GREENFIELD — Skylar Knapp rubbed Jax’s nose, congratulating her pig on a job well done.
A chaotic trample of hooves and cowboy boots made its way around the pair as dozens of 4-H’ers guided their hogs to and from the show arena. In that moment, blue ribbon in hand, Knapp couldn’t be prouder of the animal she’s taken care of and trained since March.
Knapp was among dozens of 4-H’ers who entered the show arena Monday to show their hogs in the 2017 Hancock County 4-H Fair Swine Show, the culmination of months of hard work. As the 4-H’ers and their animals make their way into the ring, the judges have their eyes on a number of things.
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They want to see a healthy animal that is ready for market. When it comes to gilts, judges are looking for femininity — on a pig, that’s shown in how long and slender they are. With barrows, the key features are muscle, the pig’s skin condition and its flexibility, Knapp said.
The 90 minutes Knapp spent walking the animal every day helped her take top honors in her class, but luck was on their side, too, the 10-year member knows.
Pigs can be stubborn animals. Their tempers flare when they are unhappy, making show day at the county fair a little unpredictable — no matter how much time and energy was spent preparing.
Getting the hogs to walk in an orderly fashion can be a chore, and 4-H’ers spend the months leading up to the fair practicing for 30 or more minutes every day.
On show day, 4-H’ers enter the show ring and hope for the best as they guide their pigs around, prodding and poking them when they get out of line.
At the end of the day, the pig is going to do whatever he wants, said 15-year-old Riese Thornton, whose been showing barrows for two years.
Not so, countered her brother, Walker, who has three years experience on her.
“You can’t accept that,” he insisted. “You just have to train him.”
Still, hogs — despite being a bit ornery — are one of the easier animals to show because they’re smart and learn quickly what their handler expects, many 4-H’ers agree. They also have big personalities, making it easy to bond with the animal, Walker said.
4-H’ers typically get their pigs in March or April and spend the weeks that follow caring for them.
That means rising early to feed, walk and bathe them. They also need to keep their pins clean, which helps ensure the animal’s skin stays healthy, Knapp said.
For the Thorntons, the day begins no later than 5 a.m., Walker said. When the fair nears, there is no time to sleep in, the siblings said.
Knapp spends two to three hours every day caring for Jax — a commitment that felt far less painful with a blue ribbon in her pocket.
“As soon as you get in the show ring, all your hard work pays off,” she said. “It’s a reward for the effort you put in.”
Want to know what’s coming up at the Hancock County 4-H Fair? See page A2 for a full schedule of events.