Local 4-H swine raisers look forward to county fair, auction
By Marcy Stamper
Cody Wottlin wrapped his shoelaces in duct tape because his pig Schnizel finds them so irresistible.
But nibbling on the shoelaces is just for entertainment, said Wottlin, since Schnizel (formally known as Frederick Esquire III) is hardly lacking for nourishment. In fact, this year several of the pigs being raised by the Methow Valley Cascaders 4-H Club are on diets because they’re already nearing the maximum weight to be auctioned at the Okanogan County Fair. (Pigs need to be between 230 and 290 pounds to qualify for the market auction at the fair.)
McKenna Ott is dealing with the opposite problem — she’s raising a pig from a late litter and it may not weigh enough for the auction.
“You never know till you show up — as soon as you cross the scales, there’s no turning back,” said Erin White, the 4-H swine leader.
Every year there are a few pigs that don’t qualify for the weight class. “Kids are devastated, but the parents are a lot more devastated,” said White. “It’s hard to watch the kid put in all that work.”
If a pig is over or underweight, the child can still compete in fitting and showing, but will have to sell the animal privately, which rarely brings as much money as the auction at the fair.
“It was a cake-walk with these pigs — you could go right up to them from two months,” said Wottlin, an eighth-grader who speculated that the pigs he and his brother raised this year were so calm because they’d been handled from birth. “They’re pretty good-looking, too,” he said.
Methow Valley kids expect to bring some 6,000 pounds of pork to the county fair this year — 22 kids have spent the past six months raising pigs. “Kids tell their friends how fun it was, so lots join,” said White.
It is not uncommon for kids to sell a pig at auction for $4 or $5 per pound, and some have scored as much as $7 per pound, earning more than $1,000 to put toward a college fund or a car. The fair guarantees a price of 60 cents per pound, but that doesn’t come close to covering the typical $500 investment in the pig, food and supplies.
Emily and Bodie Paul like pigs for their generally equable disposition and the ability to earn money for college.
Their older brother raised steers, but steers demand a longer commitment and a bigger investment. They also tend to have less predictable personalities, said Emily, a junior in high school. She remembered one steer that was so gentle that her brother could read a book while lying on its back, but other steers would attack everything in sight, including the fence.
4-H exposes kids to a lot more than raising an animal. “It’s part of life — they learn that even if they feed the animals every day and do everything they’re supposed to do,” sometimes it just doesn’t work out, said White.
4-H teaches participants about everything from budgeting — they need to keep meticulous records of the money they spent on food, medicine and other supplies — to public speaking at the annual presentation in the spring. Most kids find the public presentation is nerve-wracking, but it becomes valuable practice for college and job interviews.
Kids choose their own topic for their presentations, and their delivery is more important than the subject. This year, subjects ranged from making chocolate milk to Cody White’s winning demonstration, where he castrated a baby pig.
Kids have different strategies for coping with the reality of starting with a two-month-old piglet and then selling it for meat. Kids spend every day of the spring and summer with their pig.
“You raise them, so they trust you,” said Grey Patterson, age 12. “It is kind of sad when they go. They’re smart — they come up to you.”
“You have to get attached to them,” said his brother, Dusty, age 13, although he conceded that his pig was “a little bit ornery.”
Wottlin, who is bringing a pig to the fair for the fourth time, said he normally isn’t troubled by their fate, although when he had to bring a small pig home for extra feeding a few years ago, it was harder. “I got a little attached — I spent so much time with it,” he said.
Pigs must be named to be entered in the fair. This year’s roster includes Darwin, Chubs, Francis T. Bacon and Attila the Hun. But Katie Labanauskas, a high school junior who has raised a pig for the past five years, waits to name her pig until she gets to the fair. “If you name them, you tend to get more attached,” she said.
The Pauls raised another pig for their family this year. Emily was at work when it was butchered. “It would have been hard to go,” she said. They appreciate knowing where the meat is from, that it was raised without chemicals, and how it was butchered. “But you still get sad, a little,” said Bodie.
Labanauskas’ pig was so big that it wasn’t moving around much, but she wasn’t too concerned that it would be overweight. Transporting the pigs to the fair generally generates enough stress that they lose a few pounds, she said.
“It’s usually a battle to make weight,” she said. Most kids said the cooler summer weather had kept up the pigs’ appetites. By the time they’re 6 months old, a pig can gain 3 or 4 pounds a day.
This year there are also nine kids competing in horse division at the fair. Tiffany Scott has been working with the 4-H horse group since the spring on showmanship and halter techniques, as well as on fast rodeo-type events like barrel-racing and pole-bending. Two youngsters are also competing in English equitation.
While animals are the most conspicuous part of the fair, the four-day event (this is the 69th-annual fair) is an opportunity for people to get recognition for just about any interest or talent they may have. There are competitions for best-dressed poultry, rabbit agility, decorative floriculture, crocheted and knitted cardigans, and even computer hardware and programming. Vegetable categories include smallest and largest, nature’s freaks, and vegetable creatures (assembled with glue and toothpicks as needed).
The Methow will have several competitors in the mini-bronco riding contest and the wild-pony races. L-Bow the Clown and Manfred the Talking Horse will be on hand, along with local and regional musical talent. A new feature this year is an outdoor movie on Thursday night.
People can sign up to buy a pig — or part of one — until Friday (Sept. 9) by calling 4-H club leader Suellen White at 997-3252 or Molly Patterson at 996-4112. The auction is Saturday afternoon.
The fair runs from Thursday through Sunday (Sept. 8 to 11), 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (except on Sunday, when it closes at 3 p.m.). Daily admission is $10 per person or $30 for a family pass that admits two adults and three children. A four-day pass is $25 per person. Kids under 5 are free. Admission covers all exhibits, the rodeo and entertainment. Carnival rides are extra.
For a complete schedule, pick up a fair premium book at many businesses around town or visit okanogancounty.org/fair.