Hog Club Gives Kids Valuable Skills

Hog Club member Abigail Foust at the state show

The Union County 4-H Hog Club headed to the state competition last weekend, a truckload of middle schoolers, high schoolers, and the hogs they spent the fall and winter raising. The Hog Club has been going strong since 2014, teaching students valuable skills from animal care to public speaking.

Folks like to complain about “kids these days” with their heads in their phones all the time, but would you believe that the impetus for starting the Hog Club was a teenager? Union County’s UT Extension Agent Shannon DeWitt said it started as a little bit of a love story.

“A young man came into the office in fall of 2013, and his girlfriend had given him a show pig,” she said. “She lives in another county and showed pigs with 4-H, and he wanted to show his pig. I said, ‘OK, we’ll figure it out.’”

DeWitt got the young man registered to show his pig locally in December and at the state show in January, but his truck broke down the week of the show. DeWitt volunteered to help him haul his pig to Nashville.

“Honestly, it was so much fun,” DeWitt said. “I saw that young man have so much fun and enjoy it, I said we’ve got to get more kids involved in this.”

That spring, the UT Extension office promoted the program in local schools and with existing 4-H students, offering them the chance to get a show pig at a great bargain, raise the pig with guidance from the Hog Club, show it and sell the pig for meat at the end of the season. Parent volunteer Trevor Jones helped purchase and transport the pigs that first year and continues to haul the pigs from Indiana at the start of each season.

Most kids choose to sell their pigs for meat at the end of the showing season, many rolling the earnings into another pig the next fall. Some keep the pigs. Student Kennedy Hill even offers the offspring of her first pig to Hog Club students for purchase each year. As DeWitt said, the program has come full circle.

While buying, feeding and caring for a pig requires funds and responsibility, it is a relatively easy step up from the 4-H Chick Chain project, and a step towards raising and showing larger animals like sheep or cattle.

“Pigs are a lot of fun,” said DeWitt. “They’re very intelligent. They have a lot of personality. As far as livestock showing goes, this is a really affordable project, a step up from our chicken project. It’s very easy to sell pigs, easier to sell pigs than beef cattle, and it’s helped our other 4-H programs to grow. We have more kids showing beef animals than we ever had before, and our livestock judging team that is the really educational deal. I feel like the Hog Club has been kind of a stepping stone to other things.”

What a student takes away from the Hog Club, DeWitt said, is really up to the student. Each one develops different skills.
“Responsibility, making sure the animal is healthy, learning animal welfare and how to treat animals well, leadership skills, sportsmanship,” she said. “They compete against each other, but we learn together. They learn to win and lose gracefully, and they learn teamwork because they help each other.

“This is something I’m very passionate about. I really love this project. I love working with the kids, and they love working with the pigs. We also have a great group of parents who are 100 percent willing to jump in and help however they can all the time.”

Limited scholarship opportunities are available, and DeWitt said she tries to let any student participate no matter what their financial situation is.

The best way to help, DeWitt said, is to purchase a pig from a Hog Club student and give them a premium price if possible. People who want to help can also donate towards the end-of-season awards club banquet. Help with transportation is also needed from folks with animal handling experience.

For more information, call the Union County UT Extension Office at 865-992-8038.

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