You’ve likely heard the story of Wilbur from “Charlotte’s Web,” who wanted love, not food. But this pigtale is a bit different.
When the Chamelin siblings walk up to the hog pen next to the family home in Lineboro, the pigs squeal through the fence. Others roll to their sides, showing their bellies and welcoming them for a pat or scratch. Mama pig Susan lies down, while the others are prepared to trot around. There’s Sherman and Mildred, the 6-month-old Durocs; Doug, Hooch, Margaret, Clinger and Chuck, the Berkshires; and Dugan, the lone Tamworth.
After the pigs’ breakfast, the Chamelin children — Caleb, 13, Charlotte, 11, and Brenna, 10 — take the pigs to do some stretching, where they train them for the showmanship they will do at Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair.
Some ages are special. At 15, you might have a quinceañera. At 16, you get your driver’s license. For the three Chamelin siblings, turning 9 is the age of stardom — they get to swine at the fair. This year’s decades-old fair will begin July 31.
“My favorite thing about the fair ... is everything. I just like to do everything at the fair,” Charlotte said.
Parents Jennie and Sam Chamelin, both 38, never imagined their kids would show pigs. Jennie grew up surrounded by steers and sheep, while Sam raised dairy goats. So, when then-9-year-old Caleb told his parents he wanted to show pigs a few years ago, Jennie said she felt a bit lost. She didn’t know much about pigs.
The diversion did not cause any distress within the Chamelin family. Jennie and Sam always wanted their children to find their own way. Caleb is just one of those kids who know who they are and what they want to do — he and his sisters got bit by the pig bug, Jennie said.
“He just wants to be with pigs all the time,” she said.
Caleb learned to take care of and love pigs with his aunt Britt Lippy, Jennie’s sister. Growing up, the family farm strictly bred steers and sheep. Until Lippy, the baby of the family, asked for pigs at the age of 9.
Lippy was the only one who took care of her two pigs for many years, until her nephew grew up and started to follow her around. Lippy, who is only 11 years older than Caleb, is like his big sister, he said. When the time came for him to show the pigs, she supported him every step of the way.
“I won championship in my division for showmanship in my first year,” Caleb said. “My aunt helped me a lot. She kind of got me started. But now it’s mostly me.”
After watching their older brother work so hard, Charlotte and Brenna followed in his footsteps, Jennie said. Charlotte did her first show in 2019 and Brenna in 2020, when they were each 9 years old.
The Chamelin siblings have taken care of 25 adult pigs and 35 piglets throughout the past few years. They do everything on their own, with a lot of hard work and colla-boar-ation.
Caleb selects and buys the breeds online at a boar catalog and does the artificial insemination himself. When it comes around the time for the mama pig to go into labor, there are a lot of sleepless nights, he said.
The first litter was difficult. They lost a lot of piglets, he said. So now, he checks on the mama pig to make sure she is well.
Usually, Caleb picks Berkshires and Durocs to breed. Berkshires have black fur, but their lower legs tend to be white. Durocs are reddish-brown with big floppy ears, resembling a dog. This year, there’s a new pig in town: Brenna’s Tamworth, also reddish-brown but with pointy ears. She had a particular reason why she decided to breed this pig.
“Because it annoys him,” she said, pointing to her brother.
“They are crazy. You can’t train them,” Caleb explained. “But she’s done a good job.”
Brenna likes to do her own thing. She wants to be a female baseball player when she grows up, like the women in the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own.” She even named her pigs after two characters from the film: Dugan and Hooch.
The kids like to pick themes each year for naming the pigs. This year, Caleb’s theme is “M*A*S*H.” Another year, he had a herd with “Seinfeld”-inspired names.
Pigs have strong personalities. When the Chamelins choose them from a litter, they often do so based on how they act. For example, Charlotte picked Mac — named after Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie from the “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show — because he was cute and snuggly. He doesn’t particularly like to go on walks and prefers to be patted on his belly instead. He is always very hungry, too. And like all the Chamelin pigs, he will take his vanilla ice cream with marshmallows.
There are tears every year when the day comes for them to sell the pigs. But they got into the business understanding that, in the end, the pigs will leave their home, Charlotte said.
Jennie sees how hard the kids work and how much they take care of the pigs.
“We believe that we’ve given them the absolute best life that they’ll have anywhere,” she said.
Whichever pigs aren’t bought at the fair, the children sell them privately to friends and family. The Chamelin siblings are financially responsible for everything, Jennie said, and all their money goes right into their accounts — their, quite literally, piggy banks.
The fair has, indirectly and directly, given them a lot of special memories. There was the time Caleb was participating in a swine show and his pig set off randomly, and he rode the boar for 20 feet. There were the nights with the bottle babies, where they took care of the piglets at home because they were runts. This year, there were Charlotte’s Nigerian dwarf goats, hopping around the trampoline with her and her siblings.
It is a lot of hard work, they said, but it’s still a lot of fun.
“I probably won’t stop breeding until I physically can’t do it anymore,” Caleb said with a smile.
Caleb will participate at the breeding show July 31. Charlotte and Brenna will join their older brother Aug. 3 for swine showmanship and Aug. 4, one of the last days of the fair, where they will sell the pigs.
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The Carroll County Times did not receive comment from the pigs in time for publication.