10/04/09 — It's really sometimes just about competing

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It's really sometimes just about competing

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 4, 2009 2:00 AM

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Jacob Sauls brushes his hog down before entering the ring for the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair market hog judging Friday night.

Jacob Sauls is still convinced he has a winning hog, even if "Marshmallow" -- or whichever of the many names his 12-year-old handler has for him happens to be in use -- wasn't quite cooperating Friday evening.

"It's kind of hard to win when he's ornery as heck," Jacob said, shortly after claiming third place in Junior Showmanship and second place in Class No. 3 at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair's Junior Market Hog Show. "I'm a little frustrated with how I did, but overall, I'm happy."

So the lone Wayne County exhibitor at the fair first weekend livestock show will take his hog to Raleigh in a few weeks for a chance to claim the prize he might have captured at his hometown event if Marshmallow had maintained a presence in the middle of the ring -- if he hadn't bucked and run when judge Justin Fix came in for a closer look.

"We're going to win Grand Champion," Jacob said of his goal for the North Carolina State Fair. "We have a pretty good shot."

That title Friday went to Garrett See, who traveled to the fairgrounds with several members of his family from Wake County to show livestock and vie for top prizes.

But watching Jacob once the ring was cleared, you might have thought he was the night's big winner.

The Eastern Wayne Middle School student had found a balloon, and was using the helium inside to transform his voice.

He was simply another fairgoer out for a good time, showing perspective instead of disappointment as he tried to evoke a laugh from his mother, Sherry.

Those who enter the hog show are judged in two different categories.

The first, showmanship, tests the knowledge of the exhibitor.

Fix, a North Carolina State graduate student studying swine genetics, asks each handler questions about their hog -- what kind of food it eats, what the ideal carcass weight is for a market hog. And he takes note of how the individual presents the animal -- whether or not he or she gives the judge different views of the hog, how well he or she maintains control of the animal and eye-contact with the judge.

Jacob thought he did pretty well in showmanship, perhaps better than the third place he received.

"None of the questions got me," he said.

The second round of judgment is all about the hogs.

Fix said several factors help him determine which competitor goes home with the blue ribbon -- and Grand Champion title.

He looks at things like skeletal width, muscle composition and which hog has the "boldest ribs." Being "impressive through the upper hip," is also a plus.

Marshmallow was "neck and neck" with one of Garrett's hogs for top prize in Class No. 3, but came up just short, much to Jacob's dismay.

Showing hogs in the local fair circuit is about more than ribbons and money to tuck into the children's' college funds.

Mrs. Sauls said in the years Jacob has been involved in it -- he has been competing since he was 3 -- he has learned everything from public speaking skills to sportsmanship.

"And it keeps him out of trouble," she said, watching Jacob run off to find his friends, his ballon in hand. "And they learn a whole lot, like how to deal with people."

As for Jacob, the 12-year-old was just happy to be spending another fall night at the Wayne fair -- even if he and Marshmallow have to wait a few weeks for another shot at Grand Champion.

"Overall, it was a pretty good run," he said.

His mother agrees.

"I'm always proud of him," his mother added. "Now, we're just excited about going to the State Fair."