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

Final 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

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

Participation Summary

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

ORIGINAL TIMELINE WITH STATUS UPDATE:

March – April 2020  – Schools were closed to in-person learning in mid-March. Students continued to evaluate land usage and the hogs’ role in the system. The movable shelters were designed by students. Due to the suspension of in-person learning in Spring 2020 CAPS Engineering students were unable to construct the shelters. In anticipation of Fall farrowing, the educators constructed the shelters over the summer based on student-design.

May 2020 – Due to the pandemic and the back-up on pork processing students were unable to bring the pork to market. This portion of the project was delayed until December 2020 when 3 pigs were sent to market. At that time, students created a processing and pricing plan and marketed the pork to parents, BVSD staff and business partners. 2 sows were rebred in January 2021.

August 2020, September – October 2020, November 2020 – March 2021 – The new school year started with a new group of students. Students accomplished all of the goals in the original proposal for this time period. 

May 2021 – Students engaged in outreach project with Lakewood Middle School. The project was also presented to the KS Association of Biology Teachers and the Johnson County 4-H Livestock Club as outlined in the original proposal.

PUBLIC OUTREACH: 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 was featured in the Newsletter April 22 and Newsletter May 20  CAPS e-newsletter which goes to a 9,000+ member distribution list. Recipients include current students, alumni, parents and business partners.

Social media – The project is consistently featured on Twitter @capsvetmed. Please refer to that feed.

Kansas Association of Biology Teachers – this project was shared widely with this professional group.

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CAPS partnership with Lakewood Middle School

One aspect of the grant was the unique pig project that the Vet Med students operate with Swickard Family Farm.   Another component of the grant was educational outreach by the students to share about sustainability in agriculture.

In May 2021, the Vet Med students and CAPStone Vet students engaged in a collaborative learning activity with students in Mrs. Auman’s classes at Lakewood Middle School.  After much brainstorming and trial runs, the Vet students decided to teach about soil food webs. 

The CAPS students assembled several Berelese Funnels in the Vet Med room with the hopes of coaxing out some interesting macroinvertebrates (bugs and other soil dwelling critters).  The funnels contained a soil sample from various environments including Swickard Family Farm. The funnels were  attached to a ring stand.  A heat lamp was placed at the top of the stand.  Any soil “critters” avoided the heat and light and burrowed deeper into the soil column until they dropped out the bottom of the funnel into some waiting isopropyl alcohol.  Students identified the soil creatures under a dissecting microscope and determined what role they play in the soil food web.  Then, they worked out a lesson to teach the concepts. 

We assembled additional Berlese Funnels at Lakewood.  Mrs. Auman’s students to brought in soil samples from their own yards.  Using the reference materials the Vet Med students created, the middle school students identified the critters and their role within the soil food web.  The overarching theme was that healthy soil is the basis of keeping plants productive as well as animals healthy.  This lesson tied directly to sustainable practices at the farm.

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Parent Outreach

The pig project was a central feature of the CAPS Vet Med experience. In spite of the pandemic, all parents had the opportunity to join their students at the farm throughout the school year. As a suburban district, this was the first exposure to an agriculture enterprise for many of our parents. Throughout, sustainable practices were emphasized. It was an awareness building experience for these parents as well as an opportunity to purchase pasture-raised pork.

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Sustainable Agriculture

Students are new to the course each semester. The semester starts with an introduction to sustainable agriculture using the pig project as the backdrop. Topics to kickoff the semester include seeing Managed Intensive Grazing in action and pasture raising hogs. Students do background research on soil health as a basis for animal health. Their research formed the basis for their outreach to Lakewood Middle School.

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Curricula, factsheets or educational tools

  • Lakewood Middle School – Nearpod lesson, ID teaching tool, dichotomous key worksheet to analyze water samples, Berelese Funnel key for soil organisms, Hay Infusion key for aquatic organisms

On-farm demonstrations – The farm is visited nearly daily by students. They observe the seasonal progression of farm health because of sustainable agriculture.

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  12 pigs (3 adults/3 litters of piglets). This afforded continuous hands-on learning opportunities. 

Students were asked to reflect on the farm experience and these are selected quotes:

  • I loved going to the farm because it’s not something I get to see everyday and it was awesome seeing how well the animals are treated.
  • The most significant memory I had in Vet Med is inseminating Ruby on a Saturday morning.
  • I really enjoyed being able to have the experience of moving the pigs across the farm. 
  • When ever we traveled to each of the locations and got hands- on experience with the animals. I was fully engaged and so motivated to learn more about them!
  • The most significant experience I had this year was when we went to the farm to move Kevin from his normal pen, across the farm to behind the barn. I learned that herding a pig is no easy feat and if you’re going to do it, you better have a lot of food.

Exit Survey – Each semester CAPS students complete an exit survey. They are asked to reflect on professional skill development and career exploration. Attached are the responses for the 2nd semester Vet Med class. Vet Med Exit Survey Spring 2021

The number of youth impacted include CAPS and Lakewood Middle School students.

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 and agriculture 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 due to the pandemic. 

  • 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. 
  • All of the CAPS juniors (not in the Vet Med program) received an introduction to sustainable agriculture when we immersed them in the junior experience at the end of the school year. This experience included a farm visit to see Managed Intensive Grazing and pasture-raising pigs.
  • Parents have been encouraged to go with their student when they have farm duty. During the pandemic, parent participation has increased. Parents have remarked that this has been a highlight for them.

 

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.