With the 4-H Fair Season behind us, and the ribbons hung, I wanted to share our journey this year. I say our journey because my daughter and I walked down a new road together this year in 4-H. There is nothing like the county fair to bring out the best in sportsmanship and competition among best friends and strangers from our small community.
Tales Of A 4-H Mom
4-H is an organization I never thought would be in my vocabulary, but here I am sharing our journey. I say our journey because unlike most of the Moms in my community, I was not a 4-Her growing up. To me, a 4-H kid grew up raising animals and lived on a farm, yeah I was pretty wrong about that.
How We Became Involved in 4-H
Rewind to Fall 2016, a good friend asked if Miss.M would like to go to a 4-H meeting with her daughter. My natural response was, “she can, but we don’t live on a farm”, she laughed and said neither did they. I do live in the sticks, don’t get me wrong, but I grew up in the suburbs. I surely wasn’t getting into 4-H, or so I thought. Miss. M attended one meeting and was ready to join, so I said sure why not, it only costs $10 a year for membership (I WISH that was all we spend yearly). What began as a fun monthly meeting, quickly turned into community service events, volunteer opportunities and then came 4-H Camp. Needless to say, after the first 6 months we were all in. I became a certified volunteer, took a role in the Camp Board of Directors and became a full-fledged 4-H parent. There was no turning back, my family was a 4-H family, so much so that my oldest daughter even became a camp counselor the last two years she was eligible. What on earth did we get ourselves into?
4-H Is More Than Livestock
What you may not know is that 4-H encompasses much more than animals. You can go your entire 4-H career and never step into a show ring with livestock. You can learn robotics, engineering, science, home environment, sewing, horticulture, the list goes on and on. For her first two years, Miss. M entered indoor exhibits from baked goods to veggies, crafts and even took part in fashion review. I thought, this is great, no farm animals and she still earns blue ribbons and champion rosettes.
We’re Getting A Pig
At some point during the 2018 farm fair, all of the kids concocted a plan that they would show pigs the following year. The parents laughed it off, but the kids didn’t seem to be joking. Mind you, we live in a small rural community (I’m talking 200 kids in our public school small) and 1 in 5 live on a farm or near a farm. The pig talk wasn’t ending, they were all in. Fortunately for me, my daughters best friend has a farm (well her family does) and they were kind enough to allow her to raise the pig there since her friend was as well. Suddenly, this Mom, raised in the suburbs, had to take full hold of this idea. Fast forward to March, and we were the proud owners of a market hog, aptly named, Breakfast.
The Pig Project
In 4-H you have to sign up for projects that you are going to present at the county fair, and that is no exception for animals. We signed up for the Market Swine project, which means you raise a hog, show it at the fair and sell it at the auction. You keep all records and show profits, losses, and expenses. I bet you didn’t know 4-H taught you that as well. Bottom line is if your pig doesn’t make weight you can’t sell it, rendering your project somewhat incomplete. I never knew I would stress so much over 6 months about how much a damn pig weighs! We’re talking full-blown dinner conversations among parents about a pigs diet, and what we think they weigh.
Life On The Farm
I never had farm experience before this, I mean why would I. I am not afraid of a little hard work, but farm work is a whole new arena of hard work. Feed bags weigh upwards of 50 lbs, that cute cow you want to move out of the way is 1400 lbs, and the pigs that were so cute and cuddly are now 200 plus lbs of eating machines. You use every ounce of muscle in your body when doing farm work. I was very apprehensive at first, mainly because it was so foreign to me but I dove in. I am still working on my relationship with the cows, I’m not afraid of them by any means, it’s just a lot of animal to handle. I am sure by next spring I will be leading them to the wash rack without hesitation. Being on the farm is good for the soul, and the abs.
