Miracle of birth found inside Ralco Enrichment Center

Photo by Jenny Kirk Marshall FFA member Jarret Beebout starts bottle-feeding a newborn calf while fellow FFA member Mary Sundquist latches the fence at the Ralco Enrichment Center at the Lyon County Fair.

MARSHALL — For the third straight year, the Ralco Enrichment Center has provided an unique experience for fairgoers of all ages.

On Thursday, those in attendance had the opportunity to witness the birth of 16 piglets. The sow, a large white Yorkshire cross, is owned by a group of local farmers and managed by Pipestone Systems.

“Once the pigs are weaned, they go to the farmers,” said Erin McCoy, who has worked for Pipestone Systems for seven years.

McCoy and Dave Rialson, who works for a local farmer, delivered the piglets. Both are natives of Tracy.

“We’ve lived around pigs all of our lives,” Rialson said.

The miracle of birth exhibit is one of the multi-faceted opportunities one could experience at the Ralco Enrichment Center throughout the Lyon County Fair. As he’s gotten older, Joel Elder said he’s become more concerned and knowledgeable about the food he eats — something people can learn about at the Center.

“This is my first time down here,” said Elder, who lives in the Twin Cities. “Now that I’m older, I care more about where my food comes from. I’m hoping to come back next year, too.”

Elder said the fair scene probably stressed the sow out a little bit, but that the benefits outweigh that.

“The important thing is that it brings awareness,” he said. “Pigs are so intelligent. I know a guy who trained pigs to rustle up pheasants. It was good, but after one year, the pigs are too big. They’re 300 pounds in 6 months. It’s not like you can lift them and put them in the truck to go hunting.”

Along with the newborn piglets, there were also three 21-day-old pigs that people could interact with.

“They’re becoming less shy,” Elder said. “They’re getting used to people.”

Brody Lozinski, Carson Javers and Kyler Lozinski were among those who especially enjoyed handling the weaned pigs.

Many FFA members were on hand to help with all of the daily activities associated with the Enrichment Center. Marshall FFA member Ben Neuman said he’d be helping throughout the entire fair.

“It’s getting better than when we started,” Neuman said about the Center they help run. “This is the third year we’ve done this.”

Two baby calves were also on site.

“The calves are a couple of days old,” Marshall FFA member Mary Sundquist said. “We feed them three times a day. Most farmers do that twice a day, but we do three times. I like the calves the best.”

Sundquist was among others who helped feed and care for the calves.

“I like explaining to others how to care for them,” she said. “My friend has bottle calves right now and I help with that.”

Marshall FFA member Kaylee Hoflock had to hold on tight to the large bottle of milk when she was trying to feed the young, but strong Holstein.

“The biggest challenge is when they charge the bottle,” Hoflock said. “It’s fun, though. This is my first time feeding calves (this year). I fed them last year. The one I kept feeding and walking got playful.”

Sundquist said the Marshall FFA chapter had between 30-40 members. They’re assisted at the fair by area chapters.

“Lakeview was here to help (on Thursday),” Sundquist said. “Tracy isn’t here this year. But Minneota will be helping on Saturday. Minneota also helped set up (Wednesday).”

Sundquist noted that fair board vice president Kary Wichmann and Silly Miss Tilly (Amber Corbett), a balloon artist, were in charge of assembling the balloon grain bin.

“Silly Miss Tilly and Kary helped set up the grain bin,” Sundquist said. “Next year, they want to have a walk-through barn made with balloons.”

Sundquist has helped at the fair all three years. During that time, she’s seen additions made to the Ralco Enrichment Center experience.

“I think this year has been the easiest and the best,” she said. “The milking cow is new and so are the bees. Silly Miss Tilly also did a good job making balloon animals for the day care kids.”

This year marks the first that Marshall area day cares were invited to the Ralco Enrichment Center.

“That’s another cool thing we set up this year,” Wichmann said. “I’m the organizer, but with a lot of help. Gary Erdman was the ramrod for (connecting with the day cares). We had about 80 kids on Thursday and we expected about 200 on Friday. It went well. Day cares are excited about it. One even went and made T-shirts for all the kids with their photos on it.”

Along with Farm to Fork samples of products raised on local farms, there were goats and bunnies to see, pictures to color, corn to play in and people to interact with at the Center.

“My favorite part is meeting people,” Marshall FFA member Jarret Beebout said.