Growing Up Fast

AJ Turner of Swarthmore communes with the piglets at 4H’s Pig Club stall in Newtown Square. It isn’t always this clean. Photo courtesy of Katie Turner.

Like many 10 year olds, AJ Turner is into hockey, soccer, and baseball. Unlike his Swarthmore-Rutledge School classmates, the rising 5th grader is also into pigs. One particular pig, in fact: Mittens, a 130-some pound adolescent whom AJ will accompany in the novice pig showmanship event Saturday at the 4-H Summer Fair this weekend in Newtown Square.

You think your kids are growing up fast? Since AJ and 13 other 4-H pig club members got their 60 pound piglets in April, some of the animals have grown to nearly 300 pounds.

AJ had cared for a guinea pig, but a market pig was a quantum leap. Once a week, he and his mother Katie Turner travel from their Swarthmore home to the 4-H pig club barn in Newtown Square. There they work with other pig club members to muck out a stall shared by 13 hungry pigs, to refresh the stall with straw, and to feed the hungry animals from 50 pound bags.

AJ Turner training with Mittens, the pig.

Katie Turner said, “We wanted an activity that was hard work, and something we can do together without any technology. And we also wanted to look at how other people live.”

Without farm wisdom from her time residing in Swarthmore or Connecticut, the prospect of the 4-H pig club was mysterious. Fortunately, a cousin had raised pigs in Georgia, and closer to home, Katie said, the Penn State Extension office helped the pair understand the porcine world and the demands of the undertaking.

Raising pigs is hard work, AJ said, but worthwhile and rewarding in a way that a visit to a farm or a zoo can’t deliver. “Seeing them close up, being able to touch them, getting to know them is the best part.”

AJ said Mittens is “Really cute, but hyper.” Part of the 4-H animal experience is showing the animal in conformation judging, during which the pig and not the handler should be closest to the judges. “We have to use a cane to guide them,” he says, and sometimes it takes a firm nudge or a tap to get Mittens going in the right direction. He suggests that perhaps pigs aren’t as smart as popular wisdom says they are.

By the end of the Saturday, Mittens and the others of his herd will be auctioned, with the pig club members sharing in the proceeds of the sale. AJ Turner will get back to school, soccer and hockey, but next spring, he plans to be back on the farm, growing up with another pig.

Young Local Exhibitors Groom
for 4-H Fair This Weekend

The 4-H Fair is a living connection to our country’s agrarian past, when raising and living with animals was part of life for most families. This weekend (beginning Thursday, August 10), this hidden Delaware County treasure is free and open to the public of all ages at the Cooperative 4-H farm at the Garrett Williamson Foundation, 395 Bishop Hollow Road in Newtown Square.

The 4-H Fair offers contests, pony and hay rides, informational displays, and animal showing in which young 4-H members present the animals they’ve helped raise, and the projects they’ve completed during the year. Poultry judging takes place on Thursday evening, and the show is open to the public beginning at 6 p.m. A horse show is featured on Friday evening beginning at 5 p.m., with other live animal shows continuing till 9 p.m.

Farmers rise early, and Saturday’s events begin at 8:30 a.m., running through 4 p.m. Check on progress and features of the show at the show’s Facebook page, facebook.com/delco4h. Admission and parking are free; the show goes on rain or shine. For more information, call youth education coordinator Rebecca McCafferty at (610) 690-2655.

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