Going Hog Wild: A sustainable agriculture project raising pastured pigs. Students manage all aspects of pork production, breeding-to-market.

Progress report for YENC20-146

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2020: $4,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS)
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Manager:
Jennifer Bauer
Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS)
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Project Information

Summary:

Students learn sustainable agriculture practices by pasture-raising school-owned hogs. Students make management decisions with mentorship from Swickard Farm, dedicated to land conservation and all dependent organisms (note: before CAPS pig project, Swickard had only cattle, sheep and chickens). Students utilize grasses and nuts found on the acreage and employ multi-species grazing. They have hands-on experiences in all aspects of pork production (from impregnation, to farrowing, to harvest) and become decision-makers in their own small agribusiness. Students explore a myriad of careers, share their experiences on social media, and mentor elementary school students, plus facilitate a community pork event.

Project Objectives:
  1. Increase sustainable farming skills by understanding the role hogs play in the health of land and other animals. 
  2. Empower students to be decision makers for small agri-business, embracing sustainable practices. Develop agricultural economics knowledge through price determination, marketing and distribution of resulting pork products.
  3. Give students hands-on experience in pork production: farrowing, lactation, weaning, piglet processing (ear notching, vaccinations, castrations), parasite/disease control/prevention, winter preparation, feed formulation, stocking rate calculations, water management and finishing.
  4. Share project by teaching younger students, family farm visits, social media and presentation at community restaurant featuring our pork products.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Les Pelfrey (Educator)
  • Dave Swickard (Educator)

Educational & Outreach Activities

6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 On-farm demonstrations
2 Online trainings
2 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

1 Farmers/ranchers
75 Youth
20 Parents
50 Educators
Education/outreach description:

The video offers a visual recap of the 2020-21 Pig Project at CAPS. The video was used in student recruitment for the 2021-22 school year.

The project will be featured in the April 8, 2021 CAPS e-newsletter which goes to a 9,000+ member distribution list. Recipients include current students, alumni, parents and business partners.

The educators that have been exposed to the Pig Project come from the CAPS Network, KABT and the KS Department of Education Summer Seminar.

Learning Outcomes

51 Youth reporting change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness
Key changes:
  • Increase knowledge of sustainable farming practices.

  • Hands-on experience in pork production: breeding/AI, farrowing, lactation, weaning, piglet processing, parasite/disease control/prevention, winter preparation, feed formulation, stocking rate calculations, water management and finishing.

  • Professional skill development: teaching younger students, presentations, research skills.

  • Career exploration.

Results and discussion:

In spite of the pandemic, students were able to learn and practice sustainable farming skills. Students made the management decisions for the sounder working closely with Dave Swickard at Swickard Farms. Students were responsible for the day-to-day care of  10 pigs (3 adults/2 litters of piglets). This afforded continuous hands-on learning opportunities. 

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Increased organizational support to explore and teach sustainable ag:
No
Success stories:

The majority of the students in the CAPS Veterinary Medicine program have had very little exposure to livestock production. The Pig Project allowed them to experience “animal health” in a whole new light. One student remarked that she is now considering a broader array of careers in animal health. It has also changed their views of veterinary careers. 

Several students remarked that “getting to the farm was a relief during the pandemic.” They were able to safely interact with peers while doing their animal care tasks. “It was almost like a break, but we were still learning,” one student reflected. 

Students also remarked that the experience on the Pig Project would change the way they viewed food production and sustainable agriculture as they transition into adulthood.

Returning (2nd semester) students developed a research project based on observations/interests developed during the 1st semester. Determining whether or not a sow was pregnant had been a challenge during the 1st semester. We had transitioned from artificial insemination to natural breeding with the introduction of a boar. We had several “false alarms” with pregnancy. Students explored ways to definitively determine if a sow was pregnant and found no alternatives. They researched the viability of what would essentially be a home pregnancy test for sows. Their presentation is attached. Pregnancy Test

There were 2 significant deviations from the original proposal: hog breeding and community outreach. 

  • The lack of breeding in the fall was disappointing for students and a surprise for teachers. Students researched reasons why natural breeding may not have occurred. While the 1st semester students didn’t get to experience piglet production, learning objectives were met.
  • Community outreach took the biggest hit due to the pandemic. Originally there was a community event planned for May 2020. Due to State safety mandates, that event didn’t occur. Further, the pandemic disrupted the processing chain and we were not able to process pork as planned. This caused a big increase in feed costs, but a tangible economy lesson for the students. We were also unable to interact with the 4th and 5th grade students at Wolf Springs Elementary School. We have however started to engage with the students in the gifted education program at Lakewood Middle School. As we have reopened to in-person learning, we plan to host the Lakewood students at the farm to observe the pig operation.
  • All of the CAPS juniors (not in the Vet Med program) will receive an introduction to sustainable agriculture when we immerse them in the junior experience at the end of the school year. 
  • Parents have been encouraged to go with their student on the weekends when they have farm duty. During the pandemic, parent participation has increased. Parents have remarked that this has been a highlight for them.

Lead instructor Kelley Tuel will be partnering with CAPS Bioscience instructor Eric Kessler to deliver a summer workshop for the Kansas Department of Education. Participants will be learning about the Pig Project either virtually or in person. Kelley and Eric are also President and Vice President of the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers. The Pig Project will be presented at the KABT Fall Conference.

Recommendations:

This was the second time that we had applied for a grant for our Pig Project. We were rejected on our first attempt though little on the project proposal had changed. The 2nd attempt we engaged a SARE contact at K State-Olathe and in the regional office at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. They offered great feedback which contributed to a stronger application the 2nd time around. It would be nice to offer resources for a pre-review of applications.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.