Triplets officially place Hilton Head Island high on the hog

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comOctober 22, 2013 

Triplets Ret, Avery and Brady Harrell of Hilton Head Island with one of their prize hogs and judge John Sandifer at the S.C. State Fair in Columbia.

Hilton Head Island is known for championship golf and tennis. Now it can claim three champions in the hog-raising competition at last week's S.C. State Fair.

The winners -- 10-year-old triplets Avery, Brady and Rett Harrell of Windmill Harbour -- were led by Avery's grand champion trophy.

Their mother, Shelly Herndon Harrell, sees great value for her children in the competition. But it's especially true for Avery, whose Down syndrome doesn't offer her as many level playing fields as other children get.

"People laughed at us when they saw on the entry forms that our home town was Hilton Head Island," Shelly Harrell said, "until they saw the pigs. I guess they thought we'd bring pigs in rhinestone collars or something."

Farm life runs deep in the family's genes. The L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms in Toombs County, Ga., was started by Shelly's uncle with one small tractor in the late 1970s. Now it produces 500 acres of Vidalia sweet onions, 900 acres of sweet corn (white, yellow, and bi-color), 500 acres of leafy green vegetables (collards, mustard, turnips and kale) and 200 acres of sweet potatoes under the Herndon Country Farms label.

The show pigs -- castrated males called barrows -- were barn raised in Vidalia, where the children spent all summer grooming them, walking them and training them. After they started fifth grade at Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School in August, they made the two-hour jaunt to Vidalia every weekend after the boys' Saturday-morning soccer games.

Shelly moved here three years ago as physician relations director at Hilton Head Hospital. She finds it close enough for the children to enjoy their roots in the soil, and to know their cousins and her parents, Bruce and Brenda Herndon.

"Working with the animals teaches them responsibility and accountability," Shelly said. They learn science and how to present themselves in public. They learn that chores come first.

Jesse Eargle of Orangeburg is superintendent of the swine competition at the State Fair and a retired Clemson Extension Service regional director. He said the competitors are part of the 4-H program, whose motto is "make the best better."

"The object of the whole process is to teach life skills," he said. "How to work with one another, how to work with an animal, how to do a civic project."

Shelly said Avery experiences a joy strutting in the ring with her pig that shows up in only one other setting -- the saddle. She participates in the Heroes on Horseback program in Bluffton and the Wish Upon a Horse program at Lawton Stables in Sea Pines. She won three ribbons riding English in last year's S.C. Special Olympics.

Even if it's not championship tennis, they might call that love.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale on Twitter at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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