By Alicia Dziak
When you live in a community like Springville known for its agriculture, it’s no wonder so many local kids spend their childhood raising animals. This time of year, it’s all about the fairs — a time to show off months of hard work and learn some life lessons in the process.
Sisters Lilly and Ella Underberg, SGI students heading into ninth and eighth grades, respectively, have spent the last several years raising and showing pigs. Although unable to show pigs at the Erie County Fair due to their mom’s position as CEO and fair manager, the girls trade in family vacations for pig shows and get to compete nationally, recently against 996 other kids from around the country. This year, they have already traveled to Louisville, Ky. and Washington Courthouse, Ohio, and also more locally to the Wyoming County and Chautauqua County Fairs. Later this month, they’ll head to the New York State Fair.
The sisters, who said their aunt and mom got them into farm traditions early on, explain what it means to “show pigs.”
First is the appearance. “We wash them three times a week with Joy soap or pig soap and then towel them dry,” Lilly said. “We rub cocoa butter on them every day.”
She explained the process of “tanning” a pig when its skin tone is uneven by using a combination of baby oil on certain spots and sunscreen on the rest.
The training aspect, which the girls said is the most challenging, entails working with the pigs to learn a “routine.” Driving sticks are used to guide the pig and the girls practice this right in their own front yard.
“It’s like training an athlete,” Ella said.
Overall, the girls say they spend about four hours a day working with their pigs.
Since pigs grow so quickly, their diets change over the course of show season, and many times, varies from pig to pig. Currently, the girls have six pigs housed in their barn, and each has a slightly different diet.
AFTER SHOW season ends in October, the pigs either go to market or for breeding. The most desirable pigs going to market have good muscle and should walk smoothly. Parting with their pigs, the girls say, is the toughest part of it all emotionally.
With several years of competitions under their belts, the girls explain that their proudest moments have been in shows when they both won Grand Champion and Reserve Champion. Most recently, Lilly was named Champion Junior Showman and Reserve Overall Showman at the Chautauqua County Fair, and her pig won Grand Champion in its class, and Ella’s pig also ended up Grand Champion in its class.
Ella said her favorite part about showing pigs is the competition and showing off her skills. Lilly likes the showmanship aspect of it when she gets to “show off what I can do with my pig.” She likes this part because it’s based on what she can do with the pig, and not just based on the pig itself.
As the girls get their pigs ready for the New York State Fair, which runs Aug. 22 to Sept. 3 in Syracuse, it’s all about the details. “As you get closer to competition date, there’s a lot of fine tuning to work on,” explained the girls’ mom, Jessica.
When asked if they will continue to show pigs for the remainder of their childhood, the girls are both quick to say “definitely!”