Raising hogs can mean a mess of heavy work even for an adult.
This weekend, four local girls expect to see the fruits of their labors proven out when the nine pigs they've partnered to rear go on the block at the annual 4-H Club Junior Market Livestock Auction at the Kenai Peninsula State Fair in Ninilchik.
The fair runs Friday through Sunday. The livestock auction kicks off at noon Saturday and is expected to last three or more hours.
Noel Schmitter-Schrier, 11, her sister Vienna, 9, along with Maya Chay, 13, and her sister Freya, 10, worked for a year feeding, watering, exercising and caring for the nine young piglets, which they got from a local farmer at 5 weeks old. They watched them grow to estimated weights ranging between 180 and 260 pounds.
Lisa Schmitter, Noel's and Vienna's mother, said the girls have been partners in what essentially amounts to a small business for the past three years. Even at their age, they've seen the ups and downs of commercial enterprise.
"That's one of the real beauties of the program," Lisa Schmitter said. "The girls get to communicate, problem-solve and figure out how to care for the animals."
The nine pigs got regular exercise they'd walk them, Schmitter said, which makes for high-quality meat that's low in fat content.
"It's not organic, but very well taken care of compared to what might be bought in a store," Schmitter said.
In all, some 60 youngsters between the ages of 9 and 18 are participating in the livestock program on the Kenai Peninsula, and all will be expected to deliver the animals they've raised to the auction Saturday, she said.
And not just pigs; there also will be cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys and rabbits.
Buyers could run the gamut from individuals simply looking to stock their freezers to local businesses and corporations securing good eats for future company picnics.
Business community support goes beyond simply being willing buyers, however. Schmitter said all the children participating in the program are required to make at least eight business contacts.
"From that, we have a lot of people who donate money to the Junior Market Livestock buyers' club," she said. "That money is used to buy animals (at auction) and donate the meat to places like the food bank or the Women's Resource Center or other charities."
Raising livestock as a business offers the young farmers many practical lessons, Schmitter said. For instance, each must maintain accurate and detailed records about their animals and must be able to define six new things they've learned each year. All records are turned in to 4-H leaders for review.
But while it is always exciting for them to parade their livestock and see them sold at auction, it is not uncommon for them to experience a bit of separation anxiety as those animals are loaded on a truck headed to the slaughterhouse. That part can be quite painful, Schmitter said.
"It's part of growing up," she said, adding that sometimes they form a circle and engage in a little group grieving. "They see that grief is OK."
On the other hand, occasionally she's actually bought some of the meat the kids have raised, Schmitter said, giving them a chance at another kind of validation in the pudding, so to speak.
"We've served the pig," she said. "The kids say, 'This is the best work we've ever eaten!'"
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