GREENFIELD — A Thursday night event at the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds features teams of four chasing pigs around a mud-soaked enclosure in front of what fair officials expect to be a large audience.
Just don’t call it pig-wrestling, organizers said.
An attraction billed as “Wild Hogs” begins at 7 p.m. Thursday in the multipurpose arena, but fair officials are steering clear of references to pig-wrestling, which drew controversy across the state last year and led dozens of county fairs to cancel their events amid protests from animal rights groups.
A large crowd packed the multipurpose arena to watch Hancock County’s first pig-wrestling event in 2014, but fair officials opted for a substitute event — Farmer’s Olympics — the next year at the urging of the state 4-H association.
No one signed up to participate in the replacement event, which was then canceled because of rain.
Now, the Hancock County 4-H Agricultural Association is going back to what worked, said member Tom White — though he admits organizers changed the name and some of the rules to keep protesters at bay.
There will be no wrestling — as was the case in 2014, when competitors were challenged to pick pigs up and put them inside a tire lying on its side; instead, teams will “maneuver” loose pigs into a pen, they said. The fastest team will be deemed the winner.
Wild Hogs “would not be any different than what happens in the swine barn when pigs get loose,” fair officials said in a statement.
Wild Hogs isn’t harming animals, White said; it is just an opportunity for people to run around in the mud with pigs and have some fun.
Joel Kerr, the executive director of the Indiana Animal Rights Alliance, disagrees with the notion the event is harmless.
Corralling animals into pens is something farmers do out of necessity, not for entertainment, Kerr said. And the need for a pre-written statement to explain away the show should tell organizers something, he said.
“If you have to come with reasons to justify it, … it is most likely something you shouldn’t be doing,” he said.
White expects Wild Hogs to be one of the best-attended shows at the multipurpose arena this week. So was the case in 2014, when Hancock County hosted its first — and maybe last — pig-wrestling event.
Forty people signed up to compete, and a large crowd packed the multipurpose arena to watch, White said.
The promoter hired to host the show provided about 30 pigs for the wrestling event that year, said Josh Phares, a fair organizer. Each animal was wrestled once, and each was in the arena for about 30 seconds, he said.
Everyone involved seemed to have fun, and the agricultural association had every intention of bringing back pig wrestling in 2015 because it was so successful, Phares said.
But then animal-rights activists got involved, White said.
An online petition called the events inhumane and asked fair officials in Delaware, Grant, Harrison, Monroe, Noble and Whitley counties to do away with pig-wrestling events; many fair boards across the state, including the Indiana State Fair, canceled shows because of the outcry.
Those grassroots initiatives were organized by residents who saw the events as putting unnecessary distress on an animal that can be injured, Kerr said.
Watching an animal squeal in fear makes most people uncomfortable, he said.
“No one would think of putting a dog through that,” Kerr said.
But farmers say such an argument shows a misunderstanding of livestock.
“(Pigs) will squeal just standing there looking at you,” fair board member Mike Merlau said with a laugh.
Wild Hogs will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday in the multipurpose arena, located west of the Hancock County Purdue Extension Office, 802 N. Apple St., Greenfield.
Teams of four can signed up at the Hancock County 4-H Fair Office, located in the center of the fairgrounds next to the exhibit hall. The cost to participate is $40 per team.
Tickets to watch can be purchased Thursday before the show. Bleacher seats are $5; seats in the arena are $10.