A rite of passage Pig: Emily Rippeon and other 4-H'ers learn such life skills as responsibility and decision making as they raise and show animals.


Pig No. 4693 was a little bit edgy.

Giggly owner Emily Rippeon had given the pig a touch-up, spritzing its portly pink body with cool water from a spray bottle and soothing it with a scrub brush, getting the animal ready for the Swine Shed show ring at the Maryland State Fair.

Instead, the pig bolted for freedom -- dashing out of his pen and heading toward the midway.

"Get him! Get the pig!" shouted Emily's brother, Adam, as his shy, dimpled 9-year-old sister chased the animal and then herded it into a large pen to meet the livestock judge.

The pig was one of hundreds of barnyard animals being primped, plucked and pampered this week at the Timonium fairgrounds, and Emily was among the 4-H Club members doing the work in hopes of winning prizes -- and perhaps some money if the critters are sold.

But for Emily, a Howard County farm girl with a striking resemblance to a young Natalie Wood, the fair was also a simple rite of passage as she learned the ropes in her first year of 4-H competition and even won an unexpected third-place ribbon yesterday.

This is the year that the fourth-grader at Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood graduated from the junior Clovers program into the ranks of the big 4-H kids. Wearing the club's uniform of khaki pants, white dress shirt and kelly-green tie, the anxious, 60-pound Emily groomed and fed the pair of 270-pound show hogs and then trotted each one into a large pen for judging Tuesday and yesterday.

"She is learning how to handle animals and how to respect them," said Emily's mother, Debbie Rippeon. "I've seen a change in her confidence already."

In her first day of competition Tuesday -- the day of Pig 4693's escape attempt -- she won a satiny green seventh-place ribbon and then a disappointing last-place white ribbon.

Yesterday, though, Emily re-entered the show arena and put on the pig.

As part of a "fitting and show" competition in which 4-H'ers show judges how well they handle their pigs, Emily took third place among the 8- and 9-year-olds.

"This little girl was real calm and real cool. She did a nice job," observed the judge, a livestock expert from Indiana, as Emily received her ribbon.

"I like this," Emily said. "It is fun."

The Timonium extravaganza is the highlight of the year for many of the state's 46,550 4-H Club members -- young people ages 8 to 18 who learn a variety of skills through the organization's strong hands-on teaching approach.

They were exhibiting a majority of the more than 1,000 pigs, cows, sheep, goats, roosters, chickens, rabbits and other animals at the 115th annual State Fair, said Scott Barao, a University of Maryland livestock specialist who is overseeing sheep competitions.

Most 4-H'ers, like Emily, choose to concentrate on raising and grooming animals for competition and sale, Barao said.

"It is a tremendous opportunity for them to develop this personal responsibility," he said. "The animal is the tool for them to learn life skills like responsibility, decision making and public speaking. That is what competition is all about."

For Emily, raising pigs is a family affair. Her grandparents, Walter and Alice Simpson, have always raised pigs on their 80-acre Dayton homestead, where Emily, her brother and parents also live.

"Frog," as Emily is affectionately called by her father, Wayne Rippeon, also has a stable of other pets at home: a pony named Gumbo, dogs, rabbits, cats, chickens, donkeys and twin heifers that were born in April.

Last month, she received her first check for selling a pig -- a transaction she knew had a bittersweet ending, her mother said. After her 242-pound hog fetched $3.50 a pound -- an $847 payday -- the animal was led to slaughter.

That is why Emily finds it difficult to name her pigs, her mother said.

When asked about the pigs' fate, Emily just shrugged and smiled.

"She understands that this is what farming and raising animals is all about," her mother said. "She knows what good meat tastes like."

It's enough to make a good pig edgy.

Pub Date: 8/29/96

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad