ONAWA, Iowa -- For the first time in well over a decade, exhibitors on Friday will show more than 100 pigs at the Monona County Fair Swine Show.
Eight years ago, one pig occupied the show ring here, largely the result of the decline in smaller, traditional farrow-to-finish operations and the proliferation of large confinements.
The surge in swine entries prompted officials to move the show ahead on the fair schedule.
"We had our Sheep Show at 7:30 a.m. Friday in the past, but three years ago we got an increase in the number of swine, so much so we decided to move the sheep to another day and get swine started at 7:30 a.m. Friday to beat the heat," said Keith Baker, program assistant with the ISU Extension Service in Monona County.
Caleb Clemon of the East Monona Explorers 4-H club showed the only pig at the fair in 2010. Rather than watch the program die off without so much as a squeal, Rick Watson, the fair's swine superintendent, created a plan for a special class of porkers, those raised at the Iowa State University Research Farm near Castana, Iowa. Watson earned permission to have pigs from that farm raised and shown by 4-H members throughout the county.
In three years, the Swine Show grew to 48 pigs, then jumped to 82 pigs in 2015, a group that featured several pigs housed at Brink Farms. In 2016, 90 pigs were weighed, paraded and judged. On Friday, according to Baker, there will be 110 to 120 snouts and pig-tails making their way before the grandstand in Onawa.
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The Special Swine Project led to a number of 4-H families who bought their own pigs and began raising them for this rite of summer.
Dylan Kuhlman, a senior to-be at West Monona High School, jumped from the swine barn to the wash bay on Wednesday, working with fellow 4-H member Brayden Komarek in washing what the pair dubbed "mystery pigs."
"We weighed pigs on Tuesday night and the tags of these pigs didn't match an exhibitor, so we're not sure who is supposed to show them," Kuhlman said. "We think the exhibitor will show up today and we'll get them in the right pens."
Until that time, the pigs had to be fed, bedded, watered and washed. Kuhlman, a member of the Franklin Go-Getters, showed his go-getting pluck in recruiting Komarek, a member of the Bobcats 4-H club, in seeing that these pigs were cleaned and cooled, mystery or not.
"We use Dawn dishwashing soap because it works as well as anything," Kulhman said.
After washing and returning the "mystery pigs" to a pen in the swine barn, Kuhlman could turn his attention to his pen of three, all of which he raised at Brink Farms near Turin, Iowa. The Monona County Special Swine Project worked well for Kulhman, since he resides in the city limits of Onawa.
"I've got two gilts and a barrow," he said. "I like working with animals and I love how you can train some pigs to be good, not skittish."
Kuhlman, the son of Mark and Michelle Kuhlman, has earned blue ribbons at the fair in the past, but hasn't showed a grand champion, yet. In addition to showing these pigs, he'll compete with dozens of others for showmanship accolades.
As I left the fairgrounds on Tuesday, Kulhman rounded up his pigs for a visit to the wash bay. He hoped that by the time he was done, he'd have a bag of fresh bedding to spread in the pen. Fair officials, he remarked, ran out of bedding as swine arrived on Tuesday night. While a lack of bedding represents a problem in this week's heat, it's at least a good problem, the result of a spike in numbers for a Monona County Fair Swine Show.
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