Gus is a 265-pound Hampshire pig and looks like a giant Double Stuf Oreo cookie. Kenley Connell is an outgoing Lincoln Elementary School third-grader, who is maybe one-third of the size of her pig.
Together, they make quite the team.
Kenley and Gus are gearing up for the ag competitions at the 2014 Florida Strawberry Festival, which they’ve entered for the first time.
“It was just something she wanted to do, and she asked us if she could do it,” her father, Joel Connell, says. “So, we entered her in the drawing, and she was fortunate enough to be drawn. I think there were 200-and-something applicants, and they drew 85 pigs.”
The Connells found Gus, a Hampshire/Yorkshire mix, in Ohio, and brought him to Plant City for Kenley to raise. Now 6 months old, the pig has matured considerably since arriving in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World. Much like a puppy, he grew calmer as he got older and bigger.
“He’s a big baby,” Kenley says.
The third-grader has no fear of Gus, even though he is big and strong enough to knock down a grown man. She walks up to the pen to let him out of his cage and, as soon as he’s done running around for a minute or so, gets him to respond to her directions. Think of Gus as a wide, funny-looking, well-trained dog.
Kenley is good with animals, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who visits the Connell property. There are 302 animals, large and small, roaming around at any given time.
Kenley, a member of the 4-H Club, isn’t only interested in animals and agriculture. When she’s not playing with her three dogs, she’s likely to be found with her nose in a good book.
“My favorite subject in school is reading, because I really enjoy books and how they talk to me,” she says.
She says the book she’s currently reading, “Sharon M. Draper’s Out of My Mind,” is her favorite.
But, her mind is mostly on her upcoming competition. In addition to Gus being graded, Kenley’s presentation skills also will be judged. She’s optimistic about this year’s showing and already wants to show a steer in 2015. Her parents, Joel and Erika, fully support her.
“If she can sell her pig and make a few dollars, that would be good,” Joel says. “But, that’s not really why we’re doing it. We just want her to learn how to raise the animal, show the animal and to learn responsibility.”