For the Miller family of rural Wellman, raising and showing production swine is a team effort.
The four siblings — Brody, 18; Collin, 16; Kenzie, 13; and Kale, 11 — are all members of the Limecreek Livewires 4-H Club and regularly show production swine at the Washington County Fair.
“We have a thing we say every time before we show,” Brody said. “Say if Collin is the one that wins, if he gets first, we all get first because we’re all taking care of those pigs. We all take it as a team win.”
Being the eldest sibling, Brody was the first one to get involved with showing swine.
“In my second year of 4-H, they came out with the new single-source production class,” he said. “I was able to talk Dad into letting me do that. I had been wanting to show pigs.
“I starting doing it, then the next three got involved. The next thing you know, we’ve got a herd of 40 every year.”
Their father, Kevin Miller, said his children’s involvement with showing production swine kept him busy early on.
“Starting out, it was more work for me getting stuff set up and getting the pen ready for them, getting feed ordered, picking up feed for them,” Kevin said. “It’s been fun watching each kid step in, dig in and learn along the way.”
As Brody got older and more involved, he began to take leadership of the family’s swine project.
“He’s turned into the leader of it to help the other kids get going,” Kevin said. “It’s good to see him develop that leadership and take over.”
Brody explained that, each spring, each of them gets 10 pigs to raise, with each pig weighing 50-60 pounds.
“We have a shed at our place,” he said. “We take care of them all the way until it’s time to go to the fair. There are lots of different aspects to that.”
Early on, they focus on keeping the pigs’ environment warm enough to be comfortable.
“By fair time, it’s really hot, and you’ve got to worry about keeping them cool,” Brody said.
Then, there are the chores — including feeding — that have to be done every day. Everyone pitches in.
“We all take turns doing chores,” Brody said. “Whoever is available just does it. Everybody chores each other’s pigs and takes care of them and feeds them.”
Rate of gain — the average daily weight gain of each pig — is the name of the game when it comes to showing production swine.
“You want a pretty good rate of gain on it and have quite a bit of muscle — a nice lean pig,” Collin said. “That’s the thing with the production classes. They’re looking for a high rate of gain.”
Brody said they have scales to weigh the pigs, so they can do the math and decide which pigs should be shown at the fair.
“By the time we go to the fair, they’re about 300 pounds,” Brody said.
As the pigs grow, so do their personalities.
“Sometimes, they mess around, and it’s funny,” Kale said.
Kenzie added, “I like to see how the pigs grow up and see how they change. It’s cool working with pigs.”
Another part of getting ready for the fair is getting the pigs used to walking around a show ring.
They take each pig out of the pen to get them used to going out and walking around the ring.
“The hardest part is getting them used to walking around and getting them cleaned up,” Brody said. “They’re commercial pigs, so they’re not used to getting scrubbed down or brushed or learning how to walk around on their own.
“If I was a pig, I wouldn’t want to walk away from my buddies either.”
Regardless of the results at the fair, Brody said the biggest reward is working and having a good time with his siblings.
“It kind of changes our relationship a little bit, having something to talk about together that we’re all working on,” he said. “We can talk to dad at the dinner table about what we saw out at the barn that day and communicate who is going to do what chores.
“The main thing is to have fun and be a team with our family.”
Kenzie agreed, saying, “I like showing together. It’s a project that we can all do together.”
Brody graduated from Mid-Prairie High School earlier this year and is now studying ag business at Kirkwood Community College.
“Now that Brody’s retired, it’s going down to the next one to be the leader,” Kevin said.
When asked if he is ready to take the reins of the family project, Collin laughed and said, “Oh, I guess so.”