By LIZ HARRELSON
Some Mother Lode Fair attendees this weekend had front-row seats for two acts of nature birth and death.
Emily Hamilton, 10, of Tuolumne was planning to show her 4-H projects, including Sierra, a sow due to farrow, or give birth, for the first time during the fair.
But Sierra had to be put down after bearing four piglets over 36 grueling hours and running a temperature of 108 degrees.
"Pretty much, she was dying," Emily's father, Ron Hamilton, said. "I didn't want her to suffer."
Though Sierra and some of her piglets died, the Hamiltons got three little pink survivors: Snap, Crackle and Pop.
"Losing Sierra was difficult," Emily said. "But getting the three piglets was better."
Emily Hamilton ended the fair with more than that, though.
'The cycle of life'
Though many 4-H and Future Farmers of America members raise animals for slaughter, sudden illness and death can be a shock.
"It doesn't happen very often," said Patti McEwen, a veterinary technician who helped the Hamiltons with the piglets' birth.
Yet when it does, McEwen said, "it's always etched indelibly in the children's minds."
Jennifer Mitchell, a 4-H program coordinator for Calaveras county, stressed the importance of preparing the kids for animals' unexpected deaths.
"Explain to them that they're not bad parents, that's just the cycle of life," Mitchell said. "The bottom line is that these things happen. That's reality. That's life. It could happen to any animal."
Programs like 4-H are designed to teach kids about raising animals, running a business and showmanship. But they also require kids to spend a lot of time with the animals.
"A lot of the little kids, as they sell their animals, they really don't want to let them go. They become their pets, their friends," said Tim McEwen, a local 4-H leader and Patti McEwen's husband.
Tim McEwen said that in his experience, very few project swine die unexpectedly throughout the raising process.