GREENVILLE — Organizers at this year’s Montcalm County 4-H Swine Show were originally concerned that contestant numbers might be somewhat reduced this year due to a nationwide outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus that decimated (as of April) about 10 percent of the country’s piglets. From June, 2013 to April, 2014 about seven million pigs nationwide succumbed to the illness, which is not transferable to humans.
According to Lisa Johnson, of the Montcalm County 4-H board, the number of contestants in this year’s show is about the same as in previous years, despite the epidemic.
“They’re about the same as has been in the past,” Johnson said. “It’s been a little difficult finding feeder pigs this year for projects because of the swine virus going around.”
Johnson added that many pig farmers have become incredibly cautious about letting “outsiders,” basically, anyone not directly related to the farm, get near their animals. Since there is still not much known about exactly how the disease is spread, that caution is well considered.
“I’ve even heard of breeders who ask someone to wait down at the roadside and then bring their pig to them, rather than let them go up to the barns,” Johnson said.
For all the worry over the virus, however, the mood was festive and exciting at this year’s swine show. Young 4-H members paraded their neatly groomed hogs past the judges exactly as in years past. Though “paraded” may be too formal a word.
Pigs, after all, have minds of their own and even the trainers of the best hogs present sometimes found themselves chasing their recalcitrant, squealing charges around the pen.
Turnout was excellent for the event, despite grey skies and frequent cloudbursts.
Judges based their decisions on several factors, two of the most important being presentation of the pig — how well it is groomed — and the trainer’s ability to control the animal. All the hours of hard work back home at the farm paid off for several blue ribbon winners throughout the day.
The less well-trained animals frequently elicited chuckles from the gathered spectators as they dashed around the pen in an effort to avoid being corralled.
County 4-H member Hannah Patin, 16, has been involved in 4-H since she was 10 and was showing a “backup” hog. The pig she had been training for the past several months came in just one pound below the minimum required by the judges.
“My first pig was one pound under,” Hannah said. “So I’m showing a backup. I’m not sure what my chances will be.”
But like most of the other contestants milling around the barn waiting for their turn in the arena, Hannah was enjoying her moment in the spotlight, her chance to see the end result of months of hard work and dedication.