The Sumner High School Future Farmers of America chapter dominated at the Washington State Spring Fair.
Of the eight classes of hog competition at the Northwest Junior Livestock show, Sumner FFA students won all eight classes. Four students won second place in their class.
So what’s the secret to raising a prize-winning hog? Sumner FFA students Alyssa McGee, Carson Dumas, Colton DeBord and Emily Pries say it’s all about the picking the right pig from the start.
You have to start with a good foundation — with a good pig.
Alyssa McGee, Sumner FFA student
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“You have to start with a good foundation — with a good pig,” McGee said.
The students all purchased their pigs back in November, and spent as much time as possible with their hog. While the students saw great success at the Spring Fair, the road to get there was far from easy.
In November, their FFA livestock teacher, Greg Pile, had a massive stroke and went on medical leave. The task of then walking alongside the students while they were raising their pigs fell into the lap of another FFA teacher, Jessica Olaiya, whose specialty is in horticulture.
“It was really cool to see her step in, even though she’s more familiar with horticulture and plants,” McGee said. “This year has been crazy.”
Olaiya, however, says the credit for such a successful year goes to parents and volunteers.
“The students faced hardships, but the goal was to stay positive and do anything that I could to keep them on track,” she said. “We had an amazing group of parent volunteers who stepped up to keep things organized and running smoothly at the student farm. Without those parents, these projects would not have been a success.”
Adding to the challenges, a case of bacterial pneumonia spread through the pigs housed at the student farm, and two of the hogs died.
“My pig was one of the ones that died,” DeBord said. “I had a loan for $150 from my parents to buy my pig, so I was worried I’d have to buy another.”
Luckily for DeBord, a farm owner in Buckley donated a pig for him to raise. With the Spring Fair looming, DeBord spent every evening and weekend working with his pig. DeBord and McGee both say they took a loan from their parents to pay for their hogs, and both were able to repay them once their hogs were sent to market.
Dumas and Pries both worked outside of going to school to pay for their pigs. Dumas works as a farmhand and Pries worked two jobs: at McDonald’s and as a barista at a local cafe.
The payout for the group was significant.
▪ DeBord’s pig was sold for $2.50 a pound, and weighed in at 226 pounds
▪ Dumas’ went for $1.60 per pound, and weighed in at 226 pounds
▪ McGee’s went for $2.40 a pound, and tipped the scale at 259 pounds
▪ Pries’ went for $2.75 per pound, and weighed in at 273 pounds
Once their hogs were sold at the livestock show, they went on to be butchered.
“This was my first year raising pigs, and it was hard,” said DeBord. “It was emotional to say goodbye at the end.”
“At the end of the show, there’s a lot of emotion,” McGee added. “Everyone is crying.”
While it was hard for the Sumner FFA students to say their goodbyes to their pigs, they all agreed it wasn’t about winning anything, but about the relationships they built.
“While saying goodbye to our pigs is hard, you realize you have all these friendships to fall back on,” McGee said. “The relationships built (through raising their pigs) are the most rewarding. It’s not us raising the pigs, they’re raising us. We all share the same passion. It’s more about the people you meet along the way.”
Olaiya says raising livestock teaches her students about life.
At the end of the fair they were able to look at their animals, which was the product of months of hard work, and be proud of what they have accomplished in raising that animal. That isn't something that you can learn from a book or teach in the classroom, it is something that only comes from an experience like this.
Jessica Olaiya, Sumner FFA teacher
“Not only are they learning about how to care for an animal, feed it properly to make weight, and train it to be shown at the fair but they are also learning responsibility, time management and entrepreneurial skills,” she said. “At the end of the fair they were able to look at their animals, which was the product of months of hard work, and be proud of what they have accomplished in raising that animal. That isn't something that you can learn from a book or teach in the classroom, it is something that only comes from an experience like this.”
Pries agreed, saying FFA has shaped her as a person.
“Through raising an animal, it teaches how to talk to people and get donations,” she said.