Battling Short Days to Prepare Pigs to Show

12/21/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

MILL CITY, Pa. — The countdown to Farm Show is on.

At one Wyoming County farm, Luke and RaeAnne Carpenter are working double-time to get their homebred market pigs ready.

If all goes well, both will be exhibiting their pigs at the 97th edition of the Pennsylvania Farm Show on Monday, Jan. 6.

“You have more feel what they will turn out like because you can look at their parents. You know what they have been fed from the start,” RaeAnne, 13, said of the homebred market hogs.

Luke, 10, describes raising homebred pigs as growing them from “stall to finish.”

The Carpenters, members of the Grow ’em and Show ’em 4-H Club and the children of Ray and Charlotte Carpenter of Mill City, Pa., selected their pigs from a litter born on the farm in late September.

The process of selecting what they believe will be winning pigs begins with mating. Their father operates a pig operation on the family’s farm, supplying pigs for several different markets. Pig numbers range from 40 to 60, including sows and piglets.

RaeAnne has shown pigs for four years, Luke for three.

The selection process continues with the children working with their dad to sort through a litter to see which ones show promise. They work them down to a select group, then Luke and RaeAnne make the final picks. They alternate years as to who goes first.

After the pigs are selected, to keep them straight, the left ear on Luke’s pig is notched for “L” and the right ear on RaeAnne’s is notched for “R.”

“You can’t really tell them apart when they are little,” RaeAnne said.

Traits the pair look for include correct bone structure and muscling. Size and scale also are important as well as thriftiness.

RaeAnne has started to learn about swine judging and applies those skills to selecting her pigs.

Raising pigs for the Farm Show is definitely challenging, they both say. Luke says he could not get ready for the show if it were not for his sister’s help.

During the summer, they have longer days, no school and work with the pigs daily. December’s shorter daylight hours balanced against after-school sports and activities shorten the time they can work outside.

RaeAnne says that by the time she wraps up her regular chores, she is not left with much daylight for walking the pigs.

The siblings do try and walk the pigs inside the barn to make up for the difference.

Although she is only in her second year of exhibiting at the Farm Show, RaeAnne has a goal — win the grand champion market swine banner with one of her pigs someday.

She has already won the grand homebred champion banner at the Kiwanis Wyoming County Fair, a definite highlight.

One contrast between showing at the fair and at the Farm Show is that the audiences are definitely different.

Luke said he finds he has to explain in much greater detail what is happening with the pigs in Harrisburg.

“When you are down there with the animals, you have to explain almost everything,” he said, whereas most people walking through the fair still have some connection with a farm experience.

RaeAnne says she enjoys the Farm Show judges because of the insights they provide as to what they like in a finished market hog.

The youngsters also handle potential buyers differently at the Farm Show than at the fair. They notify many of their prospective buyers that they have the potential of selling in the Pennsylvania Farm Show’s market swine sale.

They will also notify interested bidders if they qualify to market their pigs through the sale, so they can make additional arrangements.

Right now, their goal is to make weight for the show. Pigs have to weigh between 230 and 280 pounds to sell.

If the pig is over- or underweight, it is sent directly to market and will not show.

“It’s about making the right weight,” Luke said, not just about packing the pounds on the pig. It’s a nutritional balancing act because exhibitors need to get the right “finish” to the pig, a balance of muscle and fat.

The project does bring a bit of the real world into the youngsters’ lives. Luke says raising pigs through a 4-H project teaches some of the same lessons he learns in school, but in a much more interesting way.

RaeAnne said watching her father and grandfather operate brings home some lessons for her 4-H project.

“If you do certain things, you can make a better profit,” she said. “We learn on the farm how to feed them certain ways and make them look nicer so people want them. It helps you learn what you need to do.”

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