Boy wins a pig in essay contest; animal becomes beloved family pet

WORTHINGTON, Minn. -- When Dustin John wrote an essay earlier this year explaining why he would like to win a pig and how he would care for it, he had no idea that once the pig set foot on their farm, she would instantly become a family pet.

Cheyenna, Dustin and Damon John pose with Teresa, the pig Dustin won earlier this year by writing an essay about why he’d like to own a pig and how he would care for it. The pig quickly became a family project — and a family pet. Julie Buntjer/Forum News Service

WORTHINGTON, Minn. - When Dustin John wrote an essay earlier this year explaining why he would like to win a pig and how he would care for it, he had no idea that once the pig set foot on their farm, she would instantly become a family pet.

In fact, when the 17-year-old picked up his 50-pound gilt from essay sponsors and pig donors Dale and Kathy Solt in late April, he hadn’t even intended to give the girl a name.

That wasn’t OK with Dustin’s brothers and sister.

One night over supper at their rural Lismore home, the kids began shouting out name possibilities. It was 15-year-old Dakota who suggested Teresa, and after considering it briefly, Dustin offered his approval.

Teresa won her way into the hearts of the family members in a multitude of ways - or perhaps it was the 4-H family who earned their way into her heart.


After all, a pig has to be grateful to its owners for an endless buffet of food and drink. A good supply of marshmallows doesn’t hurt either.

Yes, you read that right - marshmallows.

Dakota said it was a friend of his father’s who suggested the kids bribe the pig with the fluffy, sugary treats.

Some of those marshmallows might explain how Teresa expanded to a whopping 303 pounds within a matter of months. She was officially weighed Wednesday morning during livestock check-in at the Nobles County Fair.

Teresa will flaunt her fanny (hey, that’s the ham!) before the judge and onlookers during the 4-H swine show at 8 a.m. today when Dustin’s 8-year-old brother, Damon, exhibits her in the Cloverbud Swine Show. Later in the morning, Dustin will show her again during the traditional 4-H swine show.

The family is hoping she does well enough to earn a trip to the Minnesota State Fair later this month. That might explain why they are keeping some secrets about Teresa’s tender loving care these past few months. Although Damon wanted to talk about why Teresa’s skin is so soft and smooth, Dustin said that needed to remain top-secret. Then Damon said they also shouldn’t share Teresa’s special ration - well, other than the marshmallows anyway.

When Teresa stepped off the trailer Tuesday night at the fairgrounds, Damon started rubbing her belly. Oftentimes, she rolls onto her side to soak up the attention, the family said.

“I would consider her part of our family,” shared Damon with a grin. He has also mastered the oinking sound “maybe just a little too much.”


“He doesn’t have a pet dog, so she takes on the role of a pet dog,” added mom, Shelley John.

Ever since Teresa went to live with the John family, the Solts have kept close tabs on how the adventure was going. Dale had initially assigned each of the John kids a job in taking care of the pig, and would often check in with Dustin to see how she was progressing. He even taught Dustin and Damon the proper way to guide Teresa in the show ring.

While Teresa is a happy, healthy pig today, there were a couple of bumps along the way, said Dustin.

First, Teresa got sick, and Dustin had to call Dale for some advice on her treatment. Everyone was worried.

“Everyone in the family thought she was going to die - we were all scared,” Dustin said. “She’s a pet.”

When that crisis was averted, they faced an even greater one - a barn fire.

“The roof started on fire … so Teresa got to meet everyone on the Lismore and Wilmont fire departments,” said Dustin.

That happened on June 6.


“Teresa had to go and live over at Grandpa and Grandma’s for a week and a half, two weeks, so we could get our barn back in order again and Teresa could come home,” he added. “Especially, that really pulled our family together. Teresa means a lot to all of us.

“Teresa’s taught our whole family how to come together and get stuff done when it needs to be,” Dustin said.

Raising Teresa has truly been a family project, from doing chores to providing and receiving entertainment from the pig. (Teresa has even given rides around the farmyard to Damon, who has climbed on her back more than a couple times.)

She’s also provided lessons in responsibility.

“I learned that I should wake up a little earlier to do chores in the morning,” said Dustin’s sister, Cheyenna.

“We realized what chores are - every morning and every night,” added Dustin.

“It was a great experience,” chimed in Dakota. “I would like to show a pig for myself. That would be fun.”

After today’s show, the family will know if Teresa gets to go to the Minnesota State Fair as a breeding gilt. After that, they aren’t sure yet what her future is. Their options are to keep her, have her bred and raise piglets, or sell her to someone who would use her as breeding stock.

“That way she doesn’t have to go to Swift (JBS),” said Cheyenna.

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