Sometimes the only thing standing between you and that first place ribbon at the Crow Wing County Fair is a big, stubborn pig.
But Ellie Thompson, 13, of Brainerd, didn't break a sweat Wednesday when her 230-pound pig named Fax just wanted to roll around on the arena dirt floor during the showmanship class at the 4-H Swine Show. The Forestview eighth-grader continued to push and nudge the gilt, or young female pig, so it would get up and walk around the arena with its other competitors.
Brainerd siblings Ellie (left) and Stafford Thompson, ages 13 and 15, have been showing pigs at the Crow Wing County Fair for the past several years. Their father, uncle and grandparents own Norway Ridge Farm, which processes about 2,500 hogs a year, and their great-grandfather was the late Birney Wilkins, who was like Mr. Crow Wing County Fair. Brainerd Dispatch/Jodie Tweed » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Now you can lie down," she said with an exasperated laugh after leading the porker back to its pen at the fair's livestock barn.
For Ellie and her 15-year-old brother, Stafford, the county fair is a family tradition. Their great-grandfather was the late Birney Wilkins, a man who not only spent more than 50 years as the fair's secretary and general manager, but was one of the fair's most ardent supporters. Their father, Bruce Thompson, along with their uncle, Dale Thompson, and grandparents, Leroy and Dorothy Thompson, own Norway Ridge Farm, where they breed and process about 2,500 pigs a year.
Their father showed pigs at the county fair when he was their age, earning two trips to the state fair when his grandfather, Birney Wilkins, was president of the Minnesota State Fair Board. Wilkins died in 1992 at age 90. The flower garden at the fairgrounds is named after him.
Ellie Thompson (left), 13, Brainerd, showed her pig, Fax, a commercial market gilt during the showmanship class at the 4-H Swine Show. Brainerd Dispatch/Jodie Tweed » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"We grew up here and at the state fair," Bruce said as his kids readied their pigs for the 4-H competition. "I still love going back to the state fair because it was such a big part of our lives. We lived there. I did this when I was their age and now it's their turn."
Ellie and Stafford planned to spend long days at the fair but it's something they enjoy. The 4-H swine competition was held Wednesday but they'll also compete in the Open Class Swine Show at 3 p.m. Friday.
"She's nice, she likes belly rubs," Ellie said of her pig, Fax. "It's cool to hang out in the barn and hang out with the pigs."
For the past five months, the teens have been training their pigs, who were born in February, together each day, trying to get them used to obeying commands and judging one another as they practice showing their pigs. Stafford is showing 287-pound Caliber, a commercial market barrow, or young male pig. He also brought two feeder pigs, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, who were born in late May.
While Ellie said she would have liked to have competed against her big brother, her mother, Terri, was glad they were competing in different classes - he with a barrow and she with a gilt. They are members of the Cloverleaf 4-H Club; he's club president and she's the treasurer. They've been involved with 4-H since they were in first grade. The two are avid readers and good students, said their parents.
Stafford earned a reserve champion ribbon for Caliber in the commercial market barrow class while Ellie's stubborn pig, Fax, was named grand champion for its class. They both were named alternates to compete in the Minnesota State Fair, beat out by Pierz siblings Kyle and Bridget Bednar.
But Ellie and Stafford both earned three state fair trips each for their other non-animal-related 4-H projects.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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