It was a week before the 101st Manatee County Fair in Palmetto, and 17-year-old Savannah Schwarz had put in months feeding, grooming, training and bathing her prized swine Da-Rock, or as she called him, Rocky.
Scharwz, a member of Palmetto High School Future Farmers of America, even sent a letter to Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant extending an invitation to the swine show, telling Bryant how FFA “is truly a passion of mine. Each year I strive to better myself and my skills with working with swine.”
Schwarz boasted of her love for Rocky and how much time she spent with him and that Rocky was “perfectly prepared” for the big event. But on New Year’s Day, just days before the fair was to begin, Schwarz found Rocky dead from an apparent snake bite.
“I had been out to see him the night before and he ate good, was wagging his tail and seemed happy,” Schwarz recalled. “It was a pretty sad moment, and when I first found him, it was scary and a shocker. Rocky was different. My friend has a pig, and they were best friends and inseparable. Most pigs don’t really like one another. And Rocky would never try knock me down like a lot of pigs do. He just wanted to stand there next to you or have you pet his belly. And he loved being bathed where most pigs don’t like that either.”
Schwarz said she did separate Rocky from his best friend one time, and Rocky was having none of it.
“He actually broke the water pipe trying to get to him,” Schwarz said.
Schwarz got Rocky at just 50 pounds, and last summer and he grew to 220 by the time the fair rolled around. But it was not to be.
Schwarz wrote another letter to Bryant explaining her situation, but didn’t want anything to stop people from supporting the FFA and 4-H efforts of those students who work so hard to show their animals at the fair.
“I am very devastated, but I won’t have it stop me from finishing my project that I am committed to,” Schwarz wrote to Bryant. “I may not be in the ring showing my swine, but I will be at all the swine events showing my support.”
Bryant was touched by the young lady’s words and read them aloud at a recent city commission meeting. After reading the letter, Bryant said, “It really shows the caliber of the young people in our community. I get letters from students all the time, but I’ve never gotten one like this before.”
Schwarz said once the sadness and shock of losing Rocky passed, she began to realize that all of her hard work would not pay off, but that only made her want to work harder.
“I wasn’t going to let it stop me from being involved,” she said. “Just because I didn’t have a pig didn’t mean I couldn’t be involved and help my FFA chapter and advise them. This was an usual thing. I haven’t heard of this happening before where an animal dies so close to the fair. I realize what happens to them after they get on the trailer after the show, but it’s still a shocker. Truth be told, myself, and I think a lot of others kind of make up a story in your head and pretend they are going somewhere else.”
Schwarz did indeed remain active with her FFA chapter during Thursday’s swine show and will continue to work with her team throughout the fair. She said everything she puts into it is worth it.
“What I get out of this is a lot of personal responsibility,” she said. “You work the whole time and get to feel like, ‘I did this. I woke up early and worked late into the night and sacrificed time with friends because I was working with my swine.’ This is my seventh year and I’m so close to being a senior now. I’m only going to work harder now.”