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Spring swine show set for Saturday

February 10, 2009|By BETH BUBACZ NICHOLS

Last week, the USDA released the most recent Census of Agriculture and there certainly was some interesting information in the report.

For instance, Washington County has 844 farms, up from 775 in the 2002 census. The farms have gotten smaller, with the average size now at 134 acres, down from 161 acres five years ago.

Other news of note is that Washington County's annual farm gates sales now stand at $83.7 million, not bad for the No. 2 dairy county in the state. We actually have more dairy farms than the No. 1 county, Frederick, but it has more cows.

Washington County boasts more than half of the apple-producing acres in the state and 27 percent of the peach-growing acres. But then again, we have long been known for our dairy and fruit production.

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One area most people have no idea about is swine production. Yes, we produce more hogs in Washington County than any other county in the state.

While we are a far cry from Iowa or North Carolina, 6,578 is a lot of ham, bacon and sausage. Which brings me to another high point in the swine business, and that is the upcoming 4-H/FFA Spring Swine Show, which is Saturday at Four States livestock auction.

This is the longest-running youth swine show east of the Mississippi and possibly the entire country. This show, which is closing in on its 70th year, was started to help youngsters who raised their own pigs have an additional outlet for their animals. Typically, sows can have two litters per year, one of which the youth would raise for their county fair project. But what do you do with the others?

Why do we call this show the spring show when February is in the throes of winter? At one time, the Great Hagerstown Fair, which was our county fair, was in October, so six months from October is April, hence spring. While the dates of both events changed, the names never did until 1980, when the Great Hagerstown Fair became the once Great Hagerstown Fair and ceased to exist. Today you know our county fair as the Washington County Ag Expo and Fair.

It is important to remember that the pigs, just like any other 4-H project, are merely vehicles with which we help form more responsible youth. While many projects culminate with a show or competition, most of the learning goes on at home.

Each of these youngsters head to the barn in the dark, cold mornings of winter to feed their stock before heading off to school, then make their return visit to the barn after being dropped off by the school bus after their studies are completed. Caring for animals teaches many life skills that will be translated directly into adulthood. These include respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, caring and a work ethic.

What better way is there to spend Valentine's Day than taking in this year's edition of the Spring Swine Show? The show starts at 9 a.m. and the sale starts at 1 p.m. Yes, I did say sale; you can come out and support these youngsters and fill your freezer with succulent pork at the same time.

I hope to see you there.

Beth Bubacz Nichols is the Extension educator, 4-H Youth Development, Washington County, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404.

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