One by one, contestants led their pigs into a hay-covered ring to stand before a judge Thursday during the 4-H market and breeding swine show.
Squeals erupted from pigs as contestants prodded them through the livestock barn by tapping them with a thin stick.
Shane Jennings, a livestock judge from Texas, selected pigs for further inspection and confined the others to the side of the ring to wait. The crowd relaxed as Jennings went about his work, examining pigs for their mass, gait and strength.
The contestants raised their swine for months in preparation for the annual La Plata County Fair.
After all was said and done, Cooper Hanhardt, 10, of Durango took home the title of grand reserve champion for his pig, Artemis. It marked a major achievement for Cooper, who took pride in teaching Artemis how to walk with his head up and how to turn. Before being trained, Artemis would scream and run away, not knowing what to do.
It also was a rare win.
“It was kind of a funny feeling,” Cooper said.
Cooper said he doesn’t win very often, and he felt really happy that all his hard work paid off.
Bristol Lesky, 8, who lives south of Bondad, won the title of reserve champion for her pig, Ziggy, in her first year as a 4-H member. Bristol, a fourth-generation 4-H club member, raised her pig for six months. Raising a pig is fun, she said, but it’s also hard work and requires dedication and time. Pigs need feeding, watering and cleaning at least once a day.
“It takes a lot of time,” Shawntae Lesky, Bristol’s mother, said. “They just don’t sit in the mud pit.”
Bristol said that she enjoys the belt buckles and banners that are awarded to the winners. Shawntae noted what an honor it is to have the reserve or grand reserve champion title; a lot of local companies pride themselves on buying a titled pig at the livestock auction.
As Jennings decided the order of the pigs, teams of judges worked diligently with open class entries in divisions such as baking, photography and quilting. At least 40 judges reviewed work in the Exhibit Hall. One pair of judges in the baking department, Cheryle Benally and Debbie Johnson, came from Farmington, saying it’s worth the hour’s drive to taste the entries.
Benally got her shot at judging when a friend asked if she could help. She said that there isn’t really a need for previous experience to assist with the judging; they’re simply good samplers with good taste buds.
“It doesn’t get old,” Benally said. “We always look forward to it.”
The judges bring different skills to the table, said Emily Miller, a judge for the adult handicrafts department. Miller, who is going on her sixth or seventh year judging, started after representatives from the fair reached out to her company. For her, the best part of participating as a judge is seeing how talented the contestants are.
“Honestly, there are amazingly talented people,” she said. Her section isn’t that large anymore, but it takes about an hour to work through the submissions because she likes to “look at the most fine and minute details to make sure there is a worthy winner.”
Benally, Johnson and Miller all agreed it’s a low-pressure job.
“It’s a fun event to be part of,” Miller said. “We want to support the fair, that’s what we’re here for.”
The fun continues Friday morning as exhibits open at 9 a.m. There are a number of livestock shows that could pique interest, including rabbits, cattle and a 4-H/FFA livestock round-robin.
Chevel Shepherd, a country singer from Farmington and the 2018 winner of NBC-TV’s “The Voice,” will take the stage at 8 p.m. after Six Dollar String Band opens for her at 7 p.m.
Anyone looking to sell beef during the Junior Livestock sale Saturday night must turn in a sale verification beef card by 7 p.m. at the livestock office.