Holy ham hock, what a body.
His lean face and neck. His gut, which is just the right kind of thick. The half-moon curve of his muscles. And his backside, oh, that prize-winning backside, which saunters across the barn floor like it’s a runway.
“Lot of pigs walk like they’re in a cast,” said Jared Hart. “You want them to glide.”
Glide is not a word ordinarily used to describe a pig, but then again, this is no ordinary pig and Hart no ordinary hog farmer.
Tuesday morning, bank presidents, farmers and one city-slicker columnist stood round the inside of a Pikeville, Tenn., barn, posing for pictures with Hart and his hog, all knowing we were in the presence of one of the most important animals in Bledsoe County history.
“A grand champion market hog,” someone said, with reverence.
They call him #321, and he’s a full-bred barrow, or castrated, Yorkshire with a competition weight of precisely 289 pounds. (He carries it so well).
Last week in Murfreesboro, hog #321 was named the Grand Champion of the 2014 Junior Market Hog Show, which is not unlike the prize-winning dog at that Westminster show. Judges watch with scrutinizing eyes. There’s competition: 500 other hogs, in this case. The washed and hand-dried hogs sparkle; Jared gave #321 a hair cut before the show.
And winning? It means this hog, with his snout buried in a bowl of 16-percent protein Purina feed, is the greatest hog in Tennessee.
“See how he’s eating? You don’t want a lot of fat right there,” said Lincoln Hart, Jared’s brother.
Farmers across Pikeville think these Hart brothers have hung the moon, speaking of them in ways the old timers once spoke of a young Mantle or Mays. How they’re doing things nobody in these parts have done before.
“These kids have reached a pinnacle,” said David Burns of Burns Farms. “They’re going to garner some attention from all over for winning this show.”
In a digitized world where farming seems more antiquated — “Charlotte’s Web” becoming Charlotte’s webpage, as writer Lowell Monke put it — Lincoln, 12, and Jared, 16, are the beautiful exception. Some pig? Some farmers.
Dressed in Carhartts and worn boots, they rise early for chores — kids, ask your grandparents what it means — and between homeschool lessons, the Hart brothers spend their days caring for animals: goats, cattle, sheep and their beloved hogs.
“You’re able to take something like a hog or calf and let them trust you and you trust them,” said Jared.
They bought #321 — born in July — from an Arkansas farmer; each morning, they walk him and the other hogs around their parents’ Bending River Farm in Pikeville for an hour. It’s conditioning, just like coaches push athletes.
“You don’t want them getting tired on you or lying down [during a show]. You don’t want them to get winded,” Jared said.
Jared began showing cattle when he was 3. Both brothers feed and water the hogs; they built them shelter, keep them healthy, and watch over their weight, the way a ring coach watches a boxer before a fight.
The Hart brothers have won local and regional awards; they’ve won showmanship, champion and reserve champion. Both are involved in 4H, with Jared serving as president of the local Junior Livestock Club.
Their little sister Audra shows hogs too; her pig “Gorilla” (she names her animals; her brothers won’t) won second place in a regional competition.
Both brothers work at Burns Farms several days a week — “they’re two of the best young men I’ve ever had help me,” said Burns.
They shake with a firm grip. They look you in the eye, and say “sir.” They say grace. They smile easily and securely, like they’ve found through their swine some rare pearl: the grace and grit of farm work and a sturdiness, like you could lean something heavy against them and the two brothers wouldn’t budge.
I asked Jared what he would be doing in 20 years.
“The same thing,” he said.
Jared had planned on selling #321 and using the meat to feed hungry folks in Pikeville. Then, he got a surprise: some local farmers and bank presidents teamed up with two Pikeville banks to buy the hog, a purchase they hopes sends an encouraging message to other future farmers in the area.
“This is an investment in the future,” said Tommy Nipper, of the Bledsoe County Cattleman’s Association.
This morning, hours before sunup, Jared and Lincoln climbed in a truck and headed west, going to Fort Worth with Burns Farms folks for this weekend’s National Stock Show.
It’s their first trip away from home without their parents. Know what’s Jared’s biggest concern?
“He wants to be able to find a place to worship on Sunday,” his mom said.
What a heart.
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...