cultivating good sportsmanship both inside and outside the show ring. SMILE judges take extra time to offer advice and share their expertise one on one with the young participants in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Additionally, games, workshops and group activities encourage teamwork and build self-confidence.

This year, 130 youth registered for the show — a new SMILE record.

After their first time at the SMILE show, the Rabaiotti family from Frederick County said that “everyone was so friendly, the atmosphere was relaxed and fun, the judges were great, and we had the best time ever.”

Tyler Majchrzak judged the sheep, pigs and beef entries.

“This is a really good show,” Majchrzak said. “I participated in one of the first SMILE shows when I was younger. It’s a great opportunity to learn and prepare for the other shows — the county fairs, state fair and beyond.”

Majchrzak is a previous Maryland National FFA Officer, a graduate of the University of Kentucky, and currently works for Farm Credit.

“This is what it’s all about — bringing back the young kids who can share their knowledge, we’re really thrilled,” Farrell said.

The show also included special presentations, organized games and group activities designed to encourage teamwork and build new friendships. The fairground, barns and show rings were open to the general public at no cost throughout the weekend to visit with the animals and watch the competitions, games and activities.

This year’s big winners were Jacob Bowen for grand champion feeder steer and Katie Burroughs for reserve grand champion. Both are also young farmers enrolled in the Southern Maryland Meats Junior Livestock Program, hosted by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission.

SMILE is organized by SMILE board members and the collaborative efforts of many dedicated volunteers, and is sponsored and funded by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, the St. Mary’s County Fair Board, the county Farm Bureaus and others.

Shelby Watson-Hampton is a freelance writer in southern Maryland.