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Mikayla Unger shows a hog in the championship drive of the Polk County Fair's swine market show Thursday.
August 13, 2013
POLK COUNTY -- There is no shortage of famous animals throughout history; some are real, some fictional.
Shamu the whale, Dolly the cloned sheep, Lassie the dog, Babe the blue ox -- the list goes on and on.
People give names to animals to humanize them and form a closer bond.
When raising an animal that will ultimately go to auction, though, giving it a name can create an unwanted attachment.
Mikayla Unger, 17, never names her pigs or sheep that go to auction, partly because it helps her to not get attached. She also can't ever think of a good name, unlike her brother, Zanden, who christened one of his show hogs Wilbur.
"It is hard when you spend so much time with them, out there every day feeding them to not get attached," she said. "You kind of do, but at the same time, I have my other animals and that kind of helps keep my mind off of it."
The recent Dallas High School graduate has been raising show animals for almost six years, starting with goats, then moving up to sheep three years ago and just last year adding pigs to her bustling barnyard.
Unger only uses breeding goats, which aren't auctioned, for shows. She has also kept horses all her life, but doesn't use them for shows or auctions.
It's an arduous process each year for Unger. Once she acquires the animal from a farm, she's off and running.
Unger tailors each animal's diet to specifically fit individual needs and regularly takes them out for walks to keep them healthy.
"I find it helpful to use a top dress (protein or fat supplement) on your feed. It helps build the muscle or if there's too much it helps to soften them," Unger said. "You have to know your animal and figure out what's going to make them better. I haven't found any super big secrets but the top dress works the best."
Unger competes in several shows each year, most through the FFA chapter at Dallas High or the Mistletoe 4-H club, with the occasional open show.
This past weekend, Unger competed at the Polk County Fair against dozens of other students in the market pig, market sheep and breeding goat categories.
As a show approaches, Unger begins the final checklist of grooming, regular bathing and any dietary adjustments.
It's a stressful time for Unger, even though she's competed in multiple shows every year.
"I get nervous every time. I always have butterflies in my stomach. I don't know why but I always do," Unger said. "When I get out there I'm focused and in show mode. I kind of forget about everything and a lot of times I don't even hear the audience."
Competing in shows and prepping an animal for auction is more than just an activity for Unger and other students.
Through FFA and 4-H programs, students learn responsibility, self-reliance, public speaking and marketing.
Scott Bennett, vice president of the Polk County Livestock Association, has been involved in the Polk County Fair for almost 20 years and helps oversee the youth livestock auction each year.
"These kids have to go out and market themselves and their animal. This is the unseen part of the auction," Bennett said. "Some kids have been doing it for a couple months. They're stopping at businesses, trying to talk to new, potential buyers to come to the fair."
Unger did her homework leading up to the auction, visiting almost 40 businesses and potential buyers. Her six-month-old, 262-pound, crossbreed pig was sixth in the auction sale order Saturday night. It sold for $3.75 a pound.
In the end, Unger has a practical approach to the process of raising a show animal for auction.
"Sometimes you break even. I probably put $750 into this hog, so I should make a little bit from it," Unger said. "I know when I get the animal, that's going to be it's fate. Sometimes it's really hard."