HARDIN, Mont. - There is a picture of Vydel Ramos standing next to his pig before he goes in to the show ring at the Big Horn County Fair which was held July 26-Aug. 3. His white shirt is crisp and his corduroy FFA jacket is zipped to the top. Ramos is looking sharp in his official dress. Ramos’ pig too is fit and the pair is ready to be judged. The picture speaks to the true meaning of county fairs – youth and agriculture.
What the picture doesn’t tell you, however, is this is not only Ramos’ first time showing a pig, it is his first time ever raising a pig. Ramos, who was born and raised in Lodge Grass, Mont., had never been around livestock prior to joining the local FFA chapter.
“I started off competing in mechanics and then my friends talked about how fun raising a pig was, so I decided to do it,” Ramos, who will be going into ninth grade, stated.
Raising a pig might not have been possible for Ramos if it hadn’t been for his FFA advisor, Ty Neal, who is a testament to agriculture education. Neal has been at the helm of Lodge Grass FFA for nine years and over the course of his tenure as teacher, Neal was instrumental in facilitating a school farm as a place where raising livestock could be possible for anyone in his chapter. At a time when people are growing more and more removed from agriculture, Neal continues to find ways to bridge the gap.
Neal partnered up with another Montana FFA advisor, Tom Andres, co-advisor for the Missoula chapter, to acquire pigs for his students to care for and show at the local fair. Once a year, Neal sojourns from the southeastern side of the state to the very western side to pick up a trailer load of pigs bred and raised by Andres.
“Mr. Andres has done a great job raising show quality pigs at an affordable price,” Neal stated.
The Lodge Grass FFA chapter buys the pigs upfront and the students pay the chapter back after they show and sell their pigs at the fair. The pigs are raised communally at the school’s farm and the students are required to split duties and take care of the pigs on a day-to-day basis. Neal admits though, that Ramos really went above and beyond, walking one mile to and from the school farm six days a week to care for the pigs.
Ramos’ hard work paid off. His gilt came into the Big Horn County Fair weighing an ideal 276 pounds. The pair ended up winning their weight class, which put them into the championship drive, a summers worth of hard work was boiling down to one judge’s opinion on that day.
“My pig did pretty well. She ended up placing third overall out of 79 pigs,” Ramos said. The pair also pulled off a blue ribbon in showmanship, making for a successful first fair.
Neal is proud of the work all of his students have done to prepare for this year’s fair. He reminisces how, nine years ago when he started as the ag education teacher for Lodge Grass, his chapter members brought three pigs and three steers to the fair. At the 2019 Big Horn Fair, the Lodge Grass FFA was well represented with 21 pigs raised and shown by chapter members.
Ramos and other chapter members have gotten the opportunity to learn about production agriculture first-hand through their pig projects. The extra cash earned from the project is an added bonus as well.
Looking ahead, Ramos admits there is a good chance he will take a pig again next year to the fair. Overall, he enjoyed learning all about caring for an animal and he got a big kick out of his pig’s personality. He is undecided weather or not he wants to pursue a lifetime career in agriculture, but the opportunities afforded to him by the Lodge Grass FFA Chapter, Ty Neal and his first pig will not soon be forgotten.