Siblings spend summer on the swine show circuit
WORTHINGTON -- Two pigs purchased sight-unseen in April led a pair of Nobles County 4-H'ers to rack up an array of honors this summer -- including championship ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair.
Ahnna and Joel Olson grew up on a family farm that specializes in swine production -- particularly show pigs and purebred breeding stock. But when the piglets born on their farm didn't arrive in time to fit in the 4-H and FFA show classes, the brother and sister had to look elsewhere.
Through a friend of their father, Linden, the two purchased pigs from an auction in Plymouth, Neb. Ahnna, who has long had a preference for black-colored pigs -- and who, as the oldest, had first choice of the breeding gilts -- opted for the Hampshire. That left Joel with the solid white Yorkshire.
"She was supposed to get the better pig, but my pig was better in the judge's eye early in the show season," Joel said.
By summer's end, however, Ahnna's pig had grown into a champion.
Ahnna, 19, is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where she is pursuing degrees in agriculture industries and marketing. Joel, 17, is a senior at Worthington High School and wants to eventually own a purebred swine operation. The siblings decided that, since it was Ahnna's last year in 4-H, the two would see how many swine shows they could fit into the summer.
The two began in June, traveling to the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa. It was the first time either of the Olson siblings competed in the show and their gilts "got buried" in the standings because, as Joel said, the female pigs were pretty green -- they hadn't physically matured.
The Olsons returned from Iowa with their pigs and a plan -- to commit several hours each day to working with the pigs, getting them accustomed to walking slowly and standing still when needed. As Joel said, the goal was to get the pigs settled down, so they could attract the judge's eye for all the good reasons.
"At the Expo, it took 10 people to get my pig penned," Joel said. Before the Expo, neither he nor Ahnna had spent much time with the pair of gilts.
"We took them outside and walked them every day, about twice a day," Ahnna added. "That's what helped us to do good at the county fair and the state fair, too."
Just a couple of weeks after the World Pork Expo, the Olsons were on the road again, this time to Louisville, Ky., for the National Junior Summer Spectacular (NJSS).
While it was Joel's second year competing in the NJSS, Ahnna was attending for the first time. They were the only two exhibitors from Minnesota, and their gilts were among 1,010 head exhibited by owners living all across the United States. Of the 23 classes of Yorkshires, Joel's pig earned champion in its class. At the same time, he placed 11th in the national judging contest, placing just two points out of the top 10.
"The kids that win the judging contests are usually really smart kids who are on college judging teams," Ahnna quipped.
As for her Hampshire gilt, it placed fifth in its class.
"The pigs that always beat Ahnna got champion in a lot of the shows," Joel added.
With two national shows under their belts by early July, the remainder of the Olsons' show schedule kept them in Minnesota -- from their first-time competition at the Jackson Jackpot Show to their hometown Nobles County Fair, then on to the Minnesota State Fair, where they competed in both the 4-H and FFA divisions.
In Jackson, Ahnna's Hampshire was named champion purebred breeding gilt, while Joel's Yorkshire was buried at 10th in its class.
A month later, the tables were turned at the Nobles County Fair, when Joel's gilt earned grand champion overall swine and was named breeding gilt champion, while Ahnna's Hampshire garnered reserve champion breeding gilt. Showmanship went the same direction, with the younger brother earning champion showman and the older sister getting reserve.
Incidentally, just two days later, the Olsons would face each other again, this time in premier showmanship. The contest has eight exhibitors showing swine, sheep, beef and dairy in competition for the title of Premier Showman. There, Ahnna walked away with the champion's trophy, and Joel took reserve.
Ahnna's showmanship skills came into play at the state fair as well, as she placed within the top 10 among exhibitors. In addition, she was one of four advanced swine members named an interview winner, for which she received a director's chair.
As for Joel, his Yorkshire took second place in its class. He placed third in the showmanship contest and also earned a director's chair as an interview winner.
Days later, in the FFA swine show contest, Joel earned champion showman honors and Ahnna came in third.
Competing in six swine shows in one summer for the Olson siblings was more than an adventure -- it was a chance for them to share the workload and reap the benefits together.
"Our success probably wasn't measured by our own (placings)," Joel said. "We'd cheer each other on. If her stuff does good, it represents both of us. We both put equal amounts of time in."
Joel said seeing how far his sister has come in the swine industry has been fun to see.
"She's come a long way to learn what the industry represents," he said. "She didn't show pigs until her third or fourth year of 4-H."
"I was scared of them," Ahnna said with a smile. "I didn't even like pigs."
Her attitude toward pigs today is much different. She now owns one pig, the Hampshire, and her brother owns seven in their mini-partnership.
Despite the fun of competing in a summer swine show circuit, traveling with a sibling did present some challenges.
"We both have our disagreements, but we learned to compromise," Ahnna said. "We learned to get along a lot better."
Linden Olson said the opportunities his children had in showing swine this summer are available in most species of livestock. He encourages farm families to consider taking part in shows aside from the county and state fairs.
"It's fun, you meet a lot of people, and there's lots of opportunities with it," Ahnna added.