Southside Spark takes top 4-H award

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Holly Stratford accepts the 4-H Symbol of Excellence award. (Photo provided)

Local Southside Spark Holly Stratford recently took a top 4-H state award — the Symbol of Excellence swine carcass contest.

The Plains seventh-grader has only been with the program for three years, this year’s 4-H program being her fourth.

4-H boasts a range of projects for kids to be involved in, from animal husbandry and hospitality, to science programs.

When asked why she chose to participate with swine Stratford said, “I wanted an animal project; I’m a lover of all animals. Piglets are adorable and it’s a short ‘raising’ season. You get piglets in May and you raise them until September and there’s not a lot of equipment required.”

Stratford said she was taken a little off guard when she found out she was nominated for the state award.

“I was surprised and very excited. I knew she was a good hog [had good physical build] but didn’t expect to get something that amazing,” she said.

“Her name was Obi. Which is the karate word for belt. You call it a belted hog if it has a white bellyband around its middle. I’ve been taking karate for a year, so the name seemed to fit,” she added.

MSU Extension Officer for Sanders County 4-H program Juli Thurston said she was very proud with how Stratford did for the competition.

“Having the top-quality carcass among 1,520 hogs in the state is a very high honor,” she said.

“Some members may not realize the full significance of how they feed out their hogs for fair. Even if they do a good job, making it to the top seems unreachable. Having a member who lives next door, who members know personally brings the concept closer to home,” she added of Stratford’s award inspiring other county 4-H members.

Thurston said the awards won through the 4-H program aren’t what 4-H is all about, but rather a validation of hard work for the kids involved.

“The Symbol of Excellence Program is a means of recognizing youth and swine breeders who select and raise market hogs that meet carcass merit standards and who demonstrate a commitment to excellence in producing quality pork products, said Thurston explaining the significance of the award.

“The Symbol of Excellence data and standards are reviewed by MSU Extension and Montana Pork Producers Council to adjust carcass criteria to meet industry standards. The Symbol of Excellence standards are based upon live weight, hot carcass weight, back fat, loin area, marbling, color, wetness, and firmness,” she added.

All points Stratford had to excel in to take top honors.

Stratford also has aspirations to continue her participation in the 4-H programs.

“I would like to continue in the pig project for as long as I can because I really like it, but not sure if I’ll ever become a rancher or a farmer. I would love to be an author or a dog breeder or a 4-H officer,” she said.

When asked what initially inspired her to become a member of 4-H she said she had always wondered what it would be like. She was curious to experience being one of the kids at the fair showing an animal; but quickly added the experience has been much more than she first expected.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she said of her past three years raising hogs.

“One of the main things is responsibility. Sometimes my hog got breakfast before I did, but raising hogs is really fun too. I have some funny stories and ones that were difficult to overcome too that I’m proud of,” she added.

Stratford expressed that 4-H was an experience that offered kids opportunities to do things they wouldn’t normally. Even for herself, she stepped out to experience something she herself had admired from the sidelines.

“I think more kids should join 4-H. There’s a lot to learn and many new experiences out there,” said Stratford.

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