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A 4-H Family Affair
Written by Kelly Chandler Staff Reporter
2015-08-05

Kaylie and Jeremiah Niehls, on their family farm in Upper Hanover Township.  Their grandparents, the late John and Doris Niehls, founded it in 1966 after they moved to the area from Illinois.

                Jeremiah and Kaylie Niehls have a lot in common.  To start out with, they're cousins, they're both incoming seniors at Coventry Christian School in Pottstown and they each live on a portion of the same large family farm in Upper Hanover Township. 

                But perhaps the biggest bond they share is their affection for pigs.

                "Pigs are very smart.  When you raise them you learn they all have their own personalities, their own little quirks," said Kaylie Niehls.

                "I think they're easy to work with and usually nice and calm," said Jeremiah Niehls.  "They're a lot of fun to show.  You never know what's going to happen."

                And that, the duo said, is part of what will make this week's Montgomery County 4-H Show in Creamery such an exciting venture.  Starting Wednesday, they will be packing up their animals to compete among more than a hundred other participants in various animal classes.  Competitors are placed in categories according to the animal's weight as well as their owner's age and experience level.

                The teens will each show three Yorkshire hogs and Jeremiah Niehls will also enter a market Boer goat, a female named Casey.

                His pigs don't have names yet, as he usually lets his 2- and 4-year-old nieces choose before the fair, he said with a laugh.  Kaylie Niehls' pigs, on the other hand, are named after famous characters in Dante's "Divine Comedy" – Dante, Virgil and Beatrice.

                The creatures have become a welcome addition to the farm and play in their own baby pool as well as get corn husks and pressings from neighboring Bauman's Apple Cider for treats.

                Each hog, weighing in over 120 pounds, will be taken to the fair in either the cool of the evening or the morning to avoid stressing the animal too much, which could lead to a weight loss of up to 10 pounds, they said.

                It's the kind of information that only experience yields and the Niehls have plenty of it.  They have been involved in 4-H since they were 8 years old and their older brothers and sisters each took part before them.  On the family farm on Wild Run Road, they raise steer along with hay, soybeans, wheat and sorghum.  They also raised hogs for many years.

                Before competition at the fair, each hog will get a thorough bath with baby shampoo and get sprayed with a livestock polish for shine.   Their ears, bellies, tails and faces will be trimmed with clippers and they will be officially weighed.

                They will be judged on fitting, which gives marks for grooming and cleanliness, along with showmanship.

                "They are an interesting breed," Kaylie Niehls said of her hogs.  "They are either really calm when they get in the ring or they want to run around with all their friends.

                "You have to have respect for the animal, patience, know the animal and its limitations and pay attention to the judge.  Eye contact and smiles always get you big points."

                "Not getting frazzled is big too," Jeremiah Niehls added.   

                This year the cousins will see a large field of competition.  In 2013 the county sported 10 participants in the market hog class; this year there are 27, said Amy Shollenberger, Montgomery County 4H extension educator.

                "Pigs are a great first project for kids.  It's a shorter project, about four months, they are easy to care for, they have great personalities, they don't need a really big area to keep them in," she said, referring to possible reasons for renewed interest in the species. 

                While you won't hear them brag about it, the Niehls family has enjoyed many years of success at the fair.  Rows of ribbons line a room in each of their homes, and both Jeremiah and Kaylie garnered honors last year in various swine categories. 

                But so much more than the competition, the cousins agreed, is learning new things and spending time with friends at the event, a culmination of a year's worth of hard work.     

                "We have a lot of fun at the fair because we have a lot of friends in the program.  It's good to see them and have friends raising animals like we are.  I'm thankful personally for the 4-H program and for letting me get to know them," Kaylie, who is applying to Penn State University for Animal Sciences, said.

                Jeremiah, who hopes to attend the University of Illinois after graduating, said he has enjoyed mentoring younger members of the 4-H livestock club. 

                "It's fun to learn and realize new things all the time and it's good for learning responsibility," he said of taking part.

                "It is always a learning experience and a privilege to learn about and have respect for what God has created," Kaylie Niehls said. 

                For more information on this year's 4-H show at 1015 Bridge Road, Creamery, PA 19426, including a schedule of events, visit http://extension.psu.edu/4-h/counties/montgomery/montgomery-county-4-h-fair.


 

 

 

 

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