When a 450 pound sow in the Toyota Arena started acting agitated on Sunday, fairgoers were worried that something was wrong.
But her owner, Sandy Sweitzer, knew the animal was simply showing signs she was ready to go into labor.
Sure enough, the sow started popping out piglets at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, and by 12:30 in the afternoon she had given birth to 11 slimy piglets.
"It's all very natural for them," said Sweitzer, explaining how the sow can labor without any assistance or medication.
Sows typically have a 114 day gestation period. This one was due on Saturday and started delivering on Monday.
"They pretty much work like clockwork," Sweitzer said. "She's not really sleeping, she's just in labor mode.
Labor and delivery for sows lasts anywhere from two to three hours, so this sow was right on target, she said.
The oohs and ahhs and expressions of shock from the audiences are fun for Sweitzer to observe as someone who has farmed her entire life.
"I think it's pretty gross. I just watched that cow give birth too," said Shylee Grabosch, 14, of West York.
Shylee was at the fair with her grandfather, Jim Bazell, who lives in Iowa.
"This is wonderful," Bazell said, adding that he has never seen an animal birthing center at any of the fairs in Iowa.
"It was cool," said Shannon Kelly, who was watching the animals with her sister Erin, 10, and their mom, Kim Kelly, of Conewago Township.
The girls have had experience raising fawns, piglets and goats at their home so they weren't disgusted at all as they watched the video of the live birth being projected on the large screen in the Toyota Arena.
Some people watching tend to worry about the piglets, but Sweitzer said they are "very durable" and can handle just about anything - except their mom sitting on them.
Crowds also grow concerned as they watched the piglets try to wiggle free from the umbilical cord, but Sweitzer said letting the cord fall off naturally is better than cutting it, which leads to a lot of bleeding.
"People think they're cute now, but they don't stay cute," she laughed.
Pigs grow very fast, weighing three to four pounds at birth and ten pounds or more within a week, said Sweitzer.
She and her husband, Terry, have been bringing an animal to the birthing center at the York Fair since the feature was first added the fair in 2010.
"I never know how the sow is going to react," said Sweitzer. "I get nervous because sometimes they won't settle down because of all the people watching, but she did great. She zonked out and she's fine."
Another year they had to draw curtains around the animal because it reacted so adversely to its audience, which helped it to settle down and deliver in peace, she said.
The 11 piglets born at the fair will be sold to another farmer and will not return to the Sweitzers' 750-sow farm in Wellsville, which is a closed confinement farm - meaning that once the animals leave, they do not return to the farm for sanitary reasons.
The Sweitzers' three children, Alysha, 16, Haley, 13, and Lee, 8, will all be showing Angus cattle on Tuesday.
"Pigs are what we do for a livelihood," Sweitzer said. "Showing cattle for 4-H is a hobby."
- Reach Chelsea Shank at 505-5432 or email@example.com