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After this summer, I can honestly say that bathing a hog is a perfectly normal and enjoyable activity. After our first experience showing a market hog at the White County Fair, discovering this surprising truth is one of several new norms for our family.
Most of us are familiar with fair rides and fair food. Who isn’t able to connect to the experience of consuming a delicious funnel cake and then going to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl? The midway is a common ground for fairgoers, but the livestock side is a completely different and less familiar world for most. For our children, it was completely new.
Probably the most daunting thing about raising a show animal for the local fair is the unknown. But we discovered a secret in our adventure: the unknowns are what make it so fun and valuable.
The hog arrived in the spring weighing about 40 pounds. He lived up to his “hoggishness” and by fair time in September, had grown to 240 pounds. Our 6-year-old gave him the name, “Happy Sniffers,” and we’ve called him “Happy” since. We dove in with love for the opportunity for the children, who learned so much about hogs and the labor that goes into raising one.
We were not prepared for all that went into this project. We adapted and began the journey by constructing a pen – a family affair as all hands pitched in. With sweat, dedication, a little impatience and some ingenuity, we fashioned a holding space for our new family member.
Show hogs take more work than raising a normal hog on the farm. To get a show hog to optimal weight and condition many things must take place. The children had to be diligent and dedicated. Happy’s food had to be measured out each day with different nutritional supplements added. He also required a regular bath.
In the heat of our Southern climate, both kids and beast enjoyed the bath. Scrubbing shampoo and conditioner on a farm animal became the 6-year-old’s favorite part of raising a hog, while the toddler simply relished all the splashes.
Every day our children walked our newest family member early in the morning and evening. They struggled at first at how to guide the cumbersome animal, but with perseverance, they learned how to steer him in preparation for the show ring and he gladly obliged. During the county competition, we were really impressed with other showmen, and we still have so much to learn about showmanship and controlling the hog in the show ring. The children were taking notes and making plans on how to improve for next year.
Hogs are not the only species to show for the market sale. Other options include market steer, lambs and goats. To show animals requires quite a bit of commitment and dedication.
Many such dedicated children will put their market animals to competition at the upcoming Arkansas State Fair. Who will have the best hog, lamb, goat or steer? Who can grow it and who can show it? Those are the great questions for this corner of the fair world.
Within the fair livestock culture, we found a community of people willing to help. As we were unaware of so many aspects of the show world, we had several people give us advice. During the week we spent at the fair, everybody on the livestock side pitched in and helped everyone with their animals. No one made us feel as green as we felt in this process. Our children were encouraged by the many generous people who supported them. We observed siblings, parents and friends working together all week to make sure animals were taken care of and ready for show. It was a perfect display of good, hardworking people who value teamwork, responsibility and kindness.
During the actual fair, the children experienced work on a different level and the satisfaction of seeing it through. They had to keep Happy’s stall clean, keep him watered, feed him on a schedule and bathe him daily, all while letting him go on a short walk every couple of hours. My 9-year-old showed him in the competition while my other children also kept working behind the scenes. (Anyone 8 and under can show market animals in the peewee division for the experience but it is not included in the formal competition.)
My daughter proudly and confidently walked her animal on show day. She was the youngest person this year to show a hog at this fair. She faced the challenges head-on as she steered him around the ring while the judge made his picks and gave critiques. During the peewee division, my 8-year-old son had obviously been listening to the judge’s critiques because he was trying to apply what the judge had advised.
Our family did not take home any kind of ribbons or prizes for winning the show. But in the midst of a classic Arkansas summer, our family brought home a wealth of knowledge. Having worked hard for a season toward a common goal, we strengthened our bond as a family. The children gained confidence in taking care of an animal and getting in front of people. They learned responsibility in caring for another living thing’s life, and they banked five months of memories together. Our children now know that the unknown is not to be feared, but faced.
Our family will be doing this again next year. We hope to repay the kindness shown to us by helping someone else. I encourage others to consider this engaging and rewarding part of Arkansas’s fair culture.
Take a trip to the Arkansas State Fair this week! Eat your funnel cake. Ride the Tilt-a-Whirl. See the exhibits and vendors. But most of all, head down to the agricultural area and watch the competition of all the market animals and those faithful souls who raised them. Behind every market hog, steer, goat or lamb, there is a child who has put in countless hours of work and dedication. They are learning and becoming equipped with skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.
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