A year in the making: Hog projects a real win for girl

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BAZETTA, Ohio – It’s one classic version of the 4-H livestock project story: Girl gets market animal, girls works hard with market animal, girl cries and begs parents to spare market animal from the chopping block.
Except Trumbull County 4-H’er Emily Robinson added her own special twist to the scenario.
With one small move, she proved to her parents and herself that saving last year’s project hog was an excellent decision.
A year in the making. Robinson, 14, marked her third year of showing market hogs at the 2006 Trumbull County Fair.
Her 273-pound bluebutt gilt placed fifth overall, her highest finish ever. She had a special fondness for the gilt and admits when it came time for the fair’s livestock auction, she was brokenhearted. She just didn’t want to see the hog go.
And so, with some creative bidding, that gilt made her way back to Robinson’s Brookfield-area farm.
The girl’s intention? To breed the gilt to get this year’s project animals.
Helping hands. In October, family friend Kevin Turner helped Emily line up everything that was needed to breed the gilt. Then she waited – three months, three weeks, three days – to see how it all turned out.
In the meantime, she and her parents, John and Wendy, got their barn ready. A special farrowing crate was built from an old steer stanchion. They hung heat lamps and set up heaters to keep the sow comfortable, and anticipated when the piglets would come.
Emily was up at 3 a.m. that day in late January when her sow showed signs the piglets were on their way. She hunkered down in the barn until 10 a.m., when the first one emerged. A barrow.
And then came four more, all alive and vibrant.
Emily was fascinated. Most 4-H’ers never get the chance to watch their projects from the very first moments of their lives.
Decisions. And then, just weeks ago, Emily re-evaluated her hogs. That barrow, she thought he looked nice, but he probably wouldn’t be her fair hog.
Determined, she tweaked her feed ration and watched him grow.
She knew she had to show this barrow.
Fingers crossed. Club members who signed up for the carcass hog project gathered July 9 to deliver their hogs to the butcher house.
Like every 4-H’er, Emily wished for the best. She’d never finished higher than 17th or 18th in previous carcass tries. Maybe this would be her year.
But she couldn’t dwell too much on what was happening in the butcher house. She had live judging ahead of her, just two days away.
Emily thought that firstborn barrow would do well for her. Maybe she’d make another Top 5 finish, she thought.
When he won his class, Emily knew she was on her way. She was excited.
Back in the ring for the championship drive, Emily drove her hog back and forth so the judge could see all his angles, the width of his loin, the depth of his hams.
She was shocked when the judge tapped her 280-pound bluebutt as grand champion.
One down, one to go. Project members gathered in the fairgrounds arena to hear whose hog graded best Friday the 13th.
Emily was speechless when they announced she’d raised the grand champion carcass, too.
Both hogs were from the same litter, from the same hog Emily begged her parents to bring home last year.
A buzz floated around the hog barn. Nobody could remember anything like this happening ever before.
But there they were: Two champions from the same litter, from a project hog whose owner couldn’t bear to watch her hog go.
Emily Robinson will never forget her 2007 Trumbull County Fair.
And she’s already got an eye on next year: That sow at home will mother her 2008 projects, too.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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