Pig heaven

"Albert Einswine knows a thing or two about a pig's life.That's to be expected. Albert is, in fact, a pig. He lives in a barn outside the Oak Harbor-area home of Vicki and George Lawson with his fellow pigs Longfellow, Bullseye, Piggy Sue and a nameless pen mate.All of the Lawson pigs are on their way to market as part of the Island County Fair, scheduled for Aug. 17-20.The Lawson kids - Sarah, 15, and Karissa, 11 - are members of the 4-H club Whidbey Island Hogs. They've raised the pigs over the last several months. Like 4-H kids from all corners of north and central Whidbey they'll take their animals for show and auction at the county fairgrounds in Langley.This will be my fifth fair, says Sarah. It's a lot of fun.The county fair is the peak of the season for 4-Hers, who put in long hours feeding and grooming their animals leading up to the event.Yes, swine get groomed.The Lawsons started raising pigs on their 2 1/2 acres nearly five years ago when they first bought the property. George and Vicki are both from Hammond, Ind., a fairly urban suburb of Chicago. Farm animals were not on their resume.I never thought I would have pigs in my back yard, Vicki Lawson admits.But the Lawsons were interested in being as self-sufficient as possible on their land, and how hard could it be to raise a pig? They bought one, put a fence up, and then called the county Island County WSU Cooperative Extension 4-H Club to find out what to do.Bob Martins, a 4-H leader knowledgable about pigs, visited the Lawsons.He said, 'If you're going to raise pigs you need to do it right,' Vicki Lawson remembers.That resulted in a concrete-floored pig barn in the Lawson's back yard, complete with thermostats and automatic feeders. The family now owns a breeding sow (Piggy Sue). The Lawson girls raise two pigs each, for the current total of five.Part of the 4-H experience is to learn about the economics of agriculture, and as far as making money goes, pigs are fairly lucrative.The Lawson girls recently raised two pigs from piglet stage to market. They paid a breeder $120 for the two piglets, then spent $151.86 to fatten them to market weight. They also paid for shots and hay. Total expenses were $403.They sold the pigs for $876. Total profit: $473.The Lawsons have turned the pig business over to their daughters. Sarah and Karissa manage the budget, buy the feed, care for the animals and follow through on the sale.The key to raising a good, marketable pig, Vicki Lawson says, is maximizing the animal's weight gain to about three pounds per day. To do that, an automated thermostat keeps temperatures in the Lawson pig pens at 68 degrees (cold pigs lose weight). Market hogs - those ready to be sold for meat - tip the scales in the neighborhood of 250 pounds.Keeping the animals clean is key as well, and the concrete floor allows the Lawson girls to hose down their critters.The pigs themselves seem to love all the attention, especially the spraying water from the hose, which sends them scampering with obvious joy. Which is another part of the 4-H learning process. The stories of the intelligence of pigs are true, Vicki Lawson says, and they can be pretty endearing animals. They love to play, they like to be petted, she says.So it's important not to tie your heartstrings too strongly to a pig you know is going to the butcher, Sarah Lawson says.I go out there, feed them, groom them, and then leave, she says. I don't want to get too attached.--------------------All about the Island County Fair 2000Where: Island County Fairgrounds, LangleyWhen: Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 17-20Hours: Gates open at 9:30 a.m. daily and close at 10 p.m. Thursday; 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 9 p.m. on Sunday.Admission: Adults (ages 16-64), $6 daily, $18 season tickets; military (with ID), $4 daily, $13 season tickets; seniors (65 plus), $4 daily, $13 season ticket; juniors (ages 6-15), $4 daily, $13 season ticket; children (5 and under), free.Transportation: Island Transit will operate full service Thursday and Friday and limited service on Saturday. Check schedule for times. There is no bus service on Sunday. "

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