Sweet on swine, Nobles County 4-H'er Riley Widboom works to build up interest in pig project
Recent WHS grad started his own show pig business as a high school freshman.
WORTHINGTON — From the time he was old enough to join the traditional 4-H program as a third grader, Riley Widboom has been a role model. Initially, it was to the younger brothers and sister who would follow in his footsteps, but as he grew older, he realized the importance of sharing his knowledge with other 4-H families and helping them to experience what the youth organization has to offer.
This week, Widboom will exhibit in just one project area at the Nobles County Fair in Worthington — swine. However, he will compete with other 4-H’ers who, because of him, are also parading pigs through the show ring.
About four years ago, the oldest of Matt and Teresa Widboom’s four children established a show pig business on the family farm traditionally home to beef cattle. Widboom’s great-grandfather founded the farm north of Worthington, and there is a history of raising pigs in a small barn on the site during every generation of owners.
During the 4-H Swine show, which starts at 8 a.m. Friday, Widboom will show two pigs — a crossbred market gilt that was born and raised on their farm, and a purebred York market barrow he purchased from another show pig grower.
“I started out (showing pigs) when I was probably in seventh grade,” Widboom said. “I had just bought them and I didn’t really know much about the show pig world. A lot of people have a lot of good pigs, and they can be a pretty competitive deal.”
Widboom saved up his money and did what everyone else seemingly did — buy the best pig he could afford. Ultimately, though, he wasn’t having the success in the show ring — or at least feeling successful.
That changed when, as a freshman in high school, Widboom purchased a trio of bred gilts from a breeder in Irene, South Dakota, and began a show pig business. Raising pigs from birth to market provided an entirely different perspective. It was so much more than buying a show pig to show at the fair.
Not only has Widboom learned about swine genetics and artificial insemination, he gets to see the pigs grow and have the satisfaction of seeing an animal born and raised on his family’s farm excel in the show ring.
It’s the type of experience he wanted to share with other 4-H’ers. That’s why he sells some of his pigs to local kids who are interested in learning about swine and agriculture. Many of them keep their show pig on the Widboom farm as they either live in town or don’t have a place to keep a pig.
“This year we’ve got about five or six new kids, including a couple that have done it before,” Widboom said. “Since I started four years ago … I think we’ve gotten over a dozen new kids into the pig project.”
The 4-H’er doesn’t just get a pig to show at the fair either.
Widboom teaches them what to look for in selecting a show pig, explains what they eat, and demonstrates how to prepare a pig for the show ring. That includes washing and cleaning the pigs, teaching the 4-H’er how to maneuver their pig in the show ring and working with the animal every day leading up to the county fair.
“Just like tonight, they’ll come out and walk the pigs, get used to the pig, and just ask any questions and learn about the animal,” Widboom said on a late July evening. “They learn a lot.”
And it isn’t just about the swine project. Widboom wants them to learn about agriculture, from the grains they raise and feed to their livestock to the cattle they also produce on the farm.
After a year or two, many of the families have decided to continue showing pigs and then find a place to keep their animals — maybe at an uncle’s farm or grandparents. That allows Widboom to find more 4-H’ers interested in getting into the project, as he has a limited amount of barn space to keep the pigs.
“My main deal is just giving these kids an opportunity to learn something different,” Widboom said.
Thus far, the show pigs have done well in competition. They may not bring home a grand champion ribbon, but last year, Widboom and his younger brother, Wesley, and sister Myranda, all earned trips to compete with their pigs at the Minnesota State Fair 4-H swine show — as have some of the kids Widboom has mentored.
Success, though, isn’t just about the ribbon color.
“My biggest joy is just seeing them in the ring,” Widboom said of the kids. “The ribbons are exciting and everything, but I think the best part is seeing all of our hard work pay off.”
He’s especially proud of the 4-H’ers who do well in the swine interview and showmanship, because it proves the project isn’t just about showing the pig — it’s about how much the 4-H’er has learned.
“We’ve had kids that have gotten Premier Showmanship spots, and done good on their interviews, so it’s really cool to hear and see how much they pick up on that knowledge and how much they really care about the project,” Widboom shared.
Since he graduated from Worthington High School this spring, Widboom has one more year of eligibility in 4-H after this one. He isn’t yet sure if he will participate in the program next year.
Widboom is currently president of the Elk Tip Toppers 4-H Club, an office he has held for two years. He’s also served his club as secretary and vice-president, and is a Nobles County 4-H Ambassador.
“I've really learned to be a leader, and a lot of my leadership skills have come through 4-H,” he said. “I think ever since being a little kid helping with day camps and that kind of thing, I've just always enjoyed seeing these kids learn something that, for me, is an everyday thing.”