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Park Rapids sisters win top honors at Minnesota State Fair

Allison Offerdahl, a ninth grader at Park Rapids Area High School, won a Grand Champion ribbon with her Hampshire gilt Kason. Submitted photo.1 / 2
Megan Offerdahl, a junior at Park Rapids Area High School, said she enjoyed showing Henli and hanging out with family and other 4-H members at the state fair. She said both her and sister Allison winning top honors was "awesome." Submitted photo.2 / 2

This year's state fair was a memorable event for sisters Allison and Megan Offerdahl.

Allison, a ninth grader at Park Rapids Area High School, won a grand champion ribbon with her Hampshire gilt, Kason.

Megan, an 11th grader, took reserve shampion with her Spot gilt, Henli.

Interestingly, both of the swine were born on the same day, Jan. 16, to different mothers and purchased at a 4-H auction in Owatonna last spring.

Both girls are members of the Stony Lake Beavers. Their mom, Stacey, volunteers with the 4-H program. Sister Peyton, 10, and brother Lane, 7, are also 4-H members. The family lives north of Park Rapids. Dad Steve works at Leading Edge Mechanical.

"We started with two pigs back when Megan started 4-H in fourth or fifth grade," Stacey said. "We've been going to the state fair for four years. I'm super proud of them. They do it all from start to finish."

Stacey said she was a member of the Dorset Tomahawks growing up and showed rabbits, so 4-H runs in the family.

State fair involves both work and fun

Stacey, Allison and Megan headed down to the state fair on Aug. 22. The swine show was on Aug. 24, and they returned home Aug. 26.

Getting ready for the fair involves a lot of work, they said.

"Ever since the end of our Hubbard County Fair they have worked with their swine, walking them around, at least an hour a day or more," Stacey said. "They need to be able to control their animal when they are out around people at the state fair, so they don't get away."

The whole family was able to be there for the swine show. "Because we have animals on the farm, Steve came down Friday morning and brought Lane and Peyton. I chaperoned, so I was down there the whole time with the girls," Stacey said.

They will be keeping the award-winning pigs.

"We will breed these girls, hopefully next month for next year's stock," she said. "We'll keep some of the babies for the girls to show next year."

The average size of a litter is 10 to 12 piglets. Some of the remaining offspring will likely be sold through the Northern Minnesota Swine Association's pig sale in Bemidji.

Stacey said she is impressed with the knowledge Megan and Allison have gained through the 4-H program as well as their willingness to help out on the farm.

"We couldn't do it without them," she said. "I'd have to do chores, and that would probably be a bad thing."

Allison encourages others to try 4-H

Allison said she started working with her pig when Kason was a couple of months old and weighed about 100 pounds.

"We gave them marshmallows and grapes and got them friendly with us," she said, explaining that those are two of the treats pigs love. "We started working with the whips and teaching them how to go, and worked with them every single day."

The whips are not used to hit the pigs, but rather to steer them in the direction the handler wants them to go.

"I've definitely learned a lot of responsibility through taking care of my animals," she said. "It will prepare me for what I do later on. I encourage 4-H. It's a really good learning experience. You learn a lot about leadership and make lifelong friends. I'd say 4-H is a really good opportunity if you're interested in doing an animal. There are lots of other opportunities. You can take a picture and enter that at the county fair or a woodshop project like a rocket or a stool. Anything you make yourself you can enter in the fair.

"We have a really good friend from Polk County who was right next to us the first year. We get together at the state fair."

Allison showed her first pig at the state fair when she was 12 and won a blue ribbon. "This year we got grand champions, which is really cool," she said.

Getting the pigs ready for the fair involved feeding them a special mixture of oats, pure fat, feed and cracked corn. "Breeding gilts, you want them to have a nice full belly," she said.

She explained that a big part of the training was taking the pigs outside and into the "real world." While at the county fair animals are shown and judged in areas that are blocked off, at the state fair they don't have any gates to close. "You just go out and you're around people in an open area, and you've got to be able to control them in a crowd," she said.

They gave their pigs practice by letting them roam freely around their farm, touching them with the whip to guide them to move a certain way.

As to why she shows swine, "I just fell in love with the pig breed," she said. "I loved showing my goat and sheep, but really bonded with my pig. They are really smart and catch on fast when you are teaching them to drive this way or that way by tapping their shoulder. You can potty train them, and when we call their names they come running."

She said she loves having Sweet Martha's cookies at the fair and going on rides like the Octopus. "We usually get around the fairgrounds a couple of times," she said.

Allison is also on the Park Rapids Area High School swimming and softball teams, and she is president of the Stony Lakes Beavers 4-H club. "We have a lot of younger kids and do a lot of games and projects with them," she said. "Now that school started, there's homework, too."

They have sheep, a goat, horses, chickens, turkeys, dogs and a couple of cats on their farm, but her focus is definitely pigs.

"We'll hopefully show the babies if they make it to the state fair next year," she said.

Megan reflects on winning, lessons learned

Megan said she has shown three years at the state fair. She said they kept busy with feeding and washing their swine. They also used conditioner to give the animals a smooth coat.

The swine are kept in a holding pen until it is time to show. "We show them in this big arena with the judge, and there are guys there to help if the pigs get in fights," she said.

Megan said the day of the show Henli was a little moody. "I didn't get too overwhelmed about it because otherwise she would feel it and tense up," she said. "I just kept it cool. Henli was in heat, so it was more of a push to get her to show because she was wanting to go everywhere else."

As for her and Allison both winning, "it was super awesome," she said. "My cousin Marley Mitchell got third overall in the show, so I was excited for her, too."

She also enjoyed spending time with family and other club members from Hubbard County.

"We hung out, played cards, had fun, and helped each other out," she said. "My mom and Marley's mom chaperoned. It was fun staying in the dorms. I met some new kids from Beltrami County, too."

Megan hopes to return to the state fair next year. "I'm going to try my best," she said.

She said the biggest thing she has gained from being a part of 4-H is responsibility.

"You've got to have a lot of knowledge and responsibility to teach the young kids," she said.

"I've also done public speaking with the 4-H Ambassadors."

Megan said swine are easier to show than horses or cows. "I have learned so much about them and as a family we farrow out our own pigs, so we watch them grow from when they are babies to when we show them," she said. "We love them to death. We can't show these pigs again, so we will breed them and hopefully the babies will turn out like their moms."

Megan said she plans to continue 4-H through her first year of college. As for the future, she is interested in farming and breeding pigs, but is also considering other options.

After she graduates from high school, Megan said she would like to attend a two-year technical college.

"I'll probably do something in the health industry, like an E.M.T. or a paramedic, or maybe something in the wildlife field," she said.

In addition to 4-H, Megan enjoys trap shooting with the Park Rapids Area School Clay Dusters.