Taylor Creager was ecstatic when the hog she called Everett was named grand champion market hog at the Ohio State Fair last year.
The 11-year-old Wauseon girl had the best market hog at the state fair, beating out more than 1,000 animals. She keeps the championship banner in her bedroom. And Meijer, Inc., bought the animal for $20,000 at the fair's auction. In the open market, it was worth only $94.
Taylor wanted to split some of her $8,000 share with her younger siblings and save the rest for college.
Yesterday, however, she sobbed as she talked about the scandal that has been rumored in the 4-H community for months. Everett was disqualified as champion because of a tiny piece of tissue. Taylor would not be getting her money, and she would have to give back her banner.
The state said Taylor and her family did not intentionally do anything wrong. They probably couldn't have known. But rules are rules.
“It's been handled without any compassion and any thought of our family at all,” Todd Creager, Taylor's father, said from a hog show in Louisville. He said this has hurt his daughter and his reputation in the hog show circles.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced yesterday it was disqualifying Taylor's hog because it had a bit of testicular tissue. Market hogs at the state fair are required to be castrated.
Taylor and her hog were a victim of a simple mistake, and of tough Ohio laws that were enacted after seven of the top 10 steers and the grand champion lamb were tampered with in 1994.
Everett was castrated, but apparently not well enough.
“This exhibitor is innocent of any wrongdoing, but the fact remains the winning hog was ineligible,” Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Fred Dailey said in the news release.
Testicular tissue produces testosterone, which helps hogs grow leaner and more muscular and would give them an edge over barrows, or castrated hogs.
The amount of tissue that was found in Taylor's hog was less than half an ounce, not nearly enough to give the 275-pound hog a competitive advantage, according to Leisa Boley Hellwarth, one of the Creagers' lawyers.
But state veterinarian Dave Glauer said the testicular cells were viable enough to produce testosterone. Apparently when Mr. Creager castrated the 10-day-old pig a bit of testicular tissue - perhaps only a small piece of testicular cord - remained inside the animal.
Mr. Creager said 10 to 15 percent of castrated hogs have a little bit of testicular tissue remaining and the family will appeal the decision in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.
“The rule needs to be changed so this doesn't happen again. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, what they've drug us through,” Mr. Creager said.
Taylor was so devastated she could barely talk. She said her family tried to shield her from the Agriculture Department's questions during the investigation, but yesterday her mother showed her the news release announcing the disqualification.
Taylor, now 12, said she named Everett after her favorite livestock feed salesman, Everett Ricker, who was like a grandpa to her. He died in December.
The family plans to attend the state fair again this year, but only because Taylor's sister, Bailey, is just old enough to compete and already picked out her pigs.
“But this will be the last year,” Mr. Creager said.
Mr. Creager is well-known in hog breeding circles for selling a male breeding hog for $220,000 in 2001, which at the time was the most money that had ever been paid for any hog.
Although Ohio State Fair officials have stood by the Creager family, he said he thinks the Ohio Department of Agriculture's investigation has hurt his name in show-hog circles. This spring he sold about 150 show hogs instead of the more than 200 he sold last year. He would have expected to do far better than last year because he had bred both Taylor's hog and the hog belonging to A.J. Genter of Fulton County that was judged to be the reserve champion.
The disqualification, he said, has devastated Taylor, who had also won the grand champion award at the Ohio State Fair in 2000. She was to receive $8,000 from the sale of champions and the rest of the price paid by the Meijer grocery store chain was to provide prize money for youth winning other awards at the fair.
That system of caps on the amount of money an individual exhibitor can receive from the sale of champions was imposed by the fair in recent years in an effort to reduce cheating that had plagued the fair in the early 1990s.
In 1994, seven steers were found to be contaminated with clenbuterol or vegetable oil, which can enhance livestock appearance. Ten people were convicted on criminal charges. The tampering ring shook the fair community and led to sweeping new laws regarding fair animals, including the one about the testicular tissue.
But those problems, such as young competitors who injected animals with oil and took other steps that made meat inedible, cannot be compared to Taylor's case, Ms. Hellwarth said.
The meat from a hog with a bit of testicular tissue is perfectly safe to eat. And it is impossible to tell, without butchering the animal, whether a bit of testicular tissue remains inside it.
“It's kind of like the pendulum has swung too far,” said Ms. Hellwarth, who showed hogs herself as a youth.
Several years ago the grand champion hog at the Ohio State Fair contained a whole testicle inside its body. That hog was not disqualified, but it had been named champion before the rules were changed.
Rumors of a problem with Taylor's hog have been rampant for months, Frank Parrish, a Williams County show hog breeder and 4-H adviser, said yesterday.
But he said he was confused about why Mr. Dailey waited 10 months to make a ruling. Only the grand champion and reserve grand champion are extensively tested for cheating in the slaughterhouse, he said.
“I will guarantee you that not every bit of testicular tissue is taken out of every barrow,” Mr. Parrish said.