Two Mineral County 4-H members set a new record by becoming state champions in The Montana Symbol of Excellence (SOE) program. Superior students, 13-year-old, Decker Milender and Heather Haskins, 11, won the Montana State University Montana Symbol of Excellence for their commitment to excellence in producing quality pork products. Their 2018, 4-H projects won with Milender winning for the “light carcass division” youth hog and Haskins winning in the “heavy carcass division.”
The awards ceremony was held on Jan. 17 in the Great Falls Civic Center. No Mineral County 4-H member has ever won state before, let alone two members winning top honors.
“This is pretty rare and I would never expect to see it again,” said Mineral County Extension Agent Dave Brink. “This is a very selective group and the standards are pretty narrow.”
The 4-H group has consistently placed in the top 5-8 percent but never won first place. Both Haskins and Milender said their success started with a good pig. Haskins got hers from Kevin Miotke Show Pigs in Frenchtown. Milender’s was from Russell Hudson Show Pigs in Potomac. Miotke also won first place in the “heavy carcass division” for top hog breeder.
Haskins hog, named “Sizzle,” weighed 245 pounds when sold at the Mineral County 4-H auction last summer. It was an “exotic” breed, meaning it was made up of several different types of hogs. In addition to a different feeding regiment, she said Sizzle was friendly and easy to train. Which made exercising and getting it into shape easier than hogs she’s had in the past. This was her fourth year in 4-H and the sixth-grader plans on continuing to participate in the 4-H program.
In addition to raising pigs she plays sports, including basketball, and is a barrel racer as part of the Southwest Youth Rodeo Association. Ultimately, she would like to work with horses and possibly become a veterinarian.
Milender’s hog, named “Mystic,” was a 216-pound Yorkshire-Hampshire mix. His feed and exercise routine was the same for this hog as in the past and felt it was because it came from a better breeder that made the difference. This is his sixth year raising hogs for 4-H and he also plans on continuing with the growing program. He also plays sports, including wrestling, football and track. After graduation he hopes to work in the construction field.
The number of 4-H members is growing in Mineral County and Brink said they have approximately 20 enrolled who want to raise hogs for the 2019 year. He said it’s good to see the numbers growing. “it’s nice to see the increase and we’ll ride the wave and see how it goes,” he said.
The Symbol of Excellence program was initiated in 1984 as a joint effort between the MSU Extension Service and Montana Pork Producers Council as 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.
Data is collected on over 1,750 head annually and “demonstrates the dramatic progress that has been made in the quantity and quality of pork obtained from modern hogs,” their website states.