- Associated Press - Saturday, August 5, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - After almost 50 years of overseeing the hog barn at the Washington County Fair, Byron Anderson has learned a thing or two about prepping pigs for competition.

The first step in porcine pampering? A shampoo and set. Anderson likes Orvus Paste Shampoo, a gentle detergent he claims can make even the dirtiest of pigs sparkling clean, the Pioneer Press (https://bit.ly/2u27s5F ) reported.

“Don’t forget to clean out the ears,” said Anderson, 77, who farms in Hugo. “You’ve got to really dig in there and get it all clean.”

Next up is the haircut. The shorter the better, according to Anderson. “Just leave them a little bit of hair - an inch at the most,” he said.

Lastly, a coat or two of black shoe polish is applied and buffed on each hoof right before the pig goes into the ring.

“Hard work, that’s what it takes,” Anderson said. “They really need to practice going around the ring. You need to start that at home, way before the fair.”

With the Washington County Fair starting Wednesday, Anderson is gearing up for his busiest time of the year. In addition to his hog-barn duties, he serves as the volunteer leader of May Township’s 4-H Club, a position he has held for 45 years.

Anderson, a pig and cattle farmer, recently received the Lifetime Volunteer Award from Washington County and Community Thread for “devoting his life to being an advocate for agriculture.”

Among the state and county boards he serves on or has been involved with: Washington County Agricultural Society, Washington County Fair Board, Minnesota Pork Producers, Minnesota Association of Responsible Animal Care, Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs.

“He like an icon out here,” said Washington County Fair Manager Dorie Ostertag. “You name it, he’s been involved with it. He keeps telling me ‘This will be my last year,’ but he keeps coming back. I tell him: ‘Yeah, sure. You tell me that all time.’ And then I talk him into it again, and he’s, like, ‘OK, fine.’ It just wouldn’t be the same without Byron around.”

Anderson, who has five children and 13 grandchildren, owns 110 acres. He grows hay and has 11 Berkshire pigs and 60 head of cattle; he and his late wife, Helen, used to own 160 acres and have 500 pigs. A sign that says “Pigs Rule” greets visitors outside his house.

Pigs get a bad rap, according to Anderson.

“They are all friendly, and they are all different, believe it or not,” he said. “They all have their own personalities. They’re smart animals; they learn fast.”

Anderson said Berkshire pigs, which have black bodies and pink legs and faces, are the No. 1 breed in the world for flavor and tenderness.

He raises Berkshire boars because they grow faster than female pigs. The pigs, which will ultimately weigh more than 300 pounds each, eat a mix of ground corn and soybean meal and get water through a hose attached to the pig pen.

“A pig doesn’t sweat, so you have to be careful,” Anderson said. “You have to be sure to provide enough water.”

A good pig has just the right amount of muscle and a deep rib cage, he said. “From their back to their belly, you want a deeper body, not a shallow body,” he said. “I look for a wide base with their legs far apart. You want them big enough, but you don’t want too much fat on them. Nobody likes too much fat. A little bit is OK, but a lot, they’re probably not going to eat that.”

When Anderson started as a 4-H leader, there were about 25 young people in the May Township group. Now there are more than 100.

“Years ago, people thought, ‘Oh, that’s just for the farm kids,’ but that’s far from true nowadays,” said Anderson, who helped expand the program to include horticulture, robotics, photography, fine arts and woodworking. “There is so much new stuff since years ago.”

According to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture census, there were 602 farms in Washington County in 2012, including 11 hog farms. Five years earlier, there were 729 farms, 20 of them hog farms.

“One by one, they fall by the wayside, so to speak,” he said. “When a farmer gets older, even if he does have kids, they probably have a job in town doing something . so the chances of them carrying on the farm are getting to be slimmer and slimmer. As time goes by, each generation gets further removed from the farm. A lot of people don’t know very much about farming.”

But he said the Washington County Fair continues to be one of the best county fairs in the state. Anderson should know; he’s been to 70 of them.

Washington is No. 1, but the Steele County Fair is right up there,” he said. “That’s the third week of August - right before the State Fair. Dakota, down in Farmington, that’s a nice one, too. Fairs are like animals, every one is a little bit different.”

The Washington County Fair, which runs Wednesday-Sunday, is “real family-friendly,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. It has good family entertainment - and it has great food. Everybody likes fair food, anything on a stick. I like the pork chop on a stick.”


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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