Pa. family dives into county fair preparation, even with unknowns

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kids with pigs
Drew, Riley and Jaesa McGraw, of Ohioville, Pennsylvania, pose for a photo with their 4-H pigs. They’re each raising three pigs for the Lawrence County Fair this summer. (Submitted photo)

Step one to raising a pig for 4-H. Give them a name befitting their looks or their personality.

“Boss is the littlest pig, but she is the biggest boss,” said 12-year-old Drew McGraw. “She’s super sassy too. Red is red. And Einswine is super, super smart.”

Einswine was the first pig to figure out where the water and food were in their new home at the McGraws’ farm, Drew said.

The three McGraw children, of Ohioville, Pennsylvania, are raising pigs to show at the Lawrence County Fair in August. This will be Drew’s third year, 10-year-old Riley’s second and 8-year-old Jaesa’s first year.

Riley’s pigs are named Fudge, Blue and Socks. Jaesa’s pigs are named Squeal, Spot and Stripes.

The nine pigs are a mixture of crosses — Hampshire crosses, duroc crosses and blue butt crosses. They were born around Groundhog Day. The family picked them up about a month ago.

They each weigh between 50 and 90 pounds now. By the time of the fair, they could grow to more than 200 pounds.

At the Lawrence County Fair, each child can show two pigs -— one in the market category and one in carcass category. Lauren, the children’s mother, said they will show the best two pigs and sell the third outright.

girl feeding pigs
Jaesa McGraw coaxes the pigs to her. This will be her first year showing pigs for 4-H. (submitted photo)

Last year, Drew got reserve champion carcass hog at the fair.

“It’s really fun,” Drew said. “It’s very competitive.”

Care

What do the pigs need every day?

“Water, exercise, food,” Riley said. He paused. “Air.”

Right now, they eat from a self feeder the McGraws built. Later on, they’ll switch to show pig feed.

The pigs get daily walks up and down a hill. The walks are between a quarter to half a mile each day. It’s the beginning of their training to walk in the show ring in August. Although, right now, it’s more play than work.

“Once we get to the bottom of the hill, they pick up sticks,” Drew said. “They like to chew on sticks and carry them around.”

Riley and Jaesa said they’re trying to teach Socks to dance, since he’s extremely food motivated.

The pigs need to learn to walk, not run, and lift up their heads. For some, it’s more natural than others. They use marshmallows as incentive for the pigs to pick their heads up.

Going online

Things are different this spring with school closed and in-person 4-H meetings canceled. The children did quality animal management training online for both their pigs and horses. They’re missing their 4-H friends, but, fortunately, they stay in touch.

“We FaceTimed with our one friend, Molly,” Drew said. “She showed us her pig, and we showed her our pigs.”

If the fair, which is scheduled for Aug. 17-22, is canceled, they’ll continue raising the pigs and sell them to family, friends or other buyers. They usually sell their extra pigs that way anyway, so they’re not too worried about having a market for them.

Horsing around

The McGraw kids also show their horses. Drew has a quarter horse named Billee. Riley has a miniature horse, Meadow, and Jaesa has a pony, Storm. They compete in a variety of categories like showmanship, trail, jumping and carting.

Showing horses can sometimes be unpredictable, no matter how much training you’ve done. For example, Stormy is really lazy, Jaesa said. He sometimes refuses to canter or trot.

horses
The family’s horses check out the newest additions to the farm in Ohioville, Pennsylvania. (submitted photo)

“In the middle of the ring, he stopped to eat grass,” Jaesa said.

Billee, one the other hand, loves to run, Drew said.

Meadow is the smallest of the bunch, but has enough personality for a horse three times her size.

“All she likes to do is go over jumps,” Riley said. “She loves to rear up.”

Competing with their animals -— swine or equine — is a highlight of the summer. Even if at the end, they have to say goodbye to their pigs. Because of concerns about African Swine Fever, all pig shows were made terminal throughout Pennsylvania last year.

“They enjoy it, and they know what to expect,” Lauren said. “We talk about the purpose of it. Pigs have a purpose. It’s sad when we sell them. But they had a really good life here, and they served their purpose.”

Lauren said while she grew up raising livestock, her husband didn’t. He grew up in the suburbs outside of Pittsburgh. This has been the kid’s grandparents’ introduction to 4-H too.

“When my in-laws started coming to shows, they were blown away by it all,” she said. “They said you can tell the kids enjoy it because they’re smiling the whole time.”

(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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