Think prettying up a pig is easy? Hogwash! (with video)

Team effort required to scrub 4-H swine before competing at fair

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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It usually takes more than one set of hands to wash a pig. Craig Murray knows this from experience.

"It's all about teamwork in the pig barn," said the 18-year-old Woodland resident.

Murray is in his 11th year of raising swine through the 4-H program. He's raised more than two dozen pigs during that time, including the two he brought to this year's Clark County Fair.

But when it was time to clean one of those pigs Friday morning, Murray had plenty of help. It's one of the chores his fellow 4-H participants in the swine program know well, particularly during fair season. That's when pigs — and any animals going before judges and potential buyers — must look their best.

The group of youths started by coaxing Murray's hog into the "pig walker," a portable cage on wheels that helps steer the animal to its destination. They made their way to the washing station just outside the pig barn. The 265-pound animal mostly cooperated at first.

"This is a fairly nice pig," Murray said. "He squeals a little bit, but some pigs will literally try to jump out of the pig walker."

Then came the hose. Out came the scrub brushes. Murray and others wasted no time getting the animal lathered up as they worked their way around its body. Their soap of choice: Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. (Hey, pigs have sensitive eyes, too.)

As they worked, one person stood on the cage to keep the animal from tipping it. Murray's pig squealed and thrashed, but the pig walker stayed upright.

The bath was over in minutes, and the animal was escorted back into the barn. Murray opened the cage. The pig, named MOTT (short for Meat On The Table), joined its companion in the pen, HITO (Ham In The Oven).

"He would rather be sleeping with his friend than being hosed down," Murray said.

This wasn't MOTT's first bath. Murray said the animal has been washed about six times in the past few weeks, including a few times at the fair. He'll likely be spot-cleaned once more before today's 4-H/FFA Junior Livestock Auction. Baths are easier than they used to be as the animal gets used to the routine, Murray said.

Kristin Deputy can attest to that. The La Center resident and 4-H parent used few words to describe the first porcine bath at her home.

"Mayhem," said Deputy, a program leader. "Pure mayhem."

Just about any of the 4-H participants in the pig barn Friday could readily recall at least one story of a hog gone wild. That's especially true for the younger children who might be trying to corral an animal three or four times their weight. And that's why the senior 4-H members often lend a stronger helping hand when it's bath time.

In past years, when the washing station was a farther walk from the pig barn, it wasn't unusual to see an animal get loose along the way, Murray said.

But pig-raising families will also tell you something many people don't know about the animals: They're extremely smart. Brandon Deputy, Kristin's son, said he's heard of pigs being trained to sit on command. Amy Blankenship, a 4-H superintendent, said a half-dozen escaped piglets on her family's property outside Ridgefield once remained undetected for days. The reason: They always returned to their pen each afternoon before Blankenship returned home from work. Neighbors eventually tipped her off, she said.

Participants in 4-H will part with their pigs after this weekend's auction. For Murray and other youths who raise them, it's worth the experience. For buyers, it's worth the above-market price, he said.

"This is probably the best quality pork you can find anywhere in Clark County," Murray said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com

View a video of the pig wash at the Clark County Fair on The Columbian's YouTube Channel.