Durham County

Future farmers learn and compete at annual Central Piedmont Jr. Livestock Show

They told her not to name him.

But she did and Kinley Haze and “Wilbert” formed a bond.

Kinley, 16, is a sophomore at Orange High School. Six-month-old Wilbert is a 223-pound Blue Butt show pig.

Kinley showed Wilbert at the 2017 Central Piedmont Junior Livestock Show & Sale recently in the Central Carolina Holstein Association Barn on Orange Grove Road here. It was the 72nd year of the annual event.

Kinley has always had an interest in farms.

Her grandmother, Charlotte McGhee, grew up on her own daddy’s farm with cows, chickens and of course pigs. They even grew and “pulled” a little tobacco, McGhee remembers. The grandmother graduated from Orange High in 1966.

Kinley’s mother, Teresa Haze, showed cows as a little girl. Although she now works in a bank, far separated from fieldwork, Teresa Haze was not the least surprised by her daughter’s decision to deviate from the stereotypical teenaged American girl mien and get her hands dirty.

After signing up for a Future Farmers of America (FFA) agriculture elective course at Orange High, Kinley carried on the family’s female farming legacy.

“I really wanted to show an animal but didn’t know what type I wanted to show,” Kinley said.

A starter animal

Goats are stubborn. Cows are big and their size can make them unmanageable for the untrained farmhand. Pigs are unruly but Kinley’s teacher told her that regardless they’re good “starting animals,” she said.

The FFA class at Orange High School strives to teach students the realities of a working farm and what that entails. The animals are not pets. Each student in Kinley’s FFA elective course picked out an animal in the school’s barn on the first day of class that they’d be responsible for showing at the 2017 Central Piedmont Junior Livestock Show & Sale.

Kinley picked Wilbert.

“I didn’t want to name him Wilbur,” Kinley said. “I didn’t want to be, like, ‘that person.’”

She named him despite her instructors’ advice.

“They told us not to,” Kinley said. “But I did and my teacher started calling him Wilbert too, so ...”

Wilbert the piglet was born in October and Kinley picked him to be her pig at the tail-end of January.

“I liked him the best,” Kinley said. “And, well, my adviser helped me pick him out, like structure-wise, to see if he’d be a good show pig.”

Key attributes?

What are the important attributes that go into defining what is a “good” show pig?

“Just basically how wide their shoulders are. How their hams are looking. And their depth of rib, which is basically like how far down their body goes,” Kinley explained. “You don’t want a pig that is short and stubby, obviously. And you kind of want a pig that has a long loin.”

The “structure” of a good show pig is defined by a pig’s potential for its future well-developed meat qualities.

Wilbert is neither short nor stubby. In fact, he is tall and has a very long loin. Essentially, a loin is a pig’s back.

Hams are “their butt,” Kinley said. Wilbert has excellent hams.

Wilbert is muscular in his shoulders plus he has depth of rib.

Wilbert grew up eating Dixon Hog Starter with16 percent protein, Kinley said.

Despite a legendarily hardy digestive tract, farm-grown pigs must wean off sow’s milk and on to dry food and 16 percent protein feed, sometimes composed of grains including rolled oats, whey, yellow corn and soybean meal with mixed in vitamin supplements. All requirements for a growing hog.

Ready for show time

Kinley worked with Wilbert, teaching him good habits for show time.

Pigs like to root. Judges frown on show pigs who root in competition rings, Kinley said, “The first step was to get his head to stay up.”

Traditionally handlers of show pigs use plain wooden walking canes to train their animals. When the pig drops its nose to root, the handler loops the snout with the cane’s crook and pulls, lifting the pig’s snout out of the dirt.

Kinley — more of a progressive handler as oppossed to a traditionalist — preferred to lift Wilbert’s rooting nose with her foot. Her foot method was combined with positive reinforcement by way of marshmallow treats.

“Pigs love marshmallows,” Kinley said. “So every time they would pick up their heads, they’d get a marshmallow.”

Kinley said, “It just kind of helped them. They were just kind of like, ‘Oh, well every time we get a marshmallow we get to eat, sooo.’ It makes them look better when they pick up their heads.”

Kinley used mini marshmallow with Wilbert, but said “it didn’t really matter” and that regular-sized marshmallows work, too.

Creating a bond

Pigs are intelligent animals.

“We definitely kind of created a bond,” Kinley said. “He wouldn’t really let other people walk him very well.”

Kinley and Wilbert would see each other every school day during Kinley’s class time and she would sometimes visit during her lunch break. There were also a couple of weekend rendezvous between the two, when Kinley “went to work with him” over at his barn.

A handler walks a pig with a whip. Different pigs require different whip tabs with which the handler taps the pig on its opposite shoulder to the direction in which they desire the pig to move.

This is not meant to hurt the pig but only to communicate the handler’s wishes.

“Yeah,” Kinley said. “It’s just a tap. Some people hit a little aggressively, but I don’t do that.”

Judges will give lower scores to pig handlers whose taps escalate into hits. Taps that are too hard can bruise the pig and bruised pork is a less desirable commodity.

A good handler must walk their pig frequently because pigs do not as easily nor as naturally heel the way an English Springer Spaniel might. Pigs build to a heel. Repetitive practice eases the pig into becoming comfortable with obeying its handler.

Obeying under pressure, is an entirely different trick. If a pig falls prey to anxiety, it might revert to its baser instincts and attack. This happened fairly frequently in the show ring last Wednesday. Pigs attacking other pigs.

“My pig started to do that,” Kinley said. “I think it’s just because of all the people around them and it’s just a lot going on.”

Judges judge pigs on muscling, leanness, general structure and what is referred to as a pig’s “finish,” meaning its “fat.”

Particular personalities

Do pigs have different personalities?

“Yes,” Kinley said.

Like, in a big way?

“Yes,” Kinley said. “It’s definitely noticeable.”

Some pigs are sweet like honey. Some pigs are aggressive. Some spoiled pigs develop sour temperaments.

“He’s very friendly. He likes to go up to everyone,” Kinley said of Wilbert. “He would just like go up to people and start sniffing them. He was never aggressive. I was surprised. Today when he started doing that [fighting other show pigs], it really surprised me.”

Wilbert showed late in the day and Kinley suspects Wilbert was “a little irritable” and tired because of the time. But despite his quarrelling, Wilbert won first place in his weight class.

Kinley won first place in the “Record Book” competition in which the students were scored based on their notes on rearing their animals and the recorded amount of time spent with their livestock.

On the second day of the two-day event, Wilbert was put up for auction and sold for $225.

“I definitively knew it was going to happen and it’s a little sad just cause he’s like my first pig and stuff,” Kinley said. “But it happens.”

By all accounts, Wilbert was a good pig.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks