CENTRAL POINT — Prompted by a motion from the judge, Megan Killam and her 6-month-old pig Emmett join other competitors in Olsrud Arena Wednesday at the Jackson County Fair.
Megan leads Emmett around the center of the bark-covered arena, waving and tapping her stick near his face to steer him away from the others until the judge signals for them to return to the pen.
"It's about how well you and your pig work together," said Megan, 13, of her 273-pound pig, a crossbreed between a Yorkshire and Hampshire.
Megan, a Medford homeschooled eighth-grader, competed against about 50 intermediate handlers in 4-H Swine Showmanship. Emmett was one of 206 pigs being judged.
"I thought it went great," Megan said as she sprayed Emmett down after the competition. "He was a good pig."
Competitions require rigorous preparation and discipline from handlers, some of whom start to compete at age 9. Animal handlers grow accustomed to taking their pigs on early-morning and sometimes late-night walks, bathing them, and making sure their weight stays between 230 and 280 pounds to be ready for market.
A tap on the side of the body keeps the swine in line and not distracted by other pigs in the ring and does not hurt the pig, said Christian Inkley, 15, a sophomore at Crater High School, who also competed in the intermediate division.
Christian's pig, 273-pound Chrome, had earned him three purple ribbons already at the fair, including Grand Champion Market Hog on Tuesday. That made Chrome the first up for auction Wednesday night, an honor for his handler.
"You may put a lot of money into your animal, you may put a lot of work into your animal, but it pays off," he said. "It's all worth it in the end."
Despite a state Department of Agriculture recommendation that fairgoers and pigs stay at least 6 feet apart, no changes in procedures were made at the Jackson County Fair. Manager Chris Borovansky said the fair has had safeguards against the spread of bacterial or viral infection in place for years, such as hand-washing stations and bedding designed to prevent airborne illness.
This is Megan's third year competing in the 4-H swine competition with her club Mighty Fine Swine. Last year, her 256-pound pig named King won Overall Reserve Champion for the junior division at the fair.
While most competitors buy their pigs in mid-spring, Megan raised Emmett from a piglet.
"I stayed in the barn all night waiting for the sow to have her piglets," she said.
Emmett and his five siblings all were named after characters in "Twilight," the popular vampire book series by Stephenie Meyer.
"We were sitting in the barn at 3 a.m. They needed names, and me and Claire (a friend) had just read the books," Megan said.
This is Christian's sixth year showing pigs in 4-H. He grew up around family friends who regularly showed their pigs in competitions. His mother, Diana Inkley, recalled his interest in swine at a young age.
"When he was a little boy and he was 4 years old, I always remember he'd hang on the fence and watch (the neighbors) take the pigs for a walk," Diana said.
The neighbors allowed Christian to borrow the runts of litters to show at competitions as his interest grew, and he's been showing a pig ever since.
Michael Lackey, a professional livestock judge from Castle Rock, Colo., evaluates handlers on their ability to consistently demonstrate control over the pig, keep the pig near the center of the ring and maintain good eye contact with him, he said.
After Lackey determined the winners of the intermediate division, he sent them back to the pen to await their awards.
"The rest of you were not as effective at keeping the pigs in the center of the ring," Lackey said as the remaining kids shooed their pigs to the holding stalls.
Megan, Christian and 12 others won purple ribbons in the intermediate class. Christian won Reserve Champion Intermediate Showman and Reserve Grand Champion Overall Swine Showman. Megan placed in the top half of the division.
"They mostly win bragging rights, pride and a 'Good job,' " Lackey said.
Christian will compete in Round Robin on Sunday, an event where showmanship winners compete with meat and dairy goats, lambs, steer and pigs.
Most get into Round Robin only once in their whole career, he said.
"I've been twice," he said. "It feels really good."