Haylee Crowe got dressed to the nines Tuesday morning in her black slacks, white oxford shirt and blue, corduroy Future Farmers of America jacket. After five months of feeding and cleaning her pig Buddy, she was ready for the showmanship competition at this year's Jackson County Fair.
Haylee, 15, had gone from cuddling Buddy on her lap in March to bulking him up to 216 pounds, but it just wasn't enough. He was 14 pounds underweight to qualify for the competition.
What: Jackson County Fair
When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. today through Saturday, July 17-20, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 21
Where: The Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point
Tickets: $10 general. Seniors 62 to 74 pay $3 today, seniors 75 and older are admitted free, kids age 6 to 11 pay $6, kids 5 and under get in free
"I was surprised, considering how much he eats," she said.
Now Buddy awaits a bidder in his muddy pen, which he shares with Beau, her sister's pig.
"It is going to be beyond hard getting rid of Buddy," Haylee said.
"It's like raising your dog and then selling it."
FFA and 4-H competitions are mainstays of the fair, which continues through Sunday at The Expo in Central Point. Kids spend the year raising farm animals that they enter in showmanship competitions and auctions during the fair.
Haylee, who was born and raised in Eagle Point and attends Eagle Point High School, has been in a 4-H club since the fourth grade. She started out showing horses until politics got in the way.
"It was all whose horse is whose," she said. "It wasn't fun."
Her first pig was Si, who became more like a pet than a market hog to be raised and sold to the highest bidder.
One hot day Haylee and her 13-year-old sister, Taylor, took Si and Beau out to the muddy swimming hole their dad had made for them.
With a running start, Si leaped into the muddy hole, splashing dirty water all over the girls.
"He was like a dog," Haylee said. "He had such a unique personality."
But Si soon died of prolapse, a type of organ malfunction not uncommon in young pigs.
"I remember Taylor found him dead and called me sobbing," said the girls' mother, Molly. "I rushed out of my restaurant without even worrying about anyone there. It was so sad."
But that same month, Buddy, a black and pink pig with Si's personality, came into Haylee's life.
"You become attached, but when you raise livestock, you realize what people go through every day to put meat on your table," Haylee said.
Molly said she plans to buy Buddy because she knows how hard her daughter has worked.
"I'm going to pay her a little more than the average at the auction," she said. "We'll have him processed and then auction him off at Eagle Point women's basketball potluck."
So why do kids do it? Why do they raise something, get attached to it and then sell it, knowing that its future will be in a freezer?
"The 4-H club has heightened my leadership skills and brought me lifelong friends," Haylee said. "It's made me a more secure and happy person just knowing that something relies on me. It's a reflection of myself."
Haylee's future in 4-H is uncertain, however, as county funding for the Oregon State University Extension Service may be cut next year.
The Extension's 4-H director, Anne Manlove, said 2014 may be the last summer for the program.
"Jackson County has granted six months of funding to 4-H," she said. "This should be enough to get the club through the next fiscal year."
She said 4,000 youth were involved in the program last year.
One more year isn't enough for Haylee, though, who hopes the money she earns from her pigs will help pay for a car and maybe even college.
"What they don't see is how much 4-H has raised our leadership skills and qualities," she said. "It's a great way to get scholarships and get recognized for the hard work you do over the different months of the year."
Reach Mail Tribune intern Amanda Barker at 541-776-4368 or by email at email@example.com.