For the better part of five hours last Wednesday, my mom and I joined my sister-in-law and her mom in the bleachers and watched pigs being paraded around a show ring in front of a judge. My younger brother Jason made sure the two 4-H’ers — my nephew Reece and niece Alayna — and their pigs got from pen to show ring when they were called upon, and Kari and I snapped pictures and videos.
When they weren’t in the show ring, though, my eyes began to gloss over.
I began to see hams — big, bulging hams — and slabs of bacon. I envisioned pork loins and stacks of chops. I wondered to myself where Canadian bacon comes from — it’s good with pineapple on pizza — and then I pondered just what part of the pig is ground up into pork sausage — another favorite pizza topping.
A long, competitive pig show provides a great opportunity for one’s mind to wander.
I may have scrunched up my nose when I pictured the pork shoulder roast — my least favorite cut. Don’t even ask me about organ meats!
We had pigs on the farm when I was rather young — too young to have to feed them or corral them or do whatever it is you do with pigs raised on pasture grass. It wasn’t until I joined the local FFA chapter as a freshman that I learned a bit more about this particular livestock species.
Thanks to Mr. Mahlberg — or perhaps it was Mr. Ryswyk — I still haven’t forgotten that the gestation period for a sow is three months, three weeks and three days. What an odd length of time in comparison to the five-month gestation for goats and sheep — and nine-month pregnancy for cattle.
That question on gestation was posed to 4-H exhibitors during their swine interview — essentially a quiz to see how much they know about their animal. A 4-H swine show, after all, isn’t just about the pig.
Reece and Alayna have leased show pigs and barn pigs the last few years for the experience of showing livestock without actually living on a farm. They have learned responsibility by taking care of animals who depend on them for food and water. They have endured the work of washing pigs, brushing dried dung from under tails and trying to train pigs who would rather be left alone than patted by a show stick so a judge can see their best side — the back side — clearly.
The pigs did well, garnering ribbons in blues and purples, but so did the kids. There was an honorable mention for Reece in intermediate showmanship, and a reserve champion for Alayna in junior showmanship.
Later this week, Reece and his Duroc (a reddish-brown colored pig) will make their way to the Minnesota State Fair — a first-time trip for my nephew as a 4-H exhibitor. I’m not sure who is more excited, him or me.
On show day, the 4-H’ers and their pigs will once again parade around the show ring, and I will be there in the bleachers, taking photos and videos and cheering on my nephew.
Maybe this time I’ll learn where that Canadian bacon comes from!