Much Ado About Pigs

‘ SQUEE-E-E-AL.’ A big fat sow let out a sour, moanful note to express the pangs of her hunger. She was already as fat as she could be, but the fatter hogs get, the more ravenous their appetites become.

I awoke with a start. Jumping to my feet, I looked with sleepy eyes at my watch. It said four-thirty. I had overslept by thirty minutes.

This was show day, and on show day at the fair everything else — and especially personal comfort — is forgotten. Show day is the climax of the whole week’s work and anticipation. On any other day ‘pigs is pigs,’ but on show day hogs reign supreme.

I slipped into my pants and shoes. I had slept in the rest of my clothes on a cot beside my hogpens. I dashed out, mixed the feed, and fed the hogs first of all. They had to be fed early so that they would not be full and sluggish and their bellies paunchy when they were presented to the judge.

A few at a time, I drove the hogs to the washing pens. There I gave them a good soaking with a hose. I soaped them down and scrubbed them vigorously with a brush. This was not the first bath they had had that week to make their hair white and their skin pink.

While I washed the animals, my helper cleaned out the pens and bedded them with shiny yellow straw. I drove the hogs to the pens and watched them lie down. Clean and white they were — clean enough to lounge in a parlor! Hogs are really not dirty animals. Their excessive weight makes them hot, and, seeking relief, they naturally turn to water holes and mud wallows to keep cool.

In the pens next to mine were Whitney’s hogs. Whitney was a professional ladies’ hairdresser. Hogs were his hobby, and he spent his vacation every summer showing them at fairs. ‘If some of those high-class society women whose hair I dress should see me out here shampooing a pig, they’d go into a tantrum,’ he said.

Farther on were the pens of Brassy, just an ordinary Missouri farmer with some good hogs, who had brought them to the state fair. Then there were the big breeders, men who breed hogs as a profession and who make showing at fairs their business. Several feed companies with unlimited capital maintain huge, aristocratic herds to advertise their feeds.

I had about an hour before the first class was scheduled, so I busied myself in the pens, putting last-minute touches to the hogs. I clipped the hair around their heads, ears, necks, and tails to make them look cleancut and refined. With a sharp knife I trimmed their hoofs, to make them stand up on their toes and to make their pasterns appear stronger.

Then last of all, with a half-dozen cans of ordinary dime-store talcum, I applied powder all over the entire bodies of the hogs. This made them look clean and white and gave them a well-groomed appearance.

The superintendent of the show called for the first class from the judging arena, ‘Chester White aged boar class.’ With my keen little driving switch, I made my big thousandpound boar get up on his feet. I gave him a final brushing down and a drink of water. Even though it was the cool of the early morning and the boar was not very thirsty, he was so fat I knew just driving him to the arena would make him hot; and the hotter a hog gets, the droopier and more sluggish he becomes, so that he does not make a good appearance for the judge.

I knew my boar was a pretty good animal, so I hastened to drive him into the arena first. I wanted the judge to get. a good look at him before the onslaught arrived.

My boar moved slowly into the ring. He kept his head down and arched up his back. He sniffed here and there as we walked around the ring.

The judge came over at once and looked down at the boar’s broad back, which was carried out evenly to his hindquarters. He noted his deep, well-filled hams. He raised up an ear and saw that the hog’s eye was bright and prominent. I squatted by the boar as the judge paused, and rubbed my hand along the deep, smooth sides, and on dowm to the straight, well-set legs. I wanted to call the attention of the judge to the points in which my boar was particularly strong.

Other boars followed us into the ring. The judge scrutinized them carefully, but somehow I felt that my ‘early bird’ psychology had given my boar the edge on them.

Then the judge raised his cane into the air. I held my breath, for with the fall of that cane would go the prize. The cane fell, and it was pointed straight at my big boar. The audience cheered, and the superintendent rushed up and handed me the blue ribbon.

Other classes followed for various ages of both boars and sows. I drove my hogs in almost all of them. Sometimes I won, and sometimes I didn’t.

Besides showing in the arena, as the weary, hot August day dragged on, I had to see that the hogs in the pens kept cool. I sprinkled them with water. As their breakfast digested, their sides became leaner and made them look lanky, so I added a little more ‘fill’ to this and that animal.

Misfortune struck during the day, when a big beautiful sow slipped on some wet concrete and hurt her leg. She limped into the arena. I knew she was a good animal and should place well, but, try as I might, the judge would not look at her because of her lameness.

Younger hogs always cause the most trouble. Older ones, after a season or so of experience, learn what is expected of them. But the pigs are green. My junior gilt became hot and tired. She wanted to go back to her pen, where she could lie down. She ran up and down the fence of the arena. When I tried to drive her out into the middle where the judge could see her, she squealed loudly, causing a big fuss.

I tried the old trick of scratching her on the belly. She became quiet, but she also threw up her head and sagged her back. When I stopped scratching to get her to stand well, she again tried to get out of the ring. Finally I had to take her back to the pens.

My junior boar pig was cocky. He was just at that adolescent age when he thought he could whip anything in sight. Accordingly, at the first sight of another pig in the ring, he bristled up his hair, pricked up his ears, and began chewing and foaming at the mouth.

In spite of all I could do, he attacked. Since they were young, the two boars did not have big tusks, but they bit each other, and chewed and ripped each other’s ears. They fought fiercely, with all the fury of their ancestor, the wild boar. I tried to beat them apart with a cane. The owner of the other pig and I tried to pull them apart, but they were too strong for us. Finally we had to carry a gate panel into the arena and thrust it between them.

Late in the day came the climax of the show, with the championship classes. I drove my first-prize aged boar in the senior championship class. He posed like the veteran he was. He stood squarely on four legs, back arched, head down. I emerged with the coveted purple rosette ribbon. Later I drove my boar against the junior champion for the grand champion boar of the show. I used all the tricks in the bag. I pressed my boar for every good point he possessed. But the younger hog was livelier and had more strut, so I lost in the final round.

That night the hog pavilion became very quiet. The tenseness of the atmosphere was gone. The hogs grunted peacefully as they slept. Strings of ribbons, fluttering in the breeze, decorated each breeder’s pens.

Here and there under the lights were gathered little groups of men smoking cigars. The smokes were on the man who had won the most prize money that day. The men talked in undertones about the judge, about the placings, and about their winnings. They had settled down to take life easy, for their week’s work was done.