Noah and his two blue ribbon pigs at the Pope County Fair in Glenwood. Photo by Jim Palmer
After years in Cub Scouts our oldest son, Noah, decided to make a lane change. This spring, we officially became a 4-H family.
Noah’s best friend, Brady, is an experienced 4-Her from a good farm family, who has shown several animals at the fair. Like any good farmer, Brady likes to plant seeds… into Noah’s head. One of those seeds was for the Palmer family to get some pigs and show them at the fair. And while Noah has brought up other ideas that we have shot down (such as building a mining operation on our property and constructing an 18-hole mini golf course in our front yard), the seed for this idea grew.
We live in the country, but neither my wife nor I have any experience with livestock. I was in 4-H as a child, but showed dogs and cats, not sheep or cattle or hogs. We do have an ideal arrangement for animals. We don’t live on a farm, but our neighbor has a horse arena with empty stalls within a short walk from our house. We are fortunate we have a good neighbor, as he was more than happy to offer one stall for Noah’s pigs.
In May, Brady’s dad rolled up and brought with him two barrows (boy pigs), one black one and one red one. Noah named them “Smoke” and “Fire.” (Fire lived up to his name as the summer went on, by the way). They each weighed about 120-125 pounds. They checked out their new digs and made themselves at home. We had to convince Noah to come to bed that night. He didn’t want to leave them. The next day, Noah spent several hours watching the pigs. He loved that they were “his pigs” and his responsibility.
As the months passed, the pigs got bigger. Those boys could eat. And because they liked to eat, they also pooped a lot. And these boys liked to make a mess of their home (sorta like our boys). This is when it became harder for Noah to claim the pigs as his own responsibility. He needed help. The pen got dirtier, and Noah fell behind on maintenance. It was a mess. With a few weeks to go before the fair, my duties started to increase down at the pig stall. While I was always keeping an eye on the food and water, and helping clean now and then, I had to check more and more often. I wasn’t always thrilled about doing this, but I was happy about one thing. For the first time in Noah’s life, I believe he really understood and realized what real work was all about.
Our “swine operation” has been going since May and has definitely had its moments. We learned quickly that pigs are not really trainable. They pretty much do what they want to do. Case in point… one day when I was at work, my wife (Karna) called. She was none too happy about our little piggies.
“I’m done with these pigs,” she said. “We just spent the last hour chasing them around the horse arena and outside of the barn.”
Remember those storms a few weeks back that dropped all that rain? Well, that rain rushed in through the sides of the horse arena and left a lot of water… and plenty of mud. And pigs love mud. We usually let the pigs run in the arena while Noah cleans out their pen, but since it was flooded, they tried to transfer the pigs to the neighboring stall. That didn’t go as planned.
“As soon as we tried to move them, they charged at Noah’s knee and escaped,” my wife said on the phone. “They went right to the mud and wouldn’t listen at all! Easton (our 6-year old) got his boot stuck in the mud, so he couldn’t go anyway.”
They set up barricades (plywood and fencing) which didn’t work as well as they thought, and Fire found many things he could squeeze under — hay racks, fencing, and stuff laying around the arena.
“At one point, Zach (our 9 year old) was trying to stop Fire and ended up straddling him,” she said. “I’m done with those pigs. DONE!”
With Easton out of commission, Zach, Noah and my wife worked together to try to herd the pigs back to their stall. It was a muddy mess, but they finally succeeded. Although Noah has been a little leary about bringing the pigs to the butcher at the end of this adventure, that sentiment changed that day. When I got home, Noah was ready to bring Fire to the butcher immediately.
Yesterday, Noah and Easton showed the pigs in the Swine Show. Easton is considered a Cloverbud, so he got a taste of what showing a pig is all about. And Noah got the full pig showing experience.
If you haven’t been to a Swine Show, it is apparent very quickly that the pigs control the show. It looks nothing like a Sheep Show or a Steer Show where the 4-Hers put them right where they want them and adjust their legs in the perfect spot so the judges get a good look at them. As soon as the pigs get into the arena, the pigs are running around with 4-Hers on their tail pretending they can influence what direction they go. They are all moving targets for the judge, who makes his way around the arena trying to get a good look at the side and back end of the pig.
After the dust settled, Noah earned a couple blue ribbons for his pigs and a 3rd place finishing in showmanship. But really, he earned much more than that. Going into this adventure, my hope was that Noah would start developing a better work ethic and start appreciating the rewards of a good day of work. I think he achieved that goal. He still has a long way, but it was a good start. I also thought it would be a good learning experience. It was definitely that.
Whether the Palmer swine operation returns for a second run next spring is yet to be determined. Once the glow of the fair wears off, we will sit down and talk about things. I know one thing… his wheels are already turning. Last week he said, “Hey dad, if I build my own chicken coop, can we have chickens?”
A special thank you to Brady’s dad (Kurt Blair) for helping us get the pigs, transporting the pigs and answering our silly questions. And to our neighbor, Jeff, for giving Noah a spot to house the pigs, keeping the animals alive when we were on vacation and for answering our silly questions. We appreciate it.