A few weeks after the pigs came home we had to clean their stalls. I volunteered to do it with the kids, note to self, don’t do that again, just let the kids be. We moved the hogs out of the way and suddenly, there were little kids with pitchforks and poop was flying everywhere! At that moment I laughed and knew there was no turning back. So with pig poop and straw in my hair, I mucked the stalls and knew this was my new reality. Before this, I would have never said I was a pig person, now I kinda love the fat, funny things.
The Fair Is Here
After months of preparation, it was time to go to the fair. We were up at 6.30 and on the farm by 7. Before we could leave for the fairgrounds we had to load up the pigs, give them baths and clean feed bins. By 9 am, we were off to the fair. Talk about organized chaos! Moving pigs is pretty funny, to say the least, the kids did a great job getting them from the trailer down to their stall at the opposite end of the barn. It was only 10.15 am and I was ready for a nap. Oh and there is no napping at the fair, you spend anywhere from 12-15 hours a day cleaning up poop, entertaining kids, foraging for the next ham sandwich, and eventually becoming a human ATM so your kid will leave you be for 20 minutes while they get their 600th snowball of the week.
Remember when I said I stressed about the pig making weight? Good lord, I was a bundle of nerves when it was time for official weigh-in at the fair. Would the pig make weight, was she overweight? We got her up on that scale and it kept climbing, and climbing, I had this sinking feeling she was overweight and all of my daughters’ hard work was lost, then we heard 283 lbs, SHE MADE WEIGHT! Some of you are probably like “what’s the big deal”? Well, it’s a big deal, ALL the pigs from our farm made weight, we had figured out the secret pig feeding formula or we just winged it and hoped for the best, I will let you decide which one.
Thursday night rolled around pretty fast and it was time to prepare for the show. Miss. M would show her pig, Breakfast, in two classes that night. I was a bundle of nerves for her, as she has never taken livestock into a show ring before this. Playing with a friends goat or dairy cow in the ring practicing is not the same as putting on your 4-H show wear and doing it yourself.
I had no idea how any of this was going to go, but suddenly I became “that Mom”. “Do you have your brush? Where is your pig stick? Tuck in your shirt. Get rid of the gum. Make sure you keep the pig between you and the judge. Always make eye contact with the judge.” Who the heck was I, where did all of this sudden pig showing knowledge come from? I am not a competitive person by any sense of the word, but I wanted this for her because she wanted it for herself.
It was time for her first class, Showing and Fitting, and as I helped her get her 283lb hog out of the pen and down to the chute I was never more proud because she made it this far. The pigs are in a holding area in the hot sun for about 10 minutes, before the class ahead finishes in the ring, and this wasn’t good for our 283lb gal. Once she got in the ring she was hot and tired, and she just wanted to lay down. It didn’t matter how cute Mads was, or what knowledge she had about her pig, her hog wasn’t having it, and that put Mads in last place.
She kept it together, but when she returned to the barn she cried harder than I have seen in a long time. She felt defeated, disappointed, like a failure. I was heartbroken for my little girl, but I was so proud because all 65 lbs of her worked that ring and did what she could with her stubborn, hot pig.
In a matter of seconds, she was surrounded by all of her friends in the barn, concerned and consoling her. That moment reminded me why we are part of 4-H. The love and compassion from those kids brought me to tears because they didn’t care that it was almost their time to show, they cared about their friend. The 4-H motto is “To Make The Best Better”, and at that moment those kids lived that motto. We had about 90 minutes before she would go back into the ring, and a few friends took her for ice cream and to play games at the carnival. She returned 30 minutes later ready to go back into the ring for her next class. The knowledge she received from that “failure” in her mind, can never be taught, and I am so thankful she had the experience because she will push herself harder next time.
She sold Breakfast at the Auction on Saturday night and her project was complete. Before we even loaded up the car from this year, she was already talking about next years pig. So I guess you could say we are in it for the long haul showing pigs.
To all the Harford County 4-H Mom’s out there, THANK YOU! You tirelessly support our kids, help them to grow and become the best version of themselves they can be. It’s a community I am proud to be part of. This year two Mom’s invested in my girl, and I will forever be grateful.