Behind the Shows: Pa. 4-Hers finish a roller coaster year

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Jaesa, Drew and Riley McGraw, of Ohioville, Pennsylvania, stand in front of their pigs at the Backyard Blast show in Lawrence County, Aug. 20. The show was held for the 4-H children who raised market animals for the Lawrence County Fair, which was canceled due to COVID-19. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

HARLANSBURG, Pa. — The day is finally here. It’s the Backyard Blast, the livestock show being held in lieu of the Lawrence County Fair, at the Western Pennsylvania Quarter Horse Association grounds.

The three McGraw siblings, of Ohioville, have been raising pigs since April. Now, on Aug. 20, it’s time for Drew, Riley and Jaesa and their hogs to strut their stuff in the show ring.

The pigs that once weighed about 50 pounds are all well over 200 pounds.

Are they nervous?

“A little bit,” Drew said.

“Not at all,” Riley said.

The long road

It’s been a rocky road to get here. Not only because of a global pandemic that forced the Lawrence County Fair to cancel, and then pushed organizers to put together a limited show for the fair’s youth exhibitors with market animals.

It wasn’t a great year for the McGraws’ pigs either.

The wet, cool spring was not kind to some of their swine. A couple of them got sick and died. They got new ones. Then the summer got hot and stayed hot. Some gained weight better than others. The dry conditions were good, but the heat was tough on the pigs.

Drew, Riley and Jaesa each raised three pigs. They also got another one, just in case. Keeping 10 rambunctious pigs together in a barn was getting to be a bit much toward the end of the summer. The pigs were digging holes, jumping up on gates and generally tearing things up.

“I’ve been bitten five times this summer,” Riley said.

It’s a relief to be at the finish line, Drew said, although she’ll miss her pig, Einswine.

“I’ll miss Spot,” Jaesa added. “I’m glad we’re eating Stripe. We chased her around a lot.”

Preparations

The show doesn’t start until 5 p.m. The family got to the showgrounds in the late morning, so they had plenty of time to get ready.

They got their pigs unloaded and settled in their pens, gave them food and water and took them to weigh-ins. The children each brought their biggest and best-behaved two pigs to the show.

It took about an hour and a half to get the pigs clipped. Then it was off to the wash rack for a bath.

Jaesa forgot her muck boots so her older siblings washed her pigs for her, although they did make her stand outside the wash racks and watch.

This is Jaesa’s first year in 4-H showing market animals. Drew and Riley said they’d try to give her tips on showing her pig, but their headstrong little sister wouldn’t listen anyway.

Though they might bicker and banter while they do it, the three siblings help each other get ready. Jaesa makes sure Drew’s collar is folded flat. They hand each other spray bottles over the sides of the pen as they each get their pigs brushed off before it’s time for their heat.

Show time

There’s a flurry of activity getting Jaesa and Drew to the ring for the first heat. They each have a pig in the lightweight class and are going against each other in the same heat.

Drew’s pig takes third place in that heat, while Jaesa’s is fifth. Not bad for her first time out.

Lauren McGraw, the children’s mother, gives Jaesa some advice when she returns her pig to its pen. “You gotta look at the judge. And watch your whip. You almost hit some people with it.”

Jaesa smiles back sheepishly.

After the initial rush, things settle into a groove. Riley’s two pigs are in the middleweight class in back-to-back heats. His first pig takes third place in the heat. His younger sister brings up his second pig while his dad, John McGraw, escorts his first pig out of the ring at the end of the heat. It takes the whole family to keep things running smoothly.

The smallest McGraw is showing the biggest pig. Jaesa is the only one with a hog that weighed enough to get into the heavyweight class at 269 pounds. This time she keeps her eyes on the judge and minds her whip.

The effort paid off in showmanship. Jaesa drove her pig, Spot, to Champion Novice Showman. Riley placed third in the same class.

The kids each sold one pig at the livestock auction Aug. 21. Drew’s went for $325, Riley’s pig sold for $400 and Jaesa’s sold for $625. They have buyers lined up for the other pigs and the ones left at home.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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