By: Rebekah Spader
Animal Science and agriculture classes at York High School in York, Nebraska are taking a different, more hands on approach to classes this year as two sows have taken up residence in the shop and are being cared for by the students themselves. This is a completely different approach to the tradition learning methods of books, videos and homework, and I am going to tell you how this opportunity came about. My name is Rebekah Spader, I live outside of Waco, NE and my family raises pigs. I am actively involved in the York High School FFA Chapter as a member, and as the Junior Advisor. Some of my FFA activities include showing pigs at the York County Fair and the Nebraska State Fair. This year I bought seven pigs to show and at some point this summer between talking to my dad, Stuart Spader, and talking to my FFA Advisors, Cal Williams and Jason Hirschfeld, I decided to keep two of my gilts to breed back. The whole idea behind this was that I wanted to give kids who live in town, or on a farm without animals, the opportunity to show an animal at the fair, and also I wanted kids to learn what raising an animal is like and to be able to understand modern day production practices first hand. In order to achieve this I talked to my advisors and said that I would like to donate my two gilts to our FFA Chapter and they thought that would be a great idea. So after state fair I took the gilts home until a few days before they came into heat, then I brought them to school. Mr. Hirschfeld’s animal science students learned how to artificially inseminate a gilt, from checking for heat to inserting the pipette. The kids then got hands on experience breeding the gilts themselves as Mr. Hirschfeld coached from the sidelines. Kids who had never even seen a pig up close got the chance to help sit on their backs and squeeze the bottle of semen. There are a total of 24 students in this class and only six of them currently live on a farm. Before taking this class more than half the students had never even seen a pig up close let alone able to touch one. The kids are all very excited at this opportunity and are counting down the days until the gilts farrow; they have decided it will be anytime January 14-19. When the gilts are ready to farrow we will bring them back to the school and farrow them with all the kids present. Then the kids will actually be able to partake in castrating, ear-notching, docking tails and giving shots. The coolest part of the project to me is that the students will be able to pick out a pig to be “theirs” one that they will take care of and then show at county and state fair. After talking about the project a fellow FFA member, Jesse Hoblyn, said he would like to donate a sow that he had to the project as well. So in some cases the kids will take the pig home and care for it throughout the summer and in other cases where they do not have a place to take the pig they will come to my house and the kids will come out and care for them there. They also have to do fundraising projects throughout the year in order to raise enough money to pay for the feed and other expenses. After county and state fair the money from marketing the pigs will go back into the project so they kids can show next year as well. We have already had at least 15 kids come up and express an interest in showing pigs. They said it would be so cool and that they normally wouldn’t have that chance. What started out as my FFA project has turned into something that will continue to grow and that I hope will benefit kids wanting to be active in the livestock industry for years to come. With each year that passes I hope more and more kids get involved with the project and learn to love the industry as much as I do.
The Video Blog Project
We will be tracking the gilts throughout their pregnancy as well as the piglets growth once they are born. This is a learning experience for Rebekah as well as all of us and we thank her for her willingness to share this experience with everyone! We will be posting video blogs, pictures, and updates once a month. Please check back and join us monthly for these exciting updates. You will get the unique opportunity to watch these gilts throughout the pregnancy process as well as watch the piglets grow.
Bekah’s First Video Blog: The Ultrasound