Saving the Swine: Randolph Center Sisters Raise Pigs Through 4-H to Show at Tunbridge Fair
Mikaela Luke-Currier, right, hangs out with Krystin Skoda, left, and other 4-H-ers, including her sister Addie, in the swine building at the Tunbridge World's Fair on September 12, 2013. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Addie Luke-Currier, 13, pets her pig Tamantha during an evening feeding at her home in Randolph Center on September 8, 2013. "They're really challenging," said Luke-Currier about raising pigs. "You can't just walk them around like a sheep or a cow. You have to work with them, which makes it more fun." She chose the name Tamantha because the pig is a Tamworth, which is a heritage breed known for its bacon. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Addie and Mikaela Luke-Currier attempt to lead their pigs Oreo and Tamantha into a trailer for delivery to the Tunbridge World's Fair while at their home in Randolph Center on September 11, 2013. Assisting them are Brice Stride, left, Tabor Stride, and Camden Stride. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Isaac Gokey, a fourth-grader at Bethel Elementary School, makes friends with Shadow in the swine building at the Tunbridge World's Fair on September 12, 2013. Thursday was child and senior day, and classes from all over the area visited the fair and toured the agriculture buildings learning about the animals. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Mikaela Luke-Currier, left, and Madison Skoda herd Greta, a Tamworth sow, and her twelve piglets back into the swine building following a breed presentation at the Tunbridge World's Fair in Tunbridge on September 12, 2013. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Mikaela Luke-Currier spends time with her pig Oreo at the Tunbridge World's Fair on September 12, 2013. Even after getting to the fair, the girls' work is not over. The pigs need to be washed daily to keep them presentable to the public and the judges. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Randolph Center — Mikaela Luke-Currier, 11, and her sister Addie, 13, worked all summer to prepare their pigs to compete at the Tunbridge World’s Fair. They put in long days at the fairground, showing their animals and caring for them from morning to night. But the toughest part of the experience may have been coaxing the swine into the trailer that took them to Tunbridge.
“You guys have trained these pigs since last time, right?” joked Tabor Stride, parking his truck and trailer at the Luke-Curriers’ Randolph Center home.
Swine are not easy to lead, and getting them through the doorway of their pen is especially challenging, Mikaela said. Their skittishness is understandable — how do you convince a pig that the electric fence has been turned off?
Turns out, it takes a village.
Stride and his sons Camden and Brice, who are also showing pigs at the fair, teamed up with the Luke-Curriers and their mother, Susan Currier, to tackle the task. They held up wire fencing to prevent Tamantha and Oreo from escaping onto the lawn and used a scoop of grain and light taps on the pigs’ shoulders to urge them toward the truck. As they worked, a thunderstorm settled in, turning the ground in the pen to a thick layer of mud.
Tamantha is on the arrogant side, Addie said earlier that day. “She doesn’t like being told what to do.”
But in the end, it was Oreo who was hardest to corral. Around and around she jogged in the muck, until finally her rain-soaked pursuers nudged her up the ramp, where Tamantha was waiting.
“She just had a good day,” Addie said about “her” pig, which, like Oreo, they lease from their 4-H leader, Matt Whalen.
The sisters are part of a growing group of young people who show pigs locally. Whalen, the fair’s “superintendent of swine,” said the increase in popularity may have to do with the animal’s rapid growth rate.
“You can raise a pig over the summer for your own consumption, and families don’t have to keep it over the winter,” he said. “With other animals that’s really not the case.”
For the competitors, raising pigs is a way to meet like-minded friends, grow their own meat and maybe even preserve rare breeds. A few years ago, Whalen encouraged his niece, Mikayla Caterino, to join the Blue Ribbon 4-H club.
It’s been a “great experience,” said Caterino, 14. “I like being in a group of people that love the same thing that you do.”
A Weare, N.H., resident, she spends weekends and summers at the Tunbridge farm owned by her grandparents, Diana and Michael Whalen. This weekend, Caterino is showing Elvis, who lives at the farm. During shows, handlers use “pig sticks” to guide the animals around the ring and boards to prevent them from tussling.
“You’ve just got to work with your pig and make sure they are used to you,” Caterino said. “If you don’t, they will jump every time you touch them.”
But she didn’t expect that to be a problem this weekend. Unlike his namesake, her Elvis is very calm.
“He is very used to me,” she said. “I can scratch his side, and he’ll roll over and lie down on his back.”
Elvis is a spotted Poland China, a breed that is a cross between the Gloucestershire old spots and the Poland China. The swines’ “huge hams and shoulders” make them popular for meat, she said.
The Luke-Currier sisters’ pigs, a Tamworth and a British saddleback, are breeds known for the quality of their meat, especially bacon. Unlike Elvis, they are heritage animals, which have been bred over time to adapt to local conditions. Heritage livestock are said to have retained their natural instincts.
It’s been years since the commercial industry has bred for flavor or for the mothering instinct, said Whalen, who with his wife, Michelle, owns Vermont Heritage Farm in Chelsea.
Commercial farms provide heat lamps and “put a sow in a crate, where it is forced to take care of its babies,” he said. “Our sows are on the pasture, moving around. … They have to be able to keep babies warm and feed them.”
Like the Whalens, Addie and Mikaela see raising rare breeds as part of a broader conservation effort. In addition to pigs, the sisters also keep chickens and ducks on their backyard farm. They generally opt for heritage breeds.
Raising the animals, many of which are considered rare or endangered, “kind of feels good,” Mikaela said. “If you have pet pigs, you don’t really feel good that you’re taking care of them because it’s not really helping the world.”
This weekend, as fairgoers make their way through the swine barn, the Luke-Currier sisters will be there, sharing what they know about heritage breeds.
“That’s what we like to do in 4-H, spread the word so other people can get those pigs so they can raise them and they will not be in danger,” Mikaela said.
They should have plenty of chances. Even with rain in the forecast, organizers last week expected the four-day event to draw between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors.
Editor’s note: The swine shows continue today at the fair, with the new “painted pig” class at 10 a.m., followed by a series of obstacle races. For more information, visit www.tunbridgeworldsfair.com.