Rainier Cousins Have Goals For Thurston County Fair

thurston county fair
Riley Hanna (left) and Aaron DeLaTorre show some of the pigs from the High Point Family Farm in Rainier.


By Laurie O’Brien

william tuningInvolvement in 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) is a natural for most kids growing up on a farm. Such is the case for Riley Hanna and Aaron DeLaTorre, cousins who have grown up around the High Point Family Farm in Rainier.  Riley’s mom, Tammy, and step-dad, Rob, started the 120-head pig farm in 2008 on family property so that their two older children could participate in FFA.  Now, the 15- and 17-year-old Rainier High School students are continuing the family tradition and will attend the Thurston County Fair at the end of this month with the hopes of adding to their Grand Champion belt buckle collections.

Riley is the younger of the two and will be a sophomore this fall.  Last year he was the Thurston County 4-H Grand Champion for Market Rabbit Pen.  “With a pen of three, it’s a lot harder because you don’t just want three good rabbits; you want three good rabbits that have the same size loin and hind quarters.  They have to look symmetrical,” explains Riley.   “If you get a blue ribbon with a pen, and you go against a fryer rabbit that got a blue ribbon, there’s a 99% chance you’re going to win (grand champion) because with a pen there’s a lot more points you can get than with a single. It’s a lot harder to judge a pen.”

thurston county fair
Cousins Riley Hanna (left) and Aaron DeLaTorre show some of the pigs from the High Point Family Farm in Rainier.

Riley knows rabbits, and choosing three identical ones is easier for him than most kids because he not only shows at the fair, he owns and operates his own breeding program, and sells “fryers” to a long waiting list of customers.

When he first started showing, Riley says he had small rabbits, but then he wanted to try breeding.  His mother says she and her husband told Riley that if he wanted to start breeding, “… it had to be an animal with a purpose.”   The smaller rabbits he started with weren’t marketable, but people and other animals eat rabbit meat, so if he could breed a solid market animal, he could do it.  Selling was a natural progression.  His New Zealand rabbits are cross bred with Californians, so they have both size and a fast growth pattern.   “He currently has one customer that he sells 22 rabbits a month to,” says his proud mom.

Aaron will be a senior this fall at Rainier High School and balances his 4-H and FFA activities with an active sports calendar.  Last year he had the Grand Champion Market Hog at the Thurston County Fair.  It should be noted that his stiffest competition came from his younger cousin who took Reserve Champion in the same category.   Aaron had the edge with hogs though, and in 2012, he also took home top honors for fitting and showing and for an educational poster about his project animal, Ariel.

thurston county fair
Riley Hanna is the defending Thurston County 4-H Grand Champion for the Market Rabbit Pen.

Aaron doesn’t show rabbits, but he has raised other livestock and in 2011 was the Thurston County Fair Reserve Grand Champion for Fitting and Showing Cattle.

“In 4-H, if you want to show at the state fair (in Puyallup each September), you have to bring a spring gilt (earlier in the year),” explains Aaron.  A gilt is a female pig that hasn’t been bred yet.  “You take her, and get her judged, and if she qualifies, then you can take her to state fair to be judged again.”

Because High Point is a working farm, Tammy and Rob don’t allow the boys to bring their animals back after a fair.  The risk of disease spreading through their entire stock is just too great.  Instead, the boys sell their project animals after showing them.

As a result, at the State Fair in Puyallup, the boys compete with FFA rather than 4-H.  Last year Riley took Reserve Champion in three categories: Swine Champion Senior Showman, Rabbit Reserve Champion Senior Showman, and Rabbit Reserve in Show.  This September, he’s hoping to add a state level Grand Champion title to his resume.

At the Northwest Junior Livestock Show held in Puyallup earlier this spring, Aaron was the winner of the carcass contest. “(The judge) performs an ultrasound of an animal to see if they have enough back fat,” he explained.  His hog, Skittles, was judged to be the ideal carcass out of the whole barn.

Puyallup is still a couple months away, so for now, the focus is on the Thurston County Fair and 4-H Competition.  Riley is preparing his rabbits, and both are working with their hogs, Merlin and Morgana, making sure they’re well fed and ready for show.  They hope to repeat as champion and reserve for market hogs, but it’s anyone’s guess as to who has the edge this year.

When asked if they ever get attached to the animals they raise then sell at the fair, Aaron admits that his first 4-H project pig, back in 2009, was the most difficult to part with.  “The very first one I had was Monster Matt.  That was the only time, but I thought, I’d better get used to this because I had a lot of fun, and I want to do this again.”

thurston county fair
The cousins are eyeing additional Grand Champion belt buckles at the 2013 Thurston County Fair.

This year’s Thurston County Fair will be held July 31 – August 4 at the Thurston County Fairgrounds:

3054 Carpenter Road

Lacey, WA 98503


For more information about the fair, click here.

For more information about the 4-H program in Rainier, you can check out their website or contact the Thurston County 4-H Extension Office.


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