Full circle of pork

State fairs are known for the food and livestock. Minnesota State Fair goers can experience the full circle in the hog world.

The CHS Miracle of Birth Center presents a stage that few city cousins get to experience, having a front-row seat (or closer) to watch a sow farrow. Since its debut in 2001, the Miracle of Birth Center has been a popular stop for fair goers to see the birth of their food. Each year, nearly 200 piglets, calves, lambs and goats are born in the center during the 12 days of the state fair. With live births and newborn farm animals, the exhibit highlights the importance of animals to our economy, health and quality of life.

Gordon Spronk, veterinarian and chairman of the board with Pipestone (Minn.) System, explains over the loud-speaker that the sow’s gestational period is three months, three weeks and three days, so some planning has to take place for the 400-pound ladies to be able to “perform” for the public. On this day, gilt “2266” was induced to ensure piglets would be arriving to kick off the fair.

She started her “show” to an amazed, and possibly grossed out, crowd. Once the first piglet appeared, and the loud gasp of the crowd announced its arrival, there was shoulder-to-shoulder attention to witness this miracle of birth.

Spronk provided the play-by-play as piglets started to appear in the elevated farrowing stall. He answered questions from the audience, covering the gamut of most things pig related: “How many babies will there be?” “What will happen to these babies?” “How long will she be in labor?”

Spronk also addressed thoughts that were probably on a lot of the viewers’ minds: why is the gilt in a farrowing crate, or stall? Mother and child safety were the main reasons he alluded to, and the viewers got to see that firsthand as the gilt stood between births and the born piglets were running (staggering) around underneath their mother. University of Minnesota veterinary students who were assisting with the delivery had to scurry as they noticed the gilt was ready to lay down again, an action that would have easily crushed her piglets if not for the students’ quick hands. Kevin Haroldson, a veterinarian from Park Rapids, Minn., was also present to tend to the needs of the gilt, and to guide the veterinary students.

Further along in the process

More piglets, these not as fresh as the newborns in the Miracle of Birth Center, can be found at the Minnesota Pork Board’s Oink Booth, where a sow and her piglets are on display. Here again volunteers are on hand to answer fair-goers questions, and respond to their comments. A possible pet of a piglet can satisfy the desire to reconnect with agriculture from their past, or a first-time chance to be that close to a live pig.

Fairgoers wishing to “get their pig on” can do that as Minnesota Pork Producers Association President Lori Stevermer and her daughter, Beth, were handing out paper pig ears for children of all ages. They were also handing out information to help dispel some myths about the world’s most popular animal protein.

No sideshow freak

There is no sidewalk barker, calling one and all, children of all ages to step right up, to see one of the wonders of the world. But Captain Jack still draws quite a crowd by just being who he is: the largest boar in Minnesota.

Coming in at a whopping 1,080 pounds, this 5 1/2-year-old Yorkshire owned by the Beise Brothers of Buffalo, Minn., captures fairgoers’ attention and gazes, simply by being so large.

Thrill of the show

Back to hogs of a more common size are the pigs waiting, with their handlers, for the 4-H show. Cousins Chester and Ryan Donkers of Faribault, Minn., talked about how their hog production background simply parlays into their desire in the show ring.

“There would be nothing better than winning your state fair,” says Ryan Donkers, a senior at Faribault High School. He also plans to show at the National Barrow Show in Austin, Minn., Sept. 12-16, but admits a state fair champion would be incredible. “Sure that’s a national competition, but this is your state.”

Chester, a sophomore at FHS, dabbled in showing a dairy steer, but says he quickly learned that his heart was with the hogs.

A state fair championship will have to wait another year, as both Ryan and Chester earned blue ribbons with their barrows.

Show me the food

Though they weren’t handing out pork samples, Jack Roessler, Taylor Kamm and Nick Hoffmann were busy handing our recipes and tips to help fairgoers prepare their own pork masterpieces. The trio was working the pork promotion booth, handing out pork recipes and testing the public’s pork knowledge. Answer a question correctly, and you walked away with a meat thermometer or a container of pork spices.

Kamm and Hoffmann, both in the breeding department in Nicollet County, Minn., for Wakefield Pork, realize the importance of reaching out to the consumer, putting a face on the hog industry. They both said it’s important for them to get out of the barn in front of the public.

“People are so far removed from where their food comes from, so if we can help them out, and promote pork, that helps us all,” Hoffmann says.

The Minnesota State Fair, also known as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together,” brings the complete hog lifecycle to the public. From the miracle of the birth of a piglet, to the satisfaction of taking home a recipe to be inspired in your own kitchen.

Of course for those who couldn’t wait to get home, they could find a pork chop on a stick.

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