Wrestling with pigs: Demonstrators protest pig scramble at Deerfield Fair

  • Stefania Nobile of Bedford and Meg Hurley of Claremont protest pig scrambles outside the Deerfield Fair on its opening day Thursday. LOLA DUFFORT / Monitor staff

  • Aidan Burwell, 11, of Derry grabs the hind leg of a piglet at the Deerfield Fair pig scramble Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor file

  • Christina Snyder protests outside the gates of the Deerfield Fair with a person dressed as a pig who refused to be identified Wednesday.

Monitor staff
Published: 9/28/2017 11:44:30 PM

Under clear blue skies, a banner crowd turned out for the first day of the Deerfield Fair on Thursday. For many, it was a day of wholesome fun, spent eating cotton candy and watching cattle-pulls or pumpkin weigh-offs.

But for a group of animal rights activists who protested at the event’s gates, the day’s events were the site of abuse, pain – even terror.

At issue is the pig scramble, an event where children chase piglets and, one-handed, catch and drop them into a burlap sack. Scrambles are popular mainstays at many agricultural fairs, and in Deerfield they’ve been held for 34 years.

Scrambles have also increasingly attracted the ire of animal rights activists, who say the practice terrifies the pigs and can physically hurt them.

Kristina Snyder, a Chester resident, started an online petition to stop the Deerfield scramble. It garnered about 110,000 signatures, about 2,000 from New Hampshire. When organizers said they didn’t plan to cancel the event, Snyder reached out on Facebook and organized a small demonstration.

The group of roughly two dozen who gathered Thursday came from across the state and New England. Many had gone to animal rights protests before – at SeaWorld, Ringling Brothers circus, even at the strolling of the heifers in Brattleboro, Vt.

Meg Hurley came from Claremont, toting hand-painted signs. “Where’s the fun in animal cruelty?” one asked.

“I don’t believe that humans have the right to use animals for fun or fashion or food,” she said. “They’re somebody’s babies who are being terrorized. I don’t know what’s fun or interesting about that. And it’s certainly not equal.”

Fair organizers argue the pig scramble has been cleared by the state veterinarian and follows a strict set of rules designed to keep the pigs safe. Kids are disqualified if they grab an animal by its ears, tail or front legs.

Susan Martel has been the announcer for the scramble since it started at the Deerfield Fair. She wasn’t happy about the protest.

“I wasn’t emotional because of the protestors. I’m more emotional about the farmer – that people want to take away their freedom,” she told reporters after the event had wrapped up. “I totally think there’s a movement that wants to take away the freedom of people to have animals.”

People have objected to the pig scramble in the past, Martel said. But they aired their grievances differently.

“The difference between the protestors that were then, and the protestors that are now – they’ll come talk to me face to face. These protestors did it through the Web. Through 110,000 strong signatures. From Japan, California – ...”

Don Wyman, the president of the fair, cut in: “Bangladesh.”

For Martel and Wyman, the scramble is also an important agricultural tradition. It’s also an easy way for children to be introduced to animal husbandry – kids who successfully catch a pig can take it home for free. Martel recounted the story of one family whose child caught a piglet.

“Because of that pig that they caught, the mother said she cannot even comprehend the turn-around of the attitude of her children, how it tied the family together,” she said.

Denise Muccioli of Nashua has a slightly different perspective than the other animal rights activists who came to protest on Thursday. She has a degree in applied animal science, and she worked for a long time in agriculture through the University of New Hampshire.

Muccioli even used to show horses at the Deerfield Fair, she said. But she started boycotting when she found out about the scramble.

She doesn’t work in agriculture anymore, and she said she’s not a fan of animal husbandry – but she still thinks it can be done right. And the pig scramble, she said, teaches children that animals are “just objects to do with as you will.”

“If you’re going to eat a pig – which I don’t – but if you’re going to eat a pig, it can still be raised humanely, it can be handled humanely, it can be slaughtered humanely,” she said.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)

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