A Seymour girl’s love for pigs began when she was just 9 years old.
Now, three years later, there is nowhere her love is more apparent than at the Jackson County Fair.
Lillie Wessel, 12, spent the past week pretty much living in the swine barn at the fairgrounds near Brownstown.
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From early morning until late at night, she tended to her two pigs, Rico and Moose, washing them down frequently to keep them cool, feeding them their own special treat mix, changing out their hay and even sleeping in the pens with them on occasion.
Earlier in the week, she joined more than 100 other 4-H members for the annual swine show, parading her pigs around the show arena under the watchful eyes of the judge, the crowd and her family.
Lillie said she always wonders if she’s going to win and still feels nervous sometimes when showing.
“When it gets down to like if I’m in the top two, that makes me nervous,” she said.
That’s what happened Tuesday, but she ended up winning both of her classes.
Classes are made up by weight and split up by breeds.
She also earned reserve champion heavyweight crossbred barrow. Castrated male pigs are referred to as barrows while young females are called gilts.
The local fair is always a week filled with hard work, accomplishments and lots of fun for those showing animals, but the end can be bittersweet.
Many 4-H’ers, including Lillie, had to say goodbye to their animals during the annual 4-H livestock auction Saturday. In some cases, the animals are more like pets than livestock.
Lillie said she knows selling a farm animal, such as a pig or cow for its meat, is part of the process; however, it doesn’t make it any easier.
“I get to take one home, but my favorite, Rico, has to be sold,” she said. “He was 64 pounds when I got him, and he weighed 289 pounds when we weighed him in on Monday.”
Although she doesn’t live on a farm herself, farming is in Lillie’s blood.
“My grandpa, Mark Hackman, owns a show feed business, not just for pigs but for all different animals,” she said. “He feeds the pigs, even now, and brings us all our show supplies.”
That’s how she was first introduced to pigs and began to learn how to take care of them, she said. Now, she participates in open and circuit shows across the state and will take part in a national swine show in Louisville later this year.
She had a total of six pigs this year, but chose to enter just two crossbred barrows in the Jackson County Fair.
“It’s just fun and you get to meet new people and make a lot of memories,” she said of why she likes showing pigs.
But it’s also taught her a lot too.
“You learn responsibility,” she said.
When she first gets a piglet, she doesn’t have to work with it much, because it just needs time to grow, she said.
But it’s not long before the barn is the first place Lillie wants to go when she wakes up in the morning.
When the pigs are big enough, she walks them every night to get them used to following her lead and commands.
“They don’t listen to you at first,” she said. “When you take them outside to walk them, they’ll not know what to do because they’re still babies and are scared. So you have to get them used to it, which is called breaking them, so they do whatever you want.”
It can take up to three weeks to “break” a pig, she added.
“But sometimes it’s less,” she said. “It just depends on the pig.”
Even when she was not feeling well early on in the week, Lillie said it was important for her to be with her pigs as much as possible.
“Monday is when we brought them here and Tuesday was show day, so I wanted to have my pigs all prepared,” she said. “And I just like it so much I don’t feel like I can leave.”
So to make her feel better, she stretched out on top of Rico and rested on Monday. The pig didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.
Lillie is the daughter of Eric and Mandy Wessel and she has a younger brother, Lincoln.
Showing pigs has brought her family even closer together, Lillie said.
“I got them to kind of love it too,” she said of pigs. “We even have a pet pig in our house now.”
Bernard, or “Bernie” for short, is a tea cup or miniature pig and is like having a puppy, she said.
There are a lot of ideas about pigs that Lillie said just aren’t true, such as they are smelly and dumb.
“Pigs are actually the third smartest animals around,” she said. “It goes monkeys, dolphins then pigs. Pigs are smarter than dogs. You can teach them to sit. You can teach them to do anything just like dogs.”
Lillie has taught her own pigs to sit and even has a video proving it.
She also said pigs are not dirty or smelly if you take care of them.
“If you clean their pens and wash them everyday, they aren’t smelly,” she said. “And no I do not let my pigs roll in mud.”
Another misconception is that pigs are pink and they sweat a lot.
“They are actually white and if they look gray, it’s called blue,” she said. “When people say they are sweating like a pig; that’s not true, because pigs do not sweat. Pigs have no pores.”
In fact, the only way for pigs to stay cool is to be sprayed with water, have a fan pointed on them or to lay in mud.
“They can easily overheat and die from it,” she said. “They will open their mouths and breathe really heavy when they are too hot.”
From showing pigs, Lillie said she has learned how to be responsible and be kind and encouraging to others.
“Even if you win, you still need to tell others that they did a great job, or if you don’t win, you need to congratulate those who do and tell them they deserve it,” she said. “That way people remember you as a good person.”
It can be tough to lose, but it’s important not to get mad about it, she said.
“It’s really up to the judge, and it’s kind of just luck of the draw sometimes,” she added.
And other times, pigs just don’t like to be in the show arena with other pigs.
“Some do, some don’t,” she said. “If they don’t, they will complain and squeal and start huffing and puffing and trying to get back to the gate.”
One thing that is true about pigs is that they like to eat.
“Most pigs will eat anything,” she said. “They’re pigs, that’s what they do.”
Lillie said she plans to continue showing pigs until she’s too old to do so.
“You can show until you’re 21 in open shows,” she said.