Bleats, neighs and oinks emanated from inside the numerous stalls at Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises on Thursday morning, opening day of the Culpeper Madison Rappahannock Farm Show.
It was barely 10 a.m. and the temperature was already rising, but inside the stalls breezes relieved the heat as hundreds of 4-H club youth prepared their animals to show or sell. The wind mixed with sawdust and hay along with the earthy smell of livestock as the children lined up to have their steer, hogs, lambs and goats weighed and graded for Monday night’s sale.
Everyone seemed to know everyone else and the atmosphere felt down-home, suggesting an agricultural tradition passed down from generation to generation to generation. The children worked all year raising their animals learning more than a little about hard work.
Down the hog aisle, 15-year-old Cheyanne Brown, a rising junior at Eastern View High School, readied her two barrow hogs—Shoestring and Sneaker—for their turn on the scale.
“This guy chews your sneakers and this guy chews your shoestrings,” she said, explaining their names.
Both of the hogs, brothers, were born January 14 on the teenager’s farm in Brandy Station. Brown has been involved with 4H for six years, showing goats and poultry, but this is her first year showing hogs. “I wanted to try every animal at least once before I graduate out,” she said.
Brown explained that her hogs are a cross breed of Yorkshire and Hampshire, adding that both are perfectly spoiled.
“They like marshmallows, they go under the deck whenever they want because we let them and they eat all of our scraps,” she said. “Sneaker likes back scratches and Shoestring likes his butt scratched.” Both of the hogs love eating figs, she added.
Asked if it’s difficult caring for the hogs on a daily basis, Brown said no. She added, “You just have to make sure you de-worm them every month. You have to corner them to do it and you need a strong needle.”
Nearby, 7-year-old Virginia Embry, showing rabbits at the show, sprayed water on the hogs, lazing in the hay, nearly asleep due to the day’s heat. Most everyone was sweating without complaint.
“I’m scratching his butt,” Embry declared, receiving a smile from the hogs’ caretaker.
Said Brown, “Hogs don’t have sweat glands so they need to get cooled off.”
Cheyanne was not always so articulate, said her mother, Dee Brown. In fact, her daughter was born with autism and could not speak at age 3, but she could relate to her animals, Mrs. Brown said.
The mom added that she got her daughter involved in 4H to help her network with her peers and to build confidence as well as her communication skills.
“She could hold a duck and it would calm her down. She could not communicate verbally so she did it through action,” said Dee Brown.
Home-schooled as a younger child, Cheyanne now attends public school and is reading on a 12th-grade level, her mom said proudly. She noted how participation in 4H enhanced her education, including having to know how to interact with and respond to judges in the ring.
Cheyanne admitted she gets attached to her market animals, including her first two hogs that will go in the sale ring next week. “It’s sad, but I am happy I gave them a good start,” she said, adding, “People got to eat!” The hogs will provide some good eating as well, weighing in at last count at more than 250 pounds each.
Over at the scale station, Mike Carpenter with the Virginia Department of Agriculture helped oversee the grading process. He had a few words to say about the nature of hogs.
“Pigs will develop a personality and they will become friends,” he said with a smile. “It’s interesting to watch what people will do to get pigs where they want them to go. They’re tricks of the trade—like marshmallow on a stick.”
Carpenter said the Department of Agriculture provides free grading services for local farm shows like Culpeper, assigning USDA grade standards for each animal. “It’s for the benefit of the buyer, too,” he said. “So they know the quality of the animal they are getting.”
The Farm Show continues at 9 a.m. on Friday with the opening of the homemaker’s building. The livestock sale will be held at 6 p.m. Monday in the sale barn on site.