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Pigs run wild for cookie prizes at Gregg County Fair

By Becky Bell
Sept. 14, 2017 at 12:06 a.m.
Updated Sept. 14, 2017 at 6:04 p.m.

Racing swine circle the track Wednesday at the Emerson Farms Pig Races  at the Gregg County Fair.

When you think of a fast animal, pigs probably don't come to mind.

But when you dangle the promise of an iced oatmeal cookie to the winner of a race, that speeds things up a little, or at least, that is the case at the Gregg County Fair's pig races each year.

"Our pig races have been a highlight of the fair for a long time, like 20 years-plus," said Billy Clay, who has managed the fair for the past 34 years.

The porkers that race come from Emerson Farms in Summerdale, Alabama, near Gulf Shores.

The racers have all kinds of names such as Shakin' Bacon, Snoop Hoggy Hog, Ham-a-Montana, Britney Spare Ribs, David Letterham, Christina Hoguilera, Notorious P.I.G. and Boston Buttbieber.

Nathan Tidwell, whose stage name is Porkchop, plays the role of the announcer.

Tidwell has been a part of a pig racing show since he was 14. So, after 30 years, he has a feeding trough worth of information about pigs.

Even though those watching the race don't know the result, one pig always seems to win.

"It's just like life, the first one gets the whole cookie and the other gets the crumbs," Tidwell said with a grin. "No, but they all get cookies."

Another bit of trivia about pigs — they might mistake your finger for an iced oatmeal cookie, he said.

They bite.

"It is very important to remember that pigs bite. I don't care how nice they are; they bite," Tidwell said.

But not getting to pet the pigs didn't seem to deter the crowd from enjoying the theatrics of Tidwell as he wooed the crowd with songs like, "Bad to the Bone." Before the second race, he had the crowds call the pigs by yelling "sooie." He also thanked the sponsors of the events, Jake's Feed.

Kathy Woods, who was working at the nearby T Pops Concession, came over to watch the race and said it brought a smile to her face.

"We used to raise pigs and (Tidwell/Porkchop) makes it so funny," Woods said.

Her grandson Jamie Jones was one of the loudest in the crowd cheering the pigs on as they hustled around the sawdust-covered track as soon as the chute doors raised and they heard the bugle.

Another possible surprise to some is how smart pigs are, ranking as the fifth-smartest animal in the world.

"They are smarter than dogs," he said. "It only takes us a week to train them. When they are shown something, they remember."

Tim Emerson, owner of Emerson Farms, plays the role of Hambones during the race and is the one who gets the pigs into the chute so they can run. He said he is in the business because of the kick people get out of races.

"Just to see people have fun. It doesn't matter if they are a man, woman or child, white or black, children or grownups, 8 to 80, they just have fun and it takes the tension out of the world. It's just an escape," Emerson said.

The pigs will next travel to race in southern Mississippi and then go to fairs all over the United States, making their way as far up north as the outskirts of Boston.

And listen up, animal lovers, the pigs that race do not have an ill fate. They are not going to wind up on someone's breakfast plate. When the pigs get too large to race, they go back to the farm in Summerdale and spend the rest of their lives eating and relaxing and making future pigs for future pig races.

"My little girl would have a fit if anything happened to them," Emerson said. "Emily, 8, and Braxton, 12, know all their names, and they get to feed them. They have chores like everyone else."

So if you're in the mood to see something unusual, check out the pig races at the 68th Gregg County Fair that runs through Saturday. Just listen for the bugle to sound.

Just for fun, here's a video of some goats at the Gregg County Fair.

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