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From the desk of Dora DePaoli: Picky pigs and crazy sheep

February 16, 2001

Every year around this time there are some unusual things that happen during the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta.

Some anxious moments occur to animal owners and their families. Everyone related to the 4-H or FFA students gets a bit uneasy if their pig is not eating or their sheep is eating too much. Underweight or overweight animals are banned from the auction and barn sales.

One Holtville pig has been the object of much concern lately. With only a short time before the county fair the pig has been lethargic and 40 pounds underweight. All types of tasty treats have appeared in the feeding trough to tempt the finicky porker. The pig has turned up her nose at a variety of fresh produce, alfalfa, dates, brown sugar and brewer's yeast.

I recently spotted the remnants of less nutritious fare at the pen. There was an empty Dr. Pepper can, a bag of potato chips and even a quart bottle of Miller Genuine Draft Beer with a huge nipple. A special heat lamp has been added to the pen to try to make the lean pig more comfortable during the chilly nights.

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The youngster's father was recently spotted kneeling beside the pen and talking softly to the animal. "Pig Whisperer" quickly came to mind.

To try to find an answer to the dilemma, the grandfather of the pig owner contacted a World War II Army buddy of his wintering in Palm Springs. The Army buddy, a retired pig farmer from Minnesota, telephoned his son back home. He said pigs often get a kink in their intestines when they "lay funny." Perhaps this was the problem because the pig is doing better now.

When I last saw the pig she was prancing around the nearby corral and looking much better. The owner recently gave her a new name, Miracle. It will be a challenge, however, to put 40 pounds on the beast in the next two weeks.

Several years ago a nephew of mine raised a fine pig. The day it was to be taken to the fair it broke its leg. Fortunately, most kids have insurance against such calamities. Just about every year a lamb is attacked by dogs and has to be put down.

Holtville High School ag instructor Deanna Elmer has had a number of experiences with her four-legged charges. Most recently a couple of feeder calves were underweight and one had pink eye and an FFA lamb had wool fungus, also known as ringworm.

"The wool fungus is very contagious and can be transmitted to humans," Elmer said. "Infected lambs are banned from the fair. The underweight calves were fed bananas and molasses and the one with pink eye got a shot of antibiotics and sulfa spray. You have to be ready for everything."

A couple of weeks ago Elmer helped with the birthing of pygmy goats.

Julie Velasco of Holtville remembers her son Jake's first experience raising a sheep. Jake was about 10 years old at the time.

"It was wild. It never tamed down," Velasco said. "It dragged Jake into the showmanship ring at the fair like he was on skis. The thing knocked people down in the ring. The whole Junior Fair Board tried to catch it. It was total chaos."

The day of the auction everyone was giving a lot of space to the "crazy" sheep.

Its reputation had preceded it. Everyone gave it a wide berth except the photographer in charge of taking the official auction photos.

"As she reached down to adjust Krusty's stance for the photograph," Velasco said, "the sheep reared up, knocked her over and tore up the whole photo area."

For some reason Krusty had a change of heart after that and behaved like a storybook lamb during the auction.

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