For family, county fair is prime swine time


July 29, 2002|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LONG BEFORE opening day at the county fair, the Hester family and their Hampshire and Duroc pigs were ready.

A few weeks before, they traveled to the National Junior Swine Association Show in Kentucky, where their pigs placed in the top 10 and Jessica Hester's livestock judging garnered second place.

"We were competing with big farms from as far away as Oklahoma and Iowa that have pigs with a 20-year lineage," said Jessica's twin sister, Emily, 20. "To make it to the top 10 as a small-town breeder with five-year lineage pigs is a big deal."

It was a big deal and the best dress rehearsal possible for the Carroll County 4-H/FFA Fair, family members said. For them, the local fair is where the real fun begins.

They survived the early stages of what mother Beth Hester calls the "fun pre-fair frazzle."

The tack box is ready to show the sheep and the animals have plenty of feed and water. The coolers are stocked with snacks and soft drinks, and Beth has planned meals that "practically prepare themselves" for the evenings when family members crawl back to the house after long days at the fair.

Competition clothes are clean, and family members have "enough pocket cash for the cheesy french fries."

Beth and her husband, Greg, have worked out the logistics for running 15 animals and three of their four children back and forth from the fairgrounds to their 17-acre Jepa Hill Farm off Saw Mill Road north of Westminster. (The farm's name honors the Hester's four children: "J" for Jessica, "E" for Emily, "P" for Paul and "A" for Abigail.)

Beth also called her mother, Janet Farley, who lives close to the fairgrounds, to confirm that this is the week that the children might be zipping in and out of her house for naps and showers.

Abigail, 13, has pressed the clothes she made for Fashion Review and packaged her baked goodies.

She and Paul, 16, also have prepped the pigs, closely monitoring their food so they will be the optimal weight for competition - 275 pounds. Pig prep also includes running through a series of commands to turn left and turn right by dangling a red crop in front of their faces or tapping their haunches.

With a long line of championships behind them - Paul earned Grand Champion status in 2000, Jessica was Grand Champion last year, and in 1998, Emily pulled in the championship at the Maryland State Fair - the Hesters hope to collect high marks this week.

After all, Abigail and Paul said, fair week is what makes the early feedings and the countless pig washings and barn cleanings throughout the year worthwhile.

"I love hanging out with my friends - answering questions, feeling like I know something that others don't," said Paul, a senior at Westminster High School. "I really like being the one to explain what a hayseed in the country does.

"I spend the day talking about what pigs eat [a corn-based feed that provides specific proteins and minerals that help them grow bigger], how they are raised [with patience, close monitoring and tolerance for the smell of manure] and how they are used" for breeding and butchering.

The Hesters' pigs will compete in three areas: "fitting and showing," "market" and "breeding." For fitting, judges check the pigs' cleanliness, from ears to hind hoofs. Most pig owners concur that cleaning animals that wallow in mud and manure to stay cool is a tough job.

Cleanliness is not the only thing that matters in competition. Pigs also are judged for how well they can respond to commands and for structural characteristics such as capacity (how many piglets mom can carry), the length of their bodies, muscle mass and frame size.

A long-framed, heavy, clean and lean pig ranks well.

The Hesters expect to be at the 4-H Fair from as early as 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. "on a short day," Beth said. But she and every family member participating this year can't imagine time better spent together.

"As a family, we have made 4-H our lives because unlike other things that might split us up by gender or athletic skills or limitations, 4-H allows us to do lots of things as a family," said Beth. "Sure, we have learned a lot about responsibility, respect, citizenship and scholarship, but hands down, we are in it for the family."

The fair runs through Friday at the agriculture center in Westminster. Admission is free. Information: 410-848-FAIR or

Living Treasure

Westminster resident Carol Richardson honors her mother, Patricia Zilch, of Hagerstown as her Living Treasure this week.

"She is the most unselfish person I know," said Richardson. "When my sister Lisa and I were younger, Dad had a schoolteacher's salary. Mom went without shoes so they could afford the corrective shoes that I needed. She is just that generous. Mom also has Parkinson's, yet she never complains. She deals with the disease with resolve and inspires me and so many others around her."

Brighten the day of someone who has made a positive difference in your life.

Send in a name and specific reasons why someone has been your living treasure to: Lisa Breslin, 35 Ridge Road, Westminster 21157.

Lisa Breslin's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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