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1,020-Pound Pig a Big Attraction at Fair

Organizers of the four-day San Fernando Valley event are hoping the obese oinker contributes to fat numbers at the gate.

June 04, 2004|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

Billed as the world's largest porker, Harley the 1,020-pound pig reigns as this year's star attraction at the San Fernando Valley Fair.

The divine swine travels the West Coast fair circuit, amusing hundreds of onlookers fascinated by Harley's rolls of fat, gigantic girth and occasional snorts.

But Harley is a celebrity who gets little respect. Usually, people laugh at him for being fat -- or imagine a portion of Harley on a plate next to scrambled eggs and toast.

"He's no Babe," snickered Los Angeles Police Officer Noah Nichols while patrolling the fair. "I've never seen a pig this big."

Truth is, Harley's weight doesn't tip the scale enough to be the world's top hog.

The Valley's prized porcine is Atkins lean compared with the 2,552-pounder listed as the largest pig of all time in the Guinness Book of World Records.

And with 860 million hog farms worldwide, who knows whether burlier boars roam in Iowa, France or China?

Ham fans would be disappointed to learn that the gut-busting guzzler is not even worthy of eating.

The average hog on its way to the slaughterhouse is 6 months old and weighs 250 pounds; of that, about three-fourths is processed as bacon, sausage and other pork products.

"More than likely, [Harley] is all fat," said Lesa Eidman, executive director of the California Pork Producers Assn. in Sacramento. "It's nothing a true pork producer would buy."

Still, fair organizers hope the floppy-eared, obese oinker will boost attendance at the four-day event, which began Thursday and is expected to attract 60,000 people to the Hansen Dam Recreation Area in Lake View Terrace.

Although Harley isn't the world's fattest, those who work with hogs agree that Harley is one big pig.

"One thousand pounds? That's pushing it," said Charlene Moore, a coordinator for the UC Cooperative Extension's agricultural department. "That's pretty dang big."

Like humans, adult hogs vary in size depending on genetics, breed and behavior. The average sow weighs between 300 and 450 pounds. Male pigs are more avoirdupois, hitting 350 to 500 pounds.

And like humans, pigs often weigh more than they should. "Boars especially can get very, very large," said Moore, whose Palmdale neighbor owns an 800-pound pig.

Harley achieved his half-ton heft without hormones, while breeding on a Wisconsin farm. When his work was done, Harley's owner sold him for an undisclosed amount to Outdoor Exhibits in Bradenton, Fla., which cares for super-sized swine, steer and horses, displaying the animals at fairs.

The fair's portly prince commands attention for doing nothing more than sleeping and eating. The curious pay 50 cents to laugh or gasp at Harley's expense.

"It's sickening," said Sue Parkinson, founder of Lil' Orphan Hammies, a swine sanctuary in Solvang.

Companies such as Outdoor Exhibits "overfeed pigs, give them no exercise and make them stay trapped in a trailer all day," Parkinson said. "Pigs are very intelligent animals. They don't like those conditions."

Harley's caretaker, Steve Frabott, said there was no need to pity the pig.

"We give our animals nothing but love and care," he said. "They live long, happy lives."

A 5-year-old Duroc breed, Harley adheres to a strict diet of cracked corn and high-protein pig feed. "We'd never give him slop," Frabott said with a tone of disgust. For four months in the summer, Harley travels the West Coast in a mobile pigpen, nestled in pine shavings with a high-powered fan blowing on his reddish skin.

He spends the rest of his time in Florida, basking in a pen four times larger than his mobile pen, which Frabott said was roughly 12 feet deep and 8 feet wide.

"Basically, he just gets to be a big, happy pig," he said.

Harley's a boar whose presence cheers others. At first glance, Severyn Aszkenazy laughed at the pig, joking with a friend that Harley should go on the Subway restaurant diet. But after a few minutes staring at the sweet, sleeping swine, his thoughts turned tender.

"I'm not looking at him as food," Aszkenazy said. "I'm looking at him as a friend."

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