From school to the county fair. A student bids farewell to his beloved pig

An unnamed piglet traveled hundreds of miles from Georgia to Florida, and then to Lincoln Memorial Academy, in Palmetto, where it lived until Monday afternoon.

The pig weighed less than 50 pounds when it arrived in a dog kennel last September. The rambunctious animal bucked and flailed around its pen, soon earning the nickname Buck-It, a name that later evolved into Bucky.

Bucky now weighs an estimated 260 pounds, and it’s doubtful the the pig — a mix of Hampshire and American Yorkshire — would fit in his old kennel.

Edward Esteves, an eighth-grade student at Lincoln Memorial, helped transport Bucky from the school barn to the Manatee County Fair on Monday, five days before the swine auction at Mosaic Arena. The fair opens Thursday at 5 p.m.

He joined Future Farmers of America and nurtured his first pig, Petunia, last year. Officially known as National FFA Organization, the program supports agricultural education, along with the necessary leadership skills.

Esteves is now the vice president of Lincoln Memorial’s FFA chapter, along with its barn and swine manager.

A friend warned Esteves, 14, about the dangers of naming a piglet. It can be painful to care for animals and face the pig’s inevitable end: a trip to the butcher, and later the dinner table.

“I’ve learned not to connect with the pig as much,” Esteves said. “Last year, when I connected with Petunia, it hurt when she left.”

While his outlook changed over the last year, Esteves remained firm on the need to name and love his pigs. He said Bucky receives daily visits and plenty of treats.

Fans and misters keep Bucky cool, especially since pigs don’t sweat. Esteves said he uses aloe vera on especially hot days.

He monitors the food, which can become wet and moldy in Florida’s humid climate. He also surveys the area for harmful plants, such as pigweed, which can poison an unsuspecting swine.

Bucky started as a shy pig who avoided human contact for nearly two weeks. Now, he greets Esteves and other FFA students by gnawing on their shoes and pants.

“Just the other day, I was laughing so hard because it tickled when he was doing it,” Esteves said.

His mentor was Kimberly Lough, an agriculture teacher and the advisor for Lincoln Memorial’s FFA chapter. She joined the school about 16 years ago.

“The continually increasing dilemma in the classroom is getting students to take initiative, and to take ownership of who they are, and not be spoon-fed,” she said.

Lough sees the agriculture program as a solution to her dilemma. FFA members learn to communicate, especially when emergencies arise and schedules need to be reworked.

They learn math and science by taking measurements and analyzing the pigs’ weight gains. And most of all, she said, they develop a solid work ethic.

“You have to be here, whether you feel good or not,” Lough said. “If it’s raining you still go out. The only time we don’t go out is if it’s lightning and it’s going to endanger a person.”

It all comes down to a lesson in career readiness, she said. That lesson continues at the Manatee County Fair, starting with a competition scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday.

A panel will judge students, or “pig drivers,” on their ability to guide a pig in Mosaic Arena. A day later, judges will rate the pigs on their muscle structure, joint alignment and fat-to-muscle ratio.

An auction — the grand finale for Manatee’s agriculture students — is scheduled for Jan. 19. From approximately 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Bucky and his peers will be sold to the highest bidders.

Bucky’s sale will help fund Lincoln Memorial’s program, and Lough is hoping to net $7 per pound.

“As an industry person, you would not get that much on a pig, but it’s a community event,” Lough said. “People that buy the pigs know that, so they come out to support the schools and to support the individuals.”