KEMPTON, Pa. — Michele Brown was expecting over 30 4-H’ers for the Kempton Fair’s swine show.
On June 14, she had only a dozen.
Participation was thrown off by a state Ag Department order, announced just two weeks before the show, requiring all Pennsylvania market pigs to move to slaughter following exhibition.
Kempton’s young pig showmen would normally take their animals home after the fair, maybe show them again at the Reading Fair in early August, and finally show and sell them at the county 4-H roundup, held in conjunction with the Kutztown Fair in mid-August.
But with African swine fever wreaking havoc in China, and the possibility of it spreading to the U.S., state veterinarian Kevin Brightbill decided the risk of taking pigs home just isn’t worth it.
The disease causes high fever, diarrhea and often death, and it spreads readily through direct contact with sick pigs, contaminated feed, and even uncooked meat from infected pigs.
African swine fever doesn’t infect humans, but there’s no cure or vaccine for pigs.
Still, some at the fair questioned the need for precautions against a disease that isn’t even in the United States.
“If there were cases in this country, then for sure, then I can understand, 100%, where they’re coming from,” said Justine Bennecoff, a Kutztown swine breeder.
But pig owners have long known that fairs are great places to spread germs among herds.
“You know you’re at risk coming to a show. You take that chance,” Bennecoff said. “You can’t control who brings it (or) who comes here from different countries that maybe has it on their clothes.”
In acknowledgment of that risk, Bennecoff’s family might take this year off from showing — a first in more than a half-century of treading the tanbark.
Still, she wonders if the state acted too quickly.
But Pennsylvania does have a large swine industry to protect, and Ag Department spokeswoman Shannon Powers said Pennsylvania’s major ports and interstates offer many paths for African swine fever to enter the state.
Kempton may have been hit particularly hard because it falls so early in the summer, with most of the show season left to go.
But other fairs could be affected by youths deciding whether they want to sell their animals or wait for a later show.
“The timing was difficult for the kids,” said Alice Kamp, Berks County 4-H Swine Club leader.
The Kamps bought two pigs from Kansas, but now aren’t sure what to do about showing them.
“We wanted to bring them back into our own breeding stock,” said Evan Kamp, Alice’s son and a 4-H’er.
Breeding swine shows are still allowed under the quarantine order, but breeding pigs have to be moved out, and the stalls have to be cleaned, before the market pigs come to the fair.
This isn’t the first time Pennsylvania has made an unpopular livestock restriction right before fair season.
The state banned live poultry shortly before fair season in 2015 in response to a major avian influenza outbreak in the Midwest.
The Lebanon Fair filled its poultry cages with photographs of the youths’ birds and put up posters about the highly pathogenic disease.
But the outbreak never spread to the East Coast, and the poultry ban was lifted the following year.
It’s not clear when Pennsylvania might lift its restriction on bringing home market pigs. That depends on the progress of the disease and whether it arrives in the U.S.
Iowa, the nation’s top pig producer, has instituted a similar ban, Powers said.
But like the 2015 poultry shows, Kempton made creative last-minute adjustments to its pig show.
Organizers put youths through a skills competition and test to educate fairgoers about pigs, and showmanship contestants shared animals.
When the show was over, all the swine were destined for Goods Livestock in Denver, Brown said.
Johanna Rohrer judged the June 14 market hog show. Following are the winners.
- Champion lightweight: Allison Younker
- Reserve champion lightweight: Evan Kamp
- Champion middleweight: Samuel Lazarus
- Reserve champion middleweight: Stephanie Younker
- Champion heavyweight: Morgan Kunkel
- Reserve champion heavy weight: Alex Younker
- Overall grand champion market hog: Morgan Kunkel
- Reserve champion market hog: Samuel Lazarus
- Champion market hog pair: Asher Ruth
- Reserve market hog pair: Evan Kamp
- Champion showman: Taylor Hansley
- Reserve champion showman: Stephanie Younker
- Champion fitter: Levi Lazarus
- Reserve champion fitter: Evan Kamp