Rusty, Bandit and Sweet Pea sprang from their pen and scampered across the grassy yard. All Yorkshire-Hampshire mix piglets and about 2 months old, the speckled trio snuffled and snorted while their owners Ani and Clara Husaby, 15 and 11, led them on a stroll — and dissuaded them from mischief — by tapping them with hand-held crops.
“Keep them away from my flowers,” hollered Lisa Husaby, the girls’ mother, from where she tamped down a patch of soil the pigs had just loosened with their snouts. Sweet Pea, a white female pig with black splotches on her rump who belongs to Ani, reacted to the poking by bucking and bolting like a horse in a rodeo.
Parents and their 4-H and FFA-affiliated children, such as the Husabys, agree that the agricultural organizations get their hands dirty with the real-deal responsibility of raising and showing livestock, which entails developing the discipline to carry out daily chores and present their projects to judges and the greater public.
The Husabys are two of 882 4-H members who call Deschutes County home, according to the organization. More specifically, they’re two of 11 members of the Bend 4-H “Hogwash” pig club, one of many devoted to the county’s most popular livestock project.
Lisa Husaby said while her girls are busy raising their hogs, they’re developing skills that will serve them throughout their lives.
“They’re very conscious of their animals and aware of their spending (since) it’s coming out of their pocket. It’s not like money just comes off trees,” their mother said, referring to the mini piglet operation the two operate after paying back a startup loan from their parents. “For their age and what they’ve accomplished, I think they’re very dependable and hard workers. But that doesn’t mean they like to fold laundry and load the dishwasher, though,” she added with a chuckle.
Unencumbered by city limits
Living on farms or in rural areas isn’t a requirement of agricultural organizations such as 4-H — through which the Husabys show their hogs — and FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America. Students involved in 4-H range in age from 10 to 19 in mostly extracurricular agricultural projects. FFA, tailored to students between eighth and 12th grades, is more intracurricular in that FFA members take a requisite high school agriculture sciences class and can receive subsequent school credit for FFA projects.
Ani intends to join FFA once she has a driver’s license and can make the commute from Summit High School, where she is a freshman, to Mountain View High School, where the FFA’s mandatory agricultural sciences class is taught — the sole location in the Bend-La Pine school district. She will join many teens who are members of both 4-H and FFA, said Kimberly Griffiths, the 4-H administrative assistant at Oregon State University’s Deschutes County Extension Service. Griffith’s daughter, Maddie, who is 17 and a senior at Redmond High School, is a member of both organizations, whose memberships inspired her to start her own sheep breeding business.
“4-H is about all-around youth development,” said Griffith, who was in 4-H as a youth and whose four children have taken part in the organization. “We’re concerned as much about the kids’ projects as we are about their development as persons.”
Money in the piggy bank
While the Husabys’ piglets cram plenty of playtime into their days, their well-being is serious business for the Husaby sisters, who are raising them as 4-H projects — and considerable moneymakers, worth as much as $2,500 each at market. Between classes and swim team commitments, they spend an hour everyday feeding, cleaning and purposefully directing the three piglets around their stony juniper-filled yard north of Bend as a way to prepare them for showtime at the Deschutes County Fair in July. By then the pigs, who presently weigh between 60 and 70 pounds and gain 1 to 3 pounds every day, will hopefully tip the scales around 250 pounds — an ideal market weight. To bulk up, they require a high-protein, mixed grain food which Ani and Clara pay for and feed them in abundance until the pigs reach 100 pounds.
Beyond the feeding and cleaning, the sisters spend time with the pigs, acclimating them to humans. After all, come showtime, county fair judges don’t take kindly to unruly hogs and those who raise them, the girls said. Despite the work, neither Ani nor Clara consider their daily chores tedious.
“It’s pretty fun learning responsibility with the money,” Ani said, alluding to the piggy proceeds that have afforded her an American Quarter Horse, which she barrel races. She and Clara share a checking account where they stash their pig money, and both have funds dog-eared for college education and future hogs.
“You learn how much protein they need, what to feed them, how much your water costs,” Ani said. “You learn about the meat industry and you know why they do what they do. You see what goes into a pig.”
Jaimee Brentano is the Mountain View High School agricultural sciences teacher and one of the advisers of the Bend FFA chapter advisers. Her group counts 60 mostly female members, nearly half of whom live within city limits, she said. And while suburban confines may lend themselves to more indoor FFA projects and career development events such as public speaking, food preparation or floral design, many in-town students opt to nonetheless raise livestock as their FFA projects. Cooperative rural classmates often lend them space in their barns. Such is the case with Emma Rooker, 18. The senior at Mountain View and president of the Bend FFA chapter lets an FFA friend board a goat in her family’s barn. Rooker, whose father is a horse farrier, grew up barrel racing and raising sheep and cows every year as an FFA project.
“FFA really pushed me to pursue a career in agriculture. I got involved for the leadership aspect,” said Rooker, who will spend a year working as the Oregon FFA state vice president before entering college. “They’re teaching agriculturists, farm kids, and even kids who aren’t farm kids to be leaders and how to speak and advocate and defend the industry,” she said. “It’s not just how you raise an animal and how you sell it. It’s about how you take that responsibility and how do you lead with it. How do you better the world around you through agriculture and through the leadership that FFA provides.”
Krista Baker, the five-year leader of the Bend 4-H Hogwash club who lives in Alfalfa, counts both of her teenage sons as current and graduated members of the club. At their rural home near Alfalfa, her sons, Owen, 14, and Austin, 17, raise two pigs each — the same swine variety as the Husabys’. As the pigs grew, she also noticed a maturation in her sons as they assumed the responsibility of raising animals.
“It really builds their self-confidence. When they’re showing them at the fair, they end up talking to the community when they come through the barn and they have to answer questions about animals, and show confidence in the show ring. 4-H helps them accept outcomes — like when sometimes things don’t go their way — and to be supportive of club members when they need help or when they do well.”
The Husabys’ piglets were born earlier this year. While Clara will sell her two males — Rusty and Bandit — in August for slaughter, Ani will keep Sweet Pea another year as a breeder. The Husaby girls got into swine-rearing when Ani learned that some of her horse friends raised pigs, and she bought a horse with the money she made. Ani was 10 at the time and wanted a horse of her own. One day her friend was sad, explaining she had just part with a pig.
“Did it go to a good home?” Ani recalled asking.
“No,” her friend said. “It went to the market.”
As the Husabys have also found, it’s difficult to see the pigs off. Some pigs are animated, such as Sweet Pea. After slaughter, sometimes they’ll trade cuts of meat with friends.
“The pork is so much better tasting. You know what you’ve fed them and that they’ve had a great life. Everything is different than store-bought meat,” Ani said, recalling a few previous dinners that had once had names.
“We ate Hotshot and Mable,” Ani said, cleaning the pen while the pigs paced near a bed of straw situated beneath a hot lamp. Bandit, the smallest of the three, vied for attention by chewing on the cuff of Clara’s boot.
“Clara knows to pick the cute ones,” her sister said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org