It was an invitation to a livestock show that turned the McNealys into a pig family. Watching her friend parade around a show ring with a pig, 9-year-old Ella McNealy was hooked, and she soon convinced her parents to let her start showing pigs.
There was a definite learning curve for the Transylvania County family. Mom, Heather, grew up around horses, not pigs. But the whole family soon got behind Ella’s newfound hobby, and they all found a love for pigs. Little brother Denver even wanted to get in on the fun and started showing pigs, too.
In 2018, Ella took home five of the nine top prizes at the Mountain State Fair Junior Market Swine Show. She won the Grand champion and Got to Be NC champion junior market swine, Grand champion and Got to Be NC champion junior breeding gilt and the Supreme champion swine.
With her handling experience, and the knowledge that the pigs would one day become meat, Ella saw an opportunity. She used her winnings from the fair to buy a used freezer and started selling pork through her business, Ella’s Championship Pork.
“A livestock project is one of the best ways to teach children where their food comes from,” explains Eve Honeycutt, Livestock Extension Agent in Lenoir and Greene counties. “They learn how to responsibility raise an animal and provide for its daily needs. This forms a bond, which can be tough when it comes time to sell the animal.
“However, that’s what really solidifies the project. The child learns how much farmers care for their animals, and truly respect their animal for providing food for so many people. It’s a wonderful way to connect our future generations to their food supply.”
Just because Ella knew what she wanted to do didn’t mean it was easy when it came time to send the animals to the processing plant for the first time. “It was harder than she thought it would be,” said Heather. “We finally decided to donate the first pig to the Food Bank to make it a little easier.” After watching that pig leave for a good cause, Ella was ready to let go of the other pigs.
The pigs are taken to a processing plant and the family gets the finished, packaged product to sell to their customers.
Ella and her mom became registered meat handlers through the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Meat and Poultry Inspection Division so that they could store and sell their finished product themselves.
At the Mountain State Fair in September, Ella was excited about coming to the N.C. State Fair. “It’s the biggest show we go to and it’s got the most competition. And you have to be really good to have any competition.”
The pig shows take place on Friday, Oct. 18, in the Kelley Building.