This entire week, my kids and I have spent at our county 4H fair. We haul our animals down in a livestock trailer and park our camper in our assigned slot and take up housekeeping for the week. We are lucky in that because our county is still very rural, our fair is about 4H, whereas other more urban Maryland counties have fairs whose focus is the midway and demolition derbies. I grew up in 4H. Its an important part of our family and is a significant part of our entire community.
Having said that, as livestock exhibitors, we have animals in barns on the fair grounds that folks walk through looking at the project animals. We call them project animals because that's what they are, 4H projects for the kids who are raising them. My kids raise sheep and pigs. All the 4H families take turns helping in the animal barns and it always amazes me the types of questions we get from folks who walk through our barns.
This week, the most common question we got was "Why are the pigs different colors?" This question came a few times, but always from an adult, not a child. Pigs, like dogs, are different colors based on their breed. There are SO many different breeds of pigs. Here in our barn at the 4H fair, we have quite a few different breeds of pigs being raised by 4H'ers. The purpose of the breed program is for the 4H'ers to raise hogs with the specific characteristics of the breed they choose to raise. Here are just a few examples of what's in our barn. Please note, i took these photos during nap time in the barn so several of the pigs are laying down snoozing in their pens.
Yorkshires are also very popular. This is a picture of a sow, a female pig that has had at least one litter of piglets. I had a woman ask why we called them "white" when actually they are pink. True, their skin is pink but their hair is white.
Blue Butts are cross-bred between Hampshires and Yorkshires. They generally have some dark markings around their hind-quarters, thus the term "blue butt". This type of pig makes up the bulk of our market hogs.
A primer on some pig terms we also got questions on this week at the fair:
Gilt = a female pig that has not delivered a litter of piglets. Can be either used for breeding if it has the qualities to enhance the litter of piglets or for market.
Barrow = a castrated male pig typically sold for market.
Boar = an uncastrated male pig used for breeding. Yes, those are what you can see in the picture of the Chester White boar...
Sow = a mature female pig that has had at least one litter of piglets.
Average litter size? Depends on breed but typically 10 piglets per litter.
What do pigs eat? Pig feed! :Primarily a blend of corn and soybeans. When I was a kid raising pigs we "slopped" our pigs giving them any and all type of food left overs. Nowadays with the desire for lean meat, a pig's diet is prescribed to have the correct weight gain over time and a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates along with vitamins and minerals. Our pigs still get our leftovers. Their favorite is watermelon rinds and corn husks and corn cobs! They also love a treat of apples that have fallen of the tree in our backyard.
My kids LOVE being at the county fair (quite frankly so do I) and sharing what they do with their 4H animal projects. You really should visit a county fair near you and ask the 4H'ers questions. You may just be surprised at what you learn.