Hamming it up among friends
Hamletta was not long for this world. But before this 236-pound Hampshire pig went to the auction block, she and her handler, Dominic Andrew Hosley, got their day in the sun at the Sonoma County Fair.
Hosley, 17, got Hamletta in March when she was three months old and had taken care of her every day since. But this wasn’t his first trip around the barnyard. The Santa Rosa High School senior and Future Farmer of America has been raising and showing pigs since he was a freshman.
“I like pigs,” he said. “They have a lot of personality.”
That can come in handy during the 12-hour days Hosley spent in the barn tending Hamletta during the county fair and preparing her for the livestock show and auction. Working alongside his competitors is intense, he said, but also gives him the chance to catch up with friends he meets only at multi-school Future Farmers of America events.
As always, Hosley admits to experiencing some nerves at Tuesday’s livestock show.
For his effort, Hosley won second place in Hamletta’s class, Lightweight Hampshires. At last year’s livestock show, he took first in his age group and second overall with his pig, Kevin Bacon.
The fair also gives exhibitors the chance to help each other out.
Christopher Sharp, a 17-year-old Santa Rosa High 2014 graduate, is in his fourth year showing hogs. During a previous year at the fair, he stepped in to teach a boy from another school how to prepare his hog for the show ring. Sharp told the boy how to shave his pig, then shared a good laugh after the nervous young man shaved a small bald spot.
In the market show, judges inspect pigs for a “strong barrel and nice hams,” said Hosley. For the showmanship portion, they look for how well the student handles his animal while also judging it for “meat quality, like right ratios between fat and muscle.”
The auction, Hosley said, is hectic, but over quickly. “It’s bittersweet,” he said. While he is glad for completing the process, losing the companionship of the animal is hard. This year his mantra was, “I will not get attached,” he said, but as show time approached that became harder to do.
“Like when I shave her,” he said. “She trusts me so completely.”
The auction also becomes a chance to settle up accounts. Hosley bought Hamletta with an $850 no-interest loan from Grange Credit Union and will pay it back with money earned during Friday’s auction. Hamletta did not place this year for showmanship, but sold for $6 per pound ($1,416) to John Parker. After subtracting the cost of the loan, Hosley plans to save the remaining $566 for college. In 2013, he netted $400, in 2012 just $200.
In addition to learning about livestock, the Future Farmers of America program teaches young, aspiring farmers public speaking and debate. Sharp said the most important thing he has learned from raising his hogs is the confidence to go out and speak to people in the community, making connections he may later call upon as an adult.
“I wasn’t very social before the program,” said Sharp, who also is 2013-2014 president of Santa Rosa High’s FFA program. “Now I’ve become a real outgoing guy.” He said he can now speak with ease to anyone. “It doesn’t matter who they are, so long as I’m myself and say what I want and mean what I say.”
For more information about the Sonoma County Junior Livestock show, visit sonomacountyfair.com. For more information about Santa Rosa FFA, visit santarosaffa.weebly.com.