Sooooey! R and R pig farmer finally wins big at state fair
The top swine prize at the California State Fair eluded Steve Steele for years – until now.
At this year’s fair, Steele’s Hampshire hog was named Supreme Champion Boar. In layman’s talk, that’s best of the best.
“All the champion boars compete for Supreme Champion,” said Steele, who raises Hampshires and Yorkshires, two of the seven breeds at the fair.
Judges look for structure, confirmation, muscularity and leanness. “They’re judging whether the boar is able to improve the breed – make better pigs in the future.”
Steele says that the boar, normally friendly and docile, was quite a handful at the fair. “While I was showing him, he knocked me down.” That wasn’t a problem, however. “The judges like to see boars show male aggression.”
Coming up with a winning boar has been a long process for Steele, 44, owner of Hog Hollow farm in Rough and Ready. “It takes a number of years of breeding and selecting and improving what you have.”
In the 1980s, Steele and his wife, Carolyn, started raising feeder pigs for the freezer. When it began getting harder to buy feeders, they purchased a couple of gilts (young female pigs) and began breeding hogs in 1988.
That was a red-letter year for the Steele family in another way. His parents’ home – where Steve Steele was born and raised – in Rough and Ready burned down in the Forty Niner Fire. Clarence and Helen Steele rebuilt on the parcel, adjacent to that of their son.
Young Steele helped out on the family farm, which had cows, sheep and a few pigs. He was involved in FFA at Nevada Union High School, and met his wife through FFA while selling tickets for a steer weight-guessing contest.
Their son, Daniel, 16, is now in FFA at Nevada Union. His sister, Elizabeth, 11, is active in the Kentucky Flat 4-H.
Hog Hollow is a family endeavor. “I get all the fame,” Steele said, “while Carolyn’s feeding and taking care of the pigs, doing the morning and midwife chores.”
“The hogs are a really good thing for our kids and our family,” Steele said. Helping out with chores and raising animals teaches the children responsibility, he said, and they gain self-confidence when they show animals.
The Steeles started showing their hogs at open shows in 1992. “That’s the way to get your animals appraised by a judge who is respected in the field and to get recognition from other breeders,” Steele said. “It’s taken 11 years to build it up to a state that is pretty respectable at most of the shows.”
Hog Hollow now has 20 sows and three breeding boars. The champion boar was sold to a commercial hog farmer, who owns more than 1,000 sows. When he’s not raising hogs, Steele’s “other” full-time job is shop supervisor for the Nevada County Department of Transportation.
“When I come home in the evening, having fought the problems at work, I face a different set of problems,” said Steele.
But “Sometimes I will sit on a bale of straw and just watch the baby pigs play.”
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