NEW ALBANY — For the past few months, 9-year-old Arian Redden has been caring for two pigs — cleaning, brushing, feeding and playing with them twice a day or more.

This week, her hard work paid off when she won prizes for both Wilbur and Wally at the Floyd County 4-H Fair.

"She was very proud; she's been excited leading up to it," her mother, Elizabeth Redden said. "We got our pigs in February and she's gone back twice a day and she's always asking to go back more and more to play with them and just be around them."

But before she was old enough to show her own animals, Arian was still involved — she's been in 4-H since she was 7. Her mother said the experience has helped her grow as a person and learn a lot along the way.

"It's really helped her come out of her shell," her mother said. "I think it's a great way for them to learn responsibility and when they do showmanship, they have to learn how to present themselves in front of the judge and around people."

Kids have to be in third grade or above to be a full 4-H member, but that doesn't mean the learning starts there. A special program for younger kids, the Mini-4-H, is aimed at letting children from Kindergarten through second grade get their feet wet.

This is how Arian started a couple years ago. Now, she's learned enough to do the whole thing from start to finish — from raising and caring for the animals, to showing them, to the auction where she hopes her pigs and chickens will be bought.

The difference shows, she said.

"You really get to do it with your real animal you raised and took care of," she said about graduating from a "mini" to a full member. "It's like having a pet that you took care of, [and showing it]."

The rules are a little different for the younger kids — the minis can show an animal, but it's one borrowed from a family member or leased from another community member. The animals are to be shown only, and the minis don't participate in the competitive part of the fair with them.

Preston Carr, 9, is a full member but also a "rookie"; it's his first year participating in the fair. He shows cows and pigs, and has helped his little sister, 6-year-old Riley, who is a mini, get started as well.

"She loves pigs so I was just trying to help her do some things and she likes to work with them," he said. "So when I'm done working with my cows I go over and help her work with them."

He said the work can be hard — caring for an animal every day no matter what — but he's seeing the payoff to his efforts. He said he's excited about the auction, where he will see for what his animals will sell.

"Most days, you don't want to do it, it's kind of hard," he said. "But whenever you get to fair and you auction them off and you show them, you'll be like 'dang, that was worth it doing all that work,' which it is. It turns out to be really fun."

Sam McCollum, 4-H educator for Floyd County, said the mini program is an excellent way to not only give kids a softer start to 4-H, but allow them and their parents to know if it's a good fit.

While the minis were previously allowed to show some animals, such as llamas and poultry, McCollum has worked with other staff in recent years to expand that to goats and pigs. Due to their size, the smaller kids cannot show horses or cows.

"Parents love it," he said. "Number one, its just really cool to see kids that age getting into it and a lot of times .. the parents want to see how well the kid handles it.

"And if the kid handles it well, they may continue to show the animal ... into their mini and four years, and if they don't — because they don't necessarily own the animal — they can move on."

Although membership numbers have been down in recent years, McCollum said they're starting to grow — this year, there are quite a few rookies on their first run. He said the program is important to instilling responsibility and values into young ones.

"Showmanship in our county is so important because you don't just come here to sell your animal, you come here to learn the ins and outs of it, the technique of showing it," he said. "It teaches kids responsibility at a fairly young age and it just gives them that sense of accomplishment, that sense of dedication and determination, into their future."

Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at aprile.rickert@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.