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Eli Kicklighter is a good listener.
For the last several months, Eli he has been working side-by-side with Andrew Jones on pig projects in preparation for the upcoming Wilson County 4-H Livestock Show and Sale.
Eli, 9, is in his first year, while Andrew, 18, is in his ninth. Both are members of the Rock Ridge 4-H Club.
“Eli’s a smart boy,” said Randy Jones, Andrew’s father. “He learns fast. You can tell.”
Eli’s mother, Rebecca Kicklighter of the Rock Ridge community, said Randy and Andrew have actually mentored Eli.
“Eli’s dad passed away 10 months ago, so this is man time, and he has learned lots with his animals and how to be a gentleman as well as take care of the pigs,” Kicklighter said.
Kicklighter said the Jones family has done an outstanding job helping her son with his project.
“The Jones family has quite literally opened their doors to Eli and invited him on this adventure of raising hogs and participating at this level in the 4-H program,” said Jess Anderson, extension agent for livestock at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County. “Andrew has been a great mentor for Eli, not only showing him the mechanics of raising and showing a hog, but the life skills that go with it.”
Eli has spent time each Saturday at the pig parlor set up in the Joneses’ backyard. That’s where the listening comes into play.
“He can tell you verbatim what Andrew says every Saturday, every weekend,” Kicklighter said. “He pays attention.”
Eli, who raised a chicken for last year’s Wilson County 4-H Poultry Show and Auction, has enjoyed converting to pigs for the livestock show and sale.
Eli said he is not nervous because he has worked right alongside Andrew.
“I have learned that you need to keep their head up,” Eli said. “You need to be not too close and not to far from the judge. You want the judge to see your pig. You don’t want to be in between the judge and your pig. When you are in the pen, if your pig runs off, don’t run after it, just calmly walk over them and get them to where you want him to go. You keep your eyes on the judge, too. The judge may move on you. They will walk around and look at the other ones, but you want them to look at you specifically.
“The main rule is to pretty much get penned, and then you are pretty much in.”
Themes for 4-H club members are responsibility, hard work and dedication.
“The Joneses are really exemplifying the soft skills that we also encourage through 4-H like empathy, teamwork and sharing,” Anderson said. “They recognized what this program has meant for Andrew and saw an opportunity to step in and do something that will have an impact on Eli for years to come. You can’t ask for a better example of what we hope to come out of the 4-H program.”
Eli wants to be a marine biologist when he grows up
“You get to do stuff with the sea animals,” Eli said. “My favorite animal is actually a shark.”
Through his experiences in life, Andrew has come to understand the ways of the local church and wants to become a pastor. The family is in the congregation at Tabernacle Baptist Church on Airport Road.
“I have always been involved in my church, and I have always wanted to serve other people,” Andrew said. “My favorite thing to do in life is meet people and build relationships with other people.”
Andrew admits to occasionally ministering to his hogs when that may be necessary.
“I think over the years you get a little desperate and at times you say, ‘Dear Lord, help this pig to win. Help this pig to get healthy so we can win,’” Andrew said. “We have had a couple of pigs that came down with different stomach bugs or something in their lungs. We have obviously treated that with different medicines. Sometimes it has worked. Sometimes not as much as we wanted. You pray harder.”
Andrew is raising two pigs named Billy and Bella, while Eli’s pig is named Libby Lou.
“I have learned over the years that a pig is just as smart as a 3-year-old,” Andrew said. “When you are around them long enough, you begin to realize that’s true.”
Andrew has watched the pigs learn how to open doors.
“They know how to get in where they want to get in and how to get out where they want to get out,” Andrew said.
For example, he said the pigs know that if you make a kissing sound, they are about to get a vanilla cookie.
Andrew, a senior at Hunt High School, remembers starting out his first year.
“We really didn’t have a whole lot of equipment and different facilities to really raise a pig, but over the years we have added different things including a scale,” Andrew said. “We’ve learned how to feed a pig. We’ve learned how to grow a pig in a way that last year we ended up winning grand champion. It has been an experience that teaches responsibility and leadership, but mostly just to have fun having different work here to raise a pig.”
Eli and Andrew have been working with their pigs since December to prepare for the show. The sale of the animals will go toward the project and to pay for their college education.
“The sale certainly helps college funds,” Andrew said. “We have been saving up over the years. I wouldn’t say it’s a huge amount, but it’s been very, very well appreciated throughout the years and will certainly help in the future.”
Buyers are definitely investing in the future of Wilson County children and teens.
“It is a good family project working together on it,” said Randy Jones. “You can’t stress the family enough on it.”
“We certainly appreciate the community support,” Anderson said. “There’s lot of activities going on over the two days, so just come out to the Wilson County Fairgrounds and take a look. You will see all of our young people who are participating in the events that are going on.”
The Wilson County 4-H Livestock Show and Sale begins Wednesday morning at the Wilson County Fairgrounds. Sale day is Thursday, with livestock being shown all day, and the big sale at 7:30 p.m.
For more information on the Wilson County 4-H Livestock Show and Sale, call 252-237-0111 or visit https://.wilson.ces.ncsu.edu.