Evan Bennett has wanted to be in a pig scramble since he was four years old. And now that he’s nine, it feels like he’s been waiting pretty much forever.
He’s watched two of his older brothers get in a pen at the Deerfield Fair, chasing piglets in front of big crowds, trying to shove them into burlap sacks.
This year, Evan finally got his chance. But while he and five other kids scrambled after black, spotted piglets, protesters from around New England greeted fair visitors with signs that called the event “torture” and “animal abuse.”
It was the first time fair organizers recall ever seeing protestors at the fair gates, though they’ve heard rumblings about the decades-old tradition that involves kids chasing piglets around a pen, grabbing them by the hind legs and pulling them into burlap sacks.
Fair organizers say the event comes from old farming techniques - when you’ve gotta separate piglets from their mothers, you’ve got to grab them by the hind legs.
Denise Muccioli drove in from Nashua with a sign taped to her back that read “Save the Piggies.” She studied agriculture and animal science at the University of New Hampshire, and she called the scrambles “torture” for pigs.
“My big beef also -- well, pardon the pun, but my big beef is it’s sending the wrong message to children that animals are toys, animals are to be tormented, they’re not to be respected,” Muccioli said.
The protest was organized on Facebook, along with an online petition that at last check had over 111,000 signatures.
Susan Martel runs the pig scramble. She said the fair has never and would never hurt a pig - and they’d disqualify a kid for trying to grab a piglet incorrectly.
Martel sees the event as much larger than a few days of entertainment.
“Kids need agriculture in their life,” she said.
The winners of the pig scramble get to take their piglets home with them, and Martel has many stories of former scramble participants who joined 4H, or raised more pigs after their experience.
As for Evan Bennett, he’s now the third Bennett sibling - of thirteen - to bring home a pig from the fair. He said they named one of the first ones Porky, but he hasn’t settled on a name for his yet.
His dad, Norm Bennett, said he’s not a farmer, so at first, he wasn’t too keen on having pigs.
But when asked, he said his kids have gotten two things out of the experience: “Responsibility and bacon,” Bennett laughed.