Isabella “Bella” Simpkins’ nickname for Champion, her 197-pound pig, is Champ, but I’ll always think of him as Chomp.
I realized my rookie mistake of not asking the right questions when Champ tried to chomp through my hiking shoes. I should have asked, “How sharp are a pig’s teeth?”
As the summer intern for The Columbian, I have covered a variety of topics, but I knew I would be out of my element learning to wash a pig. Still, I couldn’t resist trying something new, so on Wednesday morning, I ventured to the Clark County Fair.
Ten-year-old Bella had raised her two exotic crossbred pigs in hopes of selling them through the Junior Livestock Auction at the fair. When she noticed the pigs were not gaining weight, she went from visiting them twice a day to four times a day, she said. Her dad, Dylan Simpkins, said the pigs didn’t want to eat in the summer heat.
On Wednesday morning, her pigs weighed in at 217 and 197 pounds, both under the 220-pound goal weight. They didn’t qualify for the auction, but Bella’s pigs can still compete in some other events.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Dylan Simpkins said. He said Bella put a lot of work into her pigs, and she did most of it without any help.
Bella was visibly upset over the news, but once she got over the initial shock and disappointment, she went right back to work taking care of her pigs and readying them for competition.
Bella said her favorite part of caring for the pigs has been spending time with them and watching them play. Her least favorite part? — “Picking up the poop,” she said.
She and her friend, Hayden Hunzeker, 10, went off to get more shavings for the pig pens. The two have been friends since first grade, and they joined 4H together last year.
After watching the young girls move fearlessly around the large, heavy animals, I felt like I was ready to help. From my research, I learned a pig needs to be washed several times in the days before being judged. Bella and Hayden agreed to show me how it was done.
They prepared by putting on rain gear and rubber boots. I was dressed in jeans and waterproof hiking shoes. I was glad my feet stayed dry, but I was most thankful for the thickness of my shoe. I can still measure the size of Champ’s mouth by the feeling on my right foot.
I had been warned that Champ and his friend, Wiley, didn’t like to be separated, but I was surprised by how loud Champ protested. At one point, I heard someone say that Champ was going to cough up his lungs if he didn’t stop.
Bella sent her dad to get Wiley. I think she was hoping it would calm Champ down, but her dad had his own troubles getting Wiley to the wash pen, and we were done before they arrived.
Some things about washing a pig went as expected. Bella sprayed down Champ with the hose and squeezed baby shampoo on his back. I tried to help lather, but the short, bristle hair brush seemed to resist getting clean. And Champ was so upset at being separated from his pen mate, it was difficult to spread the soap all over.
Champ constantly moved and kept trying to bite at my feet and legs, getting me a couple of times. It didn’t hurt, but it was a bit unnerving.
At 40-years-old, I found myself looking to young Bella to see if we were safe. She moved around the pig, keeping her feet clear of his mouth and giving him a good scrub with her hands until she was satisfied and we were done.
Bella said she wants to continue caring for pigs, even though she wasn’t sure her hard work was worth it this year. But she didn’t sugarcoat what it is really like.
“Pigs are kind of nasty; they’ll eat anything,” she said, as both of her pigs snacked on the dirt and wood shavings in their pen.