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For pro swine handler, it’s all about family bonding

Meet the Future: Macy Mortensen

Name: Macy Mortensen

School/grade level: Eighth grade, Kent City Middle School

Passion: Raising, breeding and showing pigs

Kent City — Animals are the family business for Macy Mortensen — her father owns a livestock company — but from a young age, Macy gravitated toward the pigs in the barn. Now in eighth grade and with a handful of her own pigs to care for, she’s become a pro handler, giving her show pigs a spa-like experience that rivals human day spas.

When did showing pigs become something you were interested in, and what does it involve? Macy first got a pig of her very own to care for when she was 3, and she has spent her childhood working alongside her dad to breed, take care of and show the pigs that they raise together. She often tags along with her father on his trips to Indiana, where his company both shows and auctions pigs for sale, and has learned the ins and outs of the industry from him and his business partners. 

Young Macy shows a pig in one of her very first competitions (courtesy)

“There’s two different types of showing: breed and showmanship,” Macy explained. “Showmanship is where the judge looks at how you trained your pig, how you and your pig react to commands and how you react to the judge. And then for breed, (the judge) looks at the build (of the pig), the muscle, the way they look, all that.” 

Macy currently owns three pigs of her own and hopes to add two or three more to the mix at some point. The process of raising a pig for show is an elaborate one involving blow dryers, temperature-controlled water and even tanning beds. 

“For show pigs, we have Hamps (Hampshire pigs), a certain breed that is darker (in color)” she said. “They’re pretty black — it really depends on their markings — but for the show you want their black to be really, really black, because that’s what the judges look for. So with the tanning bed, it helps make their skin darker.”  

Before her pigs go outside, Macy sprays them with a special concoction that helps the pig’s skin absorb sunlight and tan naturally. After grazing outside for a while, she takes them inside the barn to clean up: “We wash off the spray and give (the pigs) a good wash; then we have a special blow dryer for them that helps their fur grow, so we blow-dry them and brush it out. Then we put them in their tanning bed with their food so that they can eat while they get tanned. … And if it’s winter, we have a system that can give them hot water so that they don’t get cold.” 

A few related accomplishments: When she was very young, one of Macy’s pigs earned a Grand Champion award at a show in Indiana. Macy later took some time away from showing pigs, but is happy to be back at it now.

“I’m really proud of how I got back into (showing pigs),” she said. “I got this really, really ugly pig from my dad’s company, and she was just for practice. I practiced on her all summer and really worked hard with her to get better.”

She said that experience helped her this winter at the 2024 Breeders Cup show, with a pig who perhaps wasn’t quite show-ready: “(The pig) was great, but she was way overweight and she walked really slow … she was just really big. And then she got third in her class, which I’m really proud of.” 

What is your favorite part of working with pigs? “Probably getting to bond with my dad over it. I get to go on road trips with him and deliver pigs and go to sales with him. It’s just something that we’ve always done together.” 

Do you plan to pursue this professionally? Macy plans to have her own company that breeds show pigs. 

“I want to go to (Michigan State University) like my dad did. He majored in animal science, but I want to have a major in marketing and get my minor in animal science so that I can market my own pig company. That way I can do the sales job part of it and also the show pig job, so that I can breed the pigs.” 

The biggest lesson you have learned from your involvement in this is… “Patience. I’m not a very patient person, but when it comes to the show pigs, they’re little and they’re scared when they go outside, so you just gotta be really gentle with them. You have to have patience because they probably don’t know what’s going on most of the time, so you have to be patient and help them learn. It’s like a baby, but a pig — you’ve got to make sure they feel comfortable and safe with you, and it just takes time.”

A selfie of Macy with one of her young pigs (courtesy)

Other hobbies/interests: Macy used to show dogs with her mom, “but I like the pig world way better than the dog world,” she said. “With dog shows, it’s all about competition and people always have drama. But with pig shows, it’s not as competitive and it’s like you’re doing this fun thing with your friends. … Everyone’s just nicer in the pig world.”

One day, she also hopes to show sheep: “They’re cute and I think it’d be fun to show them. I don’t think my dad’s really up for it, though. He doesn’t seem like a sheep person.” 

Read more from Kent City: 
Suburban-rural swap illustrates similarities, differences between high schools
Phalanx formations teach an ancient lesson in human ingenuity

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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