COLUMBIA — A.J. Hombs leads Pipsqueak into an open-top cage at the Swine Barn using his green pig whip while his twin sister, Olivia, douses handfuls of purple soap onto the hog.
Pipsqueak squeals, attempting to escape, but 11-year-old A.J. stops the hog using his left hand and pulls out his hog hairbrush with the other hand, beginning to scrub its back. Soon after, Olivia turns the water and rinses the back of the swine with a hose.
With seven hogs in tow, the twins have become adept at working together to care for the animals.
It's the third year the twins have shown hogs at the Boone County Fair, staying all week in a camper near the fairgrounds.
Amy Hombs, the mother of the twins and their 6-year-old sister Carley, said A.J. and Olivia need to be at the fair throughout the week for meetings, weigh-ins, washings and feedings.
“We feed them twice a day, once in the morning, once at the evening, and they gain 3 pounds a day,” A.J. said. “And then they still have to weigh 230 pounds to sell here, so we had to start feeding them three times a day, because they weren’t gaining a lot.”
A.J. plans to keep some of the pigs for breeding, in order to use their offspring as next year’s show pigs. “This kind of cycle repeats, and it’s really fun.”
Moving into 4-H
Three years ago, the Hombs family moved from south Columbia to less expensive land near Hallsville when the twins turned 8, the minimum age to sign up for the Missouri 4-H Club.
“When they got an age of 8, they just really wanted to do it,” Adam Hombs, the twins' father said. “We moved to Hallsville so we could do the 4-H.”
He said he felt pigs would be best for his children because they are safe and personable. “They’re kind of like a pet — kids can get in it and just rub around her belly, and she rolls over.”
Adam, a home builder, made a little barn for the children when he built the family’s house in Hallsville. The parents covered the initial start-up costs to buy the animals but left the twins responsible for the pigs’ upbringing, as well as their marketing.
Adam leaves the fair to work during the day, allowing the 11-year-old twins to learn how to manage the responsibility that comes with being a swine owner at the fair.
“It’s all on them. They do it, and I just try to lead them into right direction. It’s better than video games and that kind of thing, you know,” he said. “It keeps them busy. With sports and this, they don’t have a lot of extra time to be mischievous.”
A.J., recalling his early shows, said, “I was like, ‘I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.’ Then as you keep going, you'll start learning what parts of pig that you’ll eat, like bacon, pork and sausage. And you’ll start learning what a good pig looks like and what a bad pig looks like, how you shave them, how you water them.”
“It’s just kind of complicatedish to be a first learner,” he said.
In the beginning, keeping the pigs alive was a challenge. “Olivia’s pig got sick, and it almost died," A.J. said. "So we had to give medicine, shots.”
Olivia said it's difficult to sell the pigs at auction: “It’s like that you’re with them every day, and you get used to them, and you like them, and you’re kind of sad when they have to leave at the end of the year.”
When it comes to eating the pigs they raise, the twins are of a different mind.
“Because I’m so attached to them, I can’t eat them,” Olivia said.
“I could eat any of these pigs," A.J. said. "I don’t really care."
After their shows in the pavilion Wednesday, the twins walked their pigs back to their cages along with a trophy and other awards. A.J. won grand champion for overall breeding stock with Pipsqueak and three other hogs he showed along with reserve overall middleweight and reserve overall lightweight.
With three hogs, Olivia won the ultra-lightweight class and took reserve in breeding stock.
Some of the hogs were going on the auction block Friday evening. Amy said her children take half the money they make selling the pigs and put it into a savings account. They use the other half to buy next year’s animals.
“With their money, we’ll let them buy one big grand prize, I should say, but the rest of it, whether they choose to put it back into their herds, that’s their deal,” Adam said.
“I would like to spend it, but my parents won’t let me,” A.J. said. “I want to buy something, like an air gun.”
He thinks Olivia will spend the money on clothes. “She’s one of them girls," he said. "You never know what they are going to get."
Supervising editor John Schneller.