Steamboat Springs A slightly goofy pig named Hammy taught young Nathan Greenwall a lesson this week about the ups and downs that life tosses at all of us.
Together, Nathan and Hammy overcame the odds to claim the title of reserve grand champion in senior swine showmanship at the Routt County Fair on Wednesday. Just minutes after Nathan was presented his ribbon, Hammy lay down in his pen, heaved a few labored breaths and died.
The demise of the pig was not totally unexpected - it had struggled to overcome illness in the weeks leading up to the fair. Still, the blow to Nathan was both personal and financial.
"It was a shock," Nathan said. "He was just a silly pig. When we used to let him out in the yard, he would hide from us. I always get attached to my pigs. They're just like big dogs."
Before you shed too many tears for Hammy, let's get real. Even before he stepped into the show ring in Hayden this week, Hammy was destined to become a ham sandwich.
All the pigs and steers shown at the fair face a similar fate. After tonight's auction, they are headed for the local meat packing plant. It's all part of the lesson that farm and ranch youngsters learn when they raise 4-H livestock.
Just the same, the circumstances of Hammy's passing were tough on Nathan.
"I didn't like it that the little kids (at the fair) had to see him like that," Nathan said.
Nathan's stepfather took Hammy's carcass directly to the meat packer, but it was too late to salvage the ham or the spareribs or the pork chops.
Bottom line? Nathan was out the $1,200 to $1,500 Hammy would have brought at the auction.
Fair youngsters often sock their auction proceeds (after they pay their feed bills) away for college. Nathan, 15, and about to begin his sophomore year at Steamboat Springs High School, also was envisioning a new coat of blue paint on the 1992 Ford F-250 he'll be able to drive when he turns 16 next spring.
Just getting Hammy to the show ring was a struggle. Nathan's pig came down with a respiratory infection over the summer, which made it difficult for the animal to gain weight. That meant that instead of twice daily feedings, Nathan had to feed his animal three times a day. When that was done, he had to catch him to give him a syringe full of medication. Hammy may have been a little goofy, but he was smart enough to recognize that needle after the first few jabs in his smoked pork butt.
There was another disadvantage to Hammy's illness. The pig didn't have sufficient energy and health to go on daily walks. It is during those walks that most 4-H youngsters build a working relationship with their animals.
The term "swine showmanship" is a bit of a misnomer. The pigs are not showmen. Most of them couldn't tell a joke to save their:I'm not gonna go there.
Let's just say the fair pigs would just as soon never enter the show ring, and they often grunt and squeal their disapproval at the judge.
The youngsters in the ring are the real showpersons. Dressed in their best Western jeans and shirts, they skillfully guide their animals around the ring with a few well-placed taps from a plastic cane. All the while, they seek to hold the judge's attention by maintaining eye contact.
Nathan bounced back from his disappointment over Hammy later in the week and was named grand champion in the dairy goat showmanship class.
The financial reward came when Nathan learned that Kelly and Tom Reuter had stepped forward and agreed to pay the fair livestock sale average for Nathan's backup pig (which failed to make weight) in a private transaction outside the auction.
"It was a relief to hear that," Nathan said.
Kelly Reuter said that bec-ause she doesn't have enough freezer space to store the meat, she would donate it to the Doak Walker Care Center.
Nathan will attend the Junior Livestock Sale tonight (6 to 9 p.m. at the multi-purpose building at the Routt County Fairgrounds in Hayden), but the same nervous excitement he's experienced in the past will be missing.
"It's hard to know you're letting (your animal) go," he said of the auction. "At the same time, you get excited to hear how much they'll sell for. It's when all the work pays off."
As it all turned out, Nathan can expect to receive a nice check. He'll also leave the 2006 Routt County Fair with memories that will never fade away. Memories of a silly pig named Hammy.
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