Say what you will about the value of hog shows, but I continue to believe that the pairing of a young boy or girl with a summer 4-H pig project has many lessons and rewards. Done right, they provide lessons in responsibility, compassionate care, and real-world economics.

On show day, kids and parents learn cooperation — a necessity when trying to drive a pig through throngs of city-dwellers to the show ring — and, win or lose, good sportsmanship when the champion is named.

If these kids are lucky enough to show their barrows and gilts under a judge that understands that these 4-H and FFA swine projects are as much about the kids as the pigs, they will gain knowledge and perspective from his/her comments about the classes.

Fair Fever

I’m somewhat of a fair junkie. Ever since I won my first trip to the state fair with a 4-H gilt in the ’60s, I’ve been hooked. This year, as I watched the county 4-H hog show and participated in the state fair’s open class swine competition, a couple of things gave me reason for pause.

The first occurred at the county fair. I watched as a friend whose wife is battling cancer was struggling to grasp some normalcy for their two teenagers and a younger daughter. On show day, all were focused and grounded by their livestock projects. I hope they could feel the support of everyone that surrounded them on that day.

At the state fair, I visited with an old college friend. Like many in the hog business, he and his family have experienced considerable stress and strife over the last couple of years. When I asked how things were going, he responded: “Better. The county and state fairs have a way of pulling us together.”

I also bumped into a former 4-H swine showmanship winner who was nearing completion of her master’s degree. She’s been studying the impact of exercise on sow body composition, fetal growth and blood flow to pigs. Her next goal is a Ph.D. degree in a swine-related topic at the University of Minnesota. And to think her passion for pigs began with a 4-H pig project.

Another observation — and I can’t prove this — but I think cell phone use is set aside, temporarily at least, to focus on the kids and the animals. Pigs are washed, fed, groomed, and shown. Kids get a little dirty. Most have fun. Sometimes, the smart phone is retrieved to snap a quick picture to send to grandpa and grandma.

When I bumped into a father and two teenage sons I had met at last year’s state fair, we talked about their hog project, herd sire prospects for their 2011 pig crop, and football. Dad said he has a house rule — no texting. He views it as an unnecessary distraction with little merit. Communication, he feels, is best accomplished face-to-face.

And, I spent some time with a young couple, married just a year, working together, supporting each other’s dreams of breeding and raising quality pork and beef.

These are but a few examples that reinforce the importance of the youth projects needed to prepare tomorrow’s livestock producers for quality meat protein production and provide the research and sales support needed to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

Miracle of Birth

The most popular free exhibit on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds is the CHS Miracle of Birth Center where 200 baby pigs, calves and lambs are born during the fair’s 12-day run. This exhibit is manned by staff from the Minnesota Veterinary Medicine Society, the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and the state’s FFA Association.

I stopped in at the center several times during the fair — not to watch the births, but to watch the faces of the families watching the dramatic and slightly messy entry of the babies into the world.

Young and old alike are entranced by this spectacle of life. Parents are grateful for the attendant’s answers to their children’s many questions. In this age of electronic wizardry and connectedness by the touch of a keypad, the center offers a rare touchpoint that connects real-life livestock production with the bountiful food on their families’ plates every day.