By JENNINE ZELEZNIK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
BAZETTA -- The grunts and squeals of almost 100 hogs echoed off the surrounding barns at the Trumbull County Fair.
Their owners -- 4-H kids from area clubs -- bustled between the porkers' pens, readying them for competition.
Pigs are the fastest-growing 4-H animal projects in Trumbull County, said Jan Solomon, the junior fair coordinator.
Though no exact figures were available, Solomon said 4-H'ers showed at least 10 more hogs this year than last, and that the number of hog projects has increased steadily over the past five years.
Numbers drop: Other animals -- such as goats and rabbits -- have seen their numbers drop in recent years. Solomon attributes their decline to several factors, including an animal's popularity and Mother Nature. In order to compete, some animals must be born a certain number of months before the fair -- which doesn't always happen.
For example, rabbits need to be born at least 10 weeks before the fair, Solomon said. If not, then they won't be shown that year.
"Some of this is out of our hands," she said.
Decline: Another factor is the decline of farmland in the county.
Solomon said that in years past, kids growing up on farms would show their animals -- which their parents had given them -- as a normal part of their childhood.
Now, however, kids have to go to the extra trouble of buying an animal and finding a place to keep it, as well as the normal costs for feeding and care.
"It's the old law of economics," Solomon said. "Simple supply and demand."
And in this market, hogs make the most profit.
Instead of raising the animal for nine months to a year -- which kids with beef projects do -- hog owners need only raise their animal for three to four months, Solomon said.
This cuts down on overall grain consumption, and leads to a larger profit margin for hogs.
Money's not important: For some 4-H'ers, though, it's not about money.
Ron Imhoff of Bristol pitched soiled hay from his steer's stall into a nearby wheelbarrow, then stuck the pitchfork into the ground and leaned on it.
"The money's nice, but with the time and everything you put in, the money you make is not really a lot," he said. "But I like raising them. I've wanted to for a long time."
Fellow steer-raiser Sarah Brown, also of Bristol, agreed.
"I just really like having a cow," she said, and patted the black animal's hide.
Not all hog owners are in it for the profits, either.
Amid the controlled chaos of competition preparation, 11-year-old Meagan Wagner of Orwell is perched on the edge of her pigs' pen. Though she agrees that the money she makes from her pigs is nice, that's not why she raises them.
"I've always liked pigs," she said, dimples winking in her cheeks. "They're easy to show, and they're fun."
Later, in the sawdust-covered show ring, Meagan poked and prodded black-and-white Wilbur around, trying to keep eye contact with the judge while still keeping control of her 180-pound charge.
Though she didn't place this year, she won't give up.
"I hope I have a Grand Champion," she said. "Someday."