Hogs tip the scales in advance of Walla Walla County Fair

Awards are given to youths whose hogs gain the most by the fair.

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Patton Wright of Milton-Freewater faces off with the hog he will show at the fair in August.

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Amy Arnzen, 14, of Walla Walla holds her hog steady for ear stamping, while her sister, Jessica, 16, waits to help put the animal back in her pickup.

WALLA WALLA - A hog, a scale, a couple tags to the ears, a boy or a girl, and a long line of farm rigs stretching nearly 200 yards, all waiting their turn for the decades old tradition known as swine weigh day at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds.

"He wants to come out head first. Are you ready," Walla Walla County Cattlemen Co-chair Tom Beechinor warned Levi Laib, 14, of Dayton.

"You got to be quick," Waitsburg FFA volunteer Scott Branson added, as the two men stood on either side of Laib, just in case the youth wasn't able to handle the roughly 60-pound hog.

Then the men opened the gate, and Laib reached in and grabbed what he could.

A leg. A tail. Maybe an ear. The methods seemed to vary with each hog, but the most common was one back leg in the hand and an arm around the middle of the squirming, squealing animal.

Once Laib had his hog under control, Beechinor and Branson teamed up on either side to tag each pointed pink ear.

Then it was back in the rig.

Close to 100 youths and well over 100 hogs took part in swine weigh day on Saturday.

The event is an FFA and 4-H requirement for youths who want to enter a hog in the county fair.

The hogs cannot weigh more than 100 pounds, and the youths can have up to two hogs. But only one can be entered in the fair. The other serves as a backup, Beechinor said.

Depending on whether they are from Oregon or Washington, the youths range in age from 9 to 18. Almost all of them were accompanied by the rural version of soccer moms and dads.

"It's just what you do. Just raising kids," Darren Gobel said, after closing the gate on a couple of his son's hogs.

In theory, hog weigh day is a simple process.

Rigs are backed up to the scale. Then the youths who are old and strong enough do the unloading. If they are too young, which was usually the case, then the parents do the lifting. Or Beechinor and Branson take over.

The goal is to get the process over as quick as possible, without letting your hog get loose.

"It's pretty embarrassing," Jessica Arnzen, 16, said.

The 4-H veteran boasted that over the last nine years of swine weight day, she hadn't lost one yet.

But there are other hazards, including getting pooped on, peed on or just harangued by the other non-4-H youths.

"They (her classmates) call me the pig farmer and the pig girl," Amy Arnzen, 14, said.

They could also call her a successful entrepreneur.

Over the last nine years, the Arnzen sisters have amassed thousands of dollars; Jessica said she will use her money for college and a trip to Europe one day.

A good-sized hog can bring in $1,000 at the fair, and after paying for feed there is still a fair profit, the Arnzen sisters said.

The goal is to teach youths how to properly care for and handle farm animals, Beechinor said.

Handling the hogs on swine weigh day, however, is more difficult than later on because the young hogs are untrained.

Later they will be much larger and more easily led by the youths.

The ideal weight for the hogs will be somewhere between 230 and 280 pounds by fair day.

During the next few months, the youths will record the hogs' growth and feed.

Awards are given to youths whose hogs gain the most, which is why they hold swine weigh day in the spring.

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