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Pigging out on 4-H

Photo courtesy of Bangert Hog Farm. Austin Sorenson won Grand Champion Market Hog at Jefferson County, Colo.

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Feeding one or more pigs to sell as market animals is probably one of the most common 4-H livestock projects. It doesn’t require a large amount of money or expensive buildings and equipment and it can be completed in about four months time. Although 4-H projects remain an integral part of learning responsibility in just about any rural community – as well as a number of suburban/urban households throughout the country – the requisite space and time necessary for breeding and/or raising animals from conception to fair time can be in short supply for families in the 2000s.

Fortunately, a remedy called show stock producers has been meeting the needs of families and young people for decades. Show stock producers breed and raise animals for the purpose of selling them as 4-H projects to those looking for one, and producers are happy to help keep the 4-H tradition alive.

“To me, the 4-H tradition is very important,” said Jerry Bangert of Bangert Hog Farms in Ft. Lupton, Colo. Bangert is 32-years-old and has been working with pigs and hogs since he was nine. “(4-H) puts a lot of qualities into a young person as far as teamwork and sportsmanship,” he continued. “Taking on responsibilities and getting the job done and accomplishing something and going and finishing something to the end.”

Although he now has a side business of 40 to 50 sows bred and raised for the purpose of farrowing pigs to sell as 4-H projects every spring, Bangert caught the hog bug from his parents, Mike and Marilyn.

“We always had hogs, so I had my own pure bred herd when I was showing pigs,” he said about how he got into the show stock business. Then I went to (school) and … came back and got back into raising them and A.I.’ing sows for 4-H kids trying to make something that would be cost affordable for them to feed out for 4-H.”

Asked how it feels to hear one of his buyers had a successful year at the fair with a pig from his herd, Bangert offered both pride and a healthy dose of humility.

“If somebody does well with mine, I’m happy,” he revealed. “But at the same time, you try to stay humble with the whole situation. I try not to get my head to blow up big and start selling thousand dollar pigs just because I had a grand champion. As far as our family, we try to keep them reasonable where the kids can still make money. We’d be happy to have a $200 pig go out and win a county fair. I’m glad they worked hard and fed them right and did the right things as far as working with them every day and cleaning their pens and walking them every day to get them into the shape they needed to be to win.”

Another producer of show stock pigs, Carlson Show Pigs in Stoneham, Colo., had similar feelings about the prospect of a young 4-H’er doing well at the fair after buying a 3-month-old pig at their annual spring sale in March and then caring for it the entire summer.

“That’s the part of it that keeps us doing it,” said Glenn Carlson, who, along with wife Stephanie and teenagers Kamber and Clay, manages a 40 sow operation that holds an annual sale for 4-H hopefuls and has done so for more than 20 years. “We enjoy that and enjoy watching people have success. We understand it takes people that take them home and take care of the animals and feed them right, too,” he added on the subject. “They’ve got to go on and feed the animal and take care of them right through the hot summer and prepare them for showing. It’s a 50-50 deal, at least. That makes it fun.”

Another aspect Carlson appreciates about selling show stock pigs is the 4-H tradition and relational togetherness his own family business helps promote.

“It’s a great project that helps (4-H’ers) learn responsibility and how to take care of an animal,” Carlson stated in a quiet tone of voice as he answered questions during a break from his full-time job as a high school teacher and football coach. “It’s something the family can get involved in. If (kids) play ball all the time, usually they are coached by somebody else, so its hard for a mom or dad to quite get involved in that sort of activity. A 4-H project is usually a family deal where they go and buy the pig together as a family and take care of it as a family and go to the fair at the end and have fun at the fair. It’s easier for the family to be a part of this activity. I think that’s an important part of it.”

Carlson’s wife, Stephanie, held much the same opinion.

“That’s our ultimate goal, is that the kids that come and buy projects from us are successful in that project,” she said by phone from the family operation. “Not everybody can win a blue ribbon or a purple ribbon, but we hope that the project was a positive experience for them and its something they learned from and they can build upon and use throughout their 4-H career.”

While there are always challenges to raising show stock pigs for 4-H’ers, the positives appear to outweigh the stressors of breeding and farrowing seasons, as well as caring for the animals no matter the hectic state of a personal schedule or the Colorado winter weather.

“Fair time is probably the best part,” summed up Bangert about a favorite aspect of the business. “Being able to see the kids enjoy what they have accomplished at the end of the year. Also when they come out to the farm and pick out what they are going to be working with all summer, that’s always a joy to see the light in their eyes of what they are planning on doing.”

For any potential 4-H’ers searching for a project less time consuming or costly than a steer or horse, and also aren’t afraid of a mud bath or three, this year might just be the time to go whole hog … or maybe just pig out.


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