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Fair Days Ahead

Lying in a metal stall with his pig Skittles, Parker Bryant pets the animal's thin hair and pats her on the belly.

"She's a lot bigger than my last one," said Parker, 12, who was getting Skittles settled in her stall at the Jackson County Fair Monday morning.

Parker and more than 100 others with groups such as the Future Farmers of America and local 4-H clubs filed in with their pigs, all hoping their swine would impress the judges and earn them a top spot at the livestock exhibition.

The fair begins at 11 a.m. today and runs through Sunday at The Expo in Central Point.

When Parker got the pig six months ago, Skittles weighed just 50 pounds, but has since grown to five times that size.

Skittles eats about 3 pounds of food each morning and another 3 pounds each night, Parker said. He took Skittles on two walks each day and gave her frequent baths while raising her.

"She loves the water," said Parker. "I would turn on the hose and she would run up to it."

Parker and Skittles rolled around in the stall together. Parker said he thinks she likes the attention.

"I've gotten stood on and bit and everything, so I'm used to that," said Parker, as Skittles wiggled around her stall. "She bites, but she's mellow."

Other pigs entering the barn squealed in frustration as they were led to stalls.

Parker said his pigs have never thrown a fit when he brought them to the fair.

"I train them well," said Parker. "None of my pigs seem to mind being here."

While Bryant has shown pigs for only a couple of years, others arriving at the fairgrounds Monday have become veterans.

After eight years of showing pigs at the fair, Johnny Wilkerson hopes this will finally be the year his pig is named grand champion.

"That's why I call him Ace," said Johnny, standing over his 280-pound pig inside Barker Barn at The Expo. "I'm hoping this year he's the ticket."

Johnny, who will be a senior at Eagle Point High School next year, said he bought the pig for $800 from a breeder when Ace was about 40 or 50 pounds and has raised him since. Now Ace weighs in at the upper limit for pigs to be shown at the fair.

Johnny will show Ace Wednesday morning and put him to auction that night, when Johnny hopes to make back the money he spent to raise the pig.

"If he shows good, I'll probably make it back," he said.

Johnny said that when he first began raising pigs, it was difficult to say goodbye when the fair came.

"My first year I got pretty attached and it was hard to let go," said Johnny. "You don't want to cry."

Each pig was weighed as it entered the fair Monday, and had to be between 230 and 280 pounds in order to be shown today.

If Ace had weighed just a pound more, the pig wouldn't have been eligible to show, Johnny said.

Depending on how many pigs come to the fair and make weight, they will be divided into about 20 weight classes, each with eight to 10 pigs. Separate competitions take place between the FFA and 4-H clubs.

Judges will evaluate the pigs based on their body, their balance and other traits that make for a healthy piece of meat, Johnny said.

The winners of each class face off to determine which will be the grand champion and reserve champion. Competitors will also show beef, sheep, goats and poultry throughout the week.

Each pig will be shown by one owner, who will walk it around the show arena as it is evaluated.

"We raise pigs for meat, but we like showing them, cause they're like pets," said Stephy Henricks, lying in a stall with her pig, Sam.

After getting the pig in January, Stephy, 12, said she weighed him every week to make sure Sam was growing big enough to be entered in the fair.

Sam, who Stephy raised on her family's 10-acre farm in Rogue River, weighed in at 271 pounds Monday.

"He's perfect," Stephy said.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.

Parker Bryant, 12, and Skittles rest up before the swine judging at the Jackson County Fair. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell