By Kim Walter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday afternoon at the Frederick County Fair was all about the 4-H & FFA Market Hog Show, where 30 students from age nine to 19 presented more than 50 pigs to judges and a crowd of fair-goers.
4-H and Future Farmers of America participants competed, showing either one or two pigs per contestant. Animals were divided into different weight classes, while the youth were put into four divisions. Kids 14 and younger comprised the junior class, and those from 15 to 19 made up the senior class. Additionally, first time participants were put into separate junior and senior categories.
Participants were judged not only on the weight and look of the pig, but also on their showmanship.
Tim Pugh, chairperson for the hog show, said it's important that competitors keep eye contact with the judges and keep their hog between them and the judges at all times as they walk in the ring. Students use walking sticks to lead their pigs, bumping them on the sides of their faces depending on which direction they want them to go.
"It's good for them to listen to what the judges are saying too, and a lot of time the younger kids will pay attention to the older ones so they can do a better job," Pugh said. "But some of these pigs have a mind of their own and the kids have to try and keep up with them."
Students have from May to the day of the show to raise their pigs and get them into a certain weight class. The pigs can't weigh more than 280 pounds if the owner plans to sell it for a profit after the show.
This year is the eighth time that 16-year-old Michael Orndoff will show pigs. He's won second place overall four times, and hopes to have the Grand Champion pig this year, as it's the last time he'll compete.
"Even if I don't win, it's all good," he said. To Michael, the show is more than just raising a prize-winning pig.
"This teaches good responsibility, and it's just really nice to hang out with all the other kids and see how everyone does," he said. Michael is a member of FFA, as is his fellow competitor and friend, 15-year-old Cody Boden.
Cody is in his seventh year of showing pigs, but hopes this is his first to take home a prize.
"I have a good pig this year, she's got a lot of muscle," he said. "The best thing about her is her character, but that doesn't really matter to judges so much."
Cody is also a member of 4-H, and said that both organizations have taught him responsibility and leadership skills.
"This is good way to meet new friends, and I really like to be competitive," he said of the hog show, which plans to compete in for the next few years, no matter Thursday's outcome.
Before it was time to start the showmanship round, Victoria Miller, 14, was busy with some last minute cleaning of her two hogs.
"I washed them earlier, but they decided to make a mud puddle," she said, laughing. Victoria said the most important thing the day of the show is cleaning the hogs, but during the summer her focus was keeping the animals in the right weight range.
Victoria got to know her hogs pretty well, since she said she worked with them about four hours a day.
"They've got really funny personalities," she said.
How the contestants place in the show will dictate when they get to put their hog up for sale. Last year, the average pig went for $3.61 a pound. That may be more than usual, but Aylor Middle School Agriculture teacher Kim Black said it's worth it.
"It's a little pricier, sure, but the money is helping these kids out. They usually put it toward college or whatever it is they're interested in," she said. "People don't know enough about where their food comes from, but if you want to feel good about buying meat, then this where you should do it."
The sale will take place Friday night, along with the bidding and buying of other livestock.