It was a good day for Julia McCraw. For Piggums, not so much.
McCraw is a 16-year-old student at Lakewood Ranch High School, and she spent Saturday afternoon at the Manatee County Fair in Palmetto. She was there to show and sell Piggums, the 200-plus pound pig that she’s been raising since piglethood.
At Saturday’s auction in the fairgrounds arena, Piggums sold for $5.25 a pound.
That was an above-average price — other pigs at the auction were netting anywhere for $4 to $5 a pound, though in rare cases pigs got up to $6. It was the McCraw’s first time showing and selling a pig, and she was thrilled.
Piggums showed well, but had no idea what awaited.
“As far as I know, they’re slaughtered right away,” McCraw said. “We load them at 10 o’clock tonight, and then I think they go straight to the slaughterhouse.”
Kids, from about 8 to about 18, many of them from FFA and 4-H clubs, showed their pigs in front of hundreds of spectators and some serious buyers in the arena. One at a time, the kids and their pigs would enter a ring. The pigs, all of them about 6 months old, walked back and forth around the pen, guided by the kids’ hog crops, long flexible sticks designed specifically for swine training. The auctioneer started the bidding for each animal at $3 a pound and increased the price at 25-cent increments.
“Let’s keep him moving. keep him moving,” the auctioneer told one boy whose pig didn’t seem to want to strut. “Drive him, drive him.”
Before they got their chance to show off in front of the crowd, the pigs rested on sawdust beds in cages. Each cage listed the pig’s owner, its weight and its back fat in inches.
“You want a lot of back fat,” said 8-year-old Madison Roberts of Myakka City. She was showing her first pig and figures she fared pretty well.
“My pig’s name is Charlotte,” Roberts said. “She sold for 4-something. That’s a good price.”
Her friend Selia Rodriguez, who’s also 8, was still waiting to show her pig, Prince.
“I’m, like, last,” she said. “What happened was, he hurt his leg, and he was sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake him up. So I asked to go later.”
There’s more than just back fat that determined the price of the pig, McCraw said.
When I first got him, I thought of this as a project, not a pet.
Julia McCraw, former owner of Piggums
“I think it’s the way we pronounce the pig in the ring,” she said. “If you hit the pig really hard, it can make the meat tougher.”
Piggums, she said, had learned to respond to light touches from the hog crop, and buyers probably noticed that and drove up the price.
The fact that the swine in the show are raised individually also helps raise prices, she said, because buyers know the pigs have been fed a quality diet.
McCraw got a later start in pig-raising than most of the other youngsters at the swine show. She had moved a lot with her family and just discovered animal husbandry when the family settled in Myakka and she met a bunch of kids from the FFA. She loves animals, and she she said she found inspiration in what the FFA kids were doing.
She was attached to Piggums, she said, but it wasn’t too hard to sell him, even though she knew his fate.
“When I first got him, I thought of this as a project, not a pet,” she said.
The preparation for the annual swine show involves more than just rising a pig. Jessica Pope was at the show with her three children, Hailey, Leroy and Tucker. Hailey is 18, and it was her last show. Tucker is 8, and it was his first.
Their mom sat in the stands, taking notes on each pig that was sold. Before next year’s show, she said, Leroy and Tucker will send photos of their new pigs to potential buyers, with letters about the pigs and how they’re raised, so interested buyers will keep an eye out.
Kids, from about 8 to about 18, many of them from FFA and 4H clubs, showed their pigs in front of hundreds of spectators and some serious buyers in the arena. One at a time, the kids and their pigs would enter a ring. The pigs, all of them about six months old, walked back and forth around the pen, guided by the kids’ hog crops
“It’s a good year,” Jessica Pope said of Saturday’s auction. “Everybody’s bidding pretty high this year.”
Thirteen-year-old Kailynn Ramirez of Ellenton was at her second show. She’s part of an agricultural club, called Cream of the Crop, and she was getting ready to show the club’s pig.
She said it was hard to part with the pig last year because she had grown attached to it. When she was helping raise this year’s pig, whose name she did not know, she didn’t let herself get emotional.
A lot of the kids who had pigs in the show were looking toward careers as farmers. Ramirez said she doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up, but helping to raise to pigs had taught her that she doesn’t want to go into agriculture.
“It’s hard,” she said.