First-year 4-H’er takes on the skillathon

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JEFFERSON, Ohio – First-year 4-H’er Kerstin White had many opportunities this year to demonstrate her newfound knowledge of market hogs.
Besides showing her pig at the Ashtabula County Fair, White also had to participate in the skillathon, which is a test to see how much 4-H’ers know about their projects.
White, 11, took a hog because it seemed like a fun animal. It didn’t hurt that her dad, Frank White, was most familiar with hogs, having helped a neighbor raise them while growing up.
White spent weeks at her Andover, Ohio, home reading her project book and using study techniques, such as quizzing herself on breed descriptions.
Her 4-H club, South Central Livestock, even had a mock skillathon to help members prepare.
On July 30, White got to see whether all her hard work would pay off.
* * *
The building at the Ashtabula County Fairgrounds in Jefferson, Ohio, was bustling with activity when White and her sister, Keshia, entered.
Chairs were spread in front and 4-H members ranging in age from 8 to 18, were excitedly discussing which questions they thought they’d be asked.
A sign-up table separated the members from the testing area, where 11 tables and judges sat.
While they waited their turn, White and her sister, also a first-year member, quizzed each other.
Finally, White and Keshia were called. Keshia went to the table on the left, and White went to the right.
* * *
White nervously sat at the general interview station and introduced herself to the judge. It was hard to study for this station because this subject area was so broad and the judge could ask anything.
She stumbled on the first questions. When asked for the normal body temperature of hogs, she answered 98 degrees when the correct answer was 101 degrees.
But she improved as the interview went on. When asked why a pig’s tail is docked, White hesitated, thinking she knew the answer but not wanting to be wrong again.
The judge was patient, giving her time to think and coaxing her with questions, such as: Why would it be beneficial if other pigs were around?
“Because other pigs will bite it in a fight?” White answered correctly.

Could she remember which breed had pointy ears and which had droopy? Which breed was longer?

With the interview portion over, White moved on to the dreaded feed identification station.
White had to identify any five of the 25 or so bottled feeds sitting before her. She was most nervous about this station; since she didn’t have feed samples at home, she couldn’t study beyond her 4-H club’s practice session.
She identified whole corn and a red-powder substance as blood meal but mixed up the rest, including mistaking urea for the similarly looking salt.
* * *
Glad to put those stations behind her, White moved onto the meat cuts. Here, she was required to match 10 name labels to the corresponding meat cut photo.
When White realized she scored perfect, judge Mike Thiel remarked that kids were mixing up the center loin roast with the center rib roast.
Gaining confidence, White next sat at a station with 10 glossy photos of pig breeds. She quickly labeled the Duroc and Spotted pigs, but took a few minutes to review what she remembered about the other breeds.
She recalled that Berkshires and Poland Chinas were both black with white feet, tails and snouts. Could she remember which breed had pointy ears and which had droopy? Or of the two white hogs, Chester White and Landrace, which was longer?
“Relax, you’ve got all day,” judge Greg Elliot told her.
After she labeled three correctly, Elliot asked White to describe characteristics of two breeds.
Remembering her written descriptions, she correctly answered, “That’s the Yorkshire because it has tall ears.”
* * *
White moved on to the next station, dissatisfied with her score on the breeds because she had studied them extensively. A diagram of a pig was laid before her, and she had to label 10 parts.
She quickly identified the more obvious parts, such as the tail and snout, but hesitated over committing the loin and back labels to a spot, interchanging them several times.
She got seven right, but mislabeled the shoulder, loin and back, which are all located near each other.
Finally, White moved onto the last station. Again, a diagram of a pig was spread before her.
White took a moment to review the labels, making sure she knew all her options. The descriptions included “clear, open eyes” and “long, well-rounded rump.”
She mislabeled short legs because she misunderstood where the arrow pointed but still scored eight out of 10.
* * *
Finally done, a relieved White went over to compare scores with her sister.
White received an average score of 70 but was mostly happy with it because it was only her first year. Her parents and skillathon organizers all assured her that she had indeed done well.
“I will definitely study more next year, though,” White vowed. “Especially the pig breeds.”

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