Streator AG students learn real-world skills and life lessons through project pig | Agriculture


Two sows teach students at Streator Township Secondary School and many others, including Think OINK’s 4,800 Facebook fans.

For a sixth year, agriculture professor Riley Hintzsche is giving agroscience students hands-on lessons in hog production, from artificial insemination to farrowing to moving weaned piglets from the temporary nursery school. By supplying their sows, Mark and Sara Mitchell of Brockman Farms also teach others about the hog industry.

“The Think OINK project taught me real-life skills by showing us how a pig is born and teaching us how to take care of a pig, how to keep a pig healthy and keep it alive,” said said Zach Walkling, an agricultural science student.

This year, students compare their experiences with two sows for the first time and learn the differences between the animals as well as a variety of lessons. But the images and lessons about raising and caring for livestock extend far beyond the school grounds.

Over the years, sow celebrities have drawn visits from school board members, administrators and students who aren’t in agriculture class. Thousands of people watch and comment on videos, photos and updates on Think OINK’s Facebook page. Visit facebook.com/ThinkOINK40.

Sara Mitchell said she and her husband valued the opportunity to teach young people and demonstrate the hard work and care that goes into raising pigs. “Everyone in the pork industry has a way to impact the livestock industry,” she said, adding that Think OINK was their chance to represent the industry “even though we are a small niche producer”.

In September, Hintzsche’s 16 students, mostly sophomores, helped artificially inseminate a sow at Brockman Farms. A second sow then joined the project. About a week before the pigs were due, they were moved to the school greenhouse which was converted into a nursery by the students.

Since her arrival in January, student agriculture teacher Gwen Heimerdinger has witnessed excitement among students, faculty and the community. “This project provides exposure to students who may have never touched a pig, while teaching the real life decisions pork producers must make on their farms,” ​​Heimerdinger said.

The pigs are “attracting a new audience for us” and helping recruit students to study agriculture, said Hinztsche, the 2021 National Agricultural Education Champion, one of only three in the United States.

To share responsibility for the sows and their litters, the students divide the work between the space, feeding, cleaning and piglet committees. Just like on a farm, additional jobs appear. The students stepped up to bottle-feed three pigs that weren’t thriving among the initial litter of an 18-sow sow.

The class will wean the pigs at three to four weeks before returning them to Brockman Farms at four to five weeks of age.

Meanwhile, Mitchell and Hintzsche are helping students learn how to process piglets. While the students take care of tasks like nicking the ears, a local veterinarian castrates the animals, Mitchell explained.

Animal Care Demonstration

When Think OINK was new, Facebook posts surfaced thousands upon thousands of questions and comments, including negative ones, according to Hintzsche. “Now a lot of questions and comments come from people who have been watching for years,” Hintzsche said. “Maybe some who were against are now advocates because they saw the care (given to the pigs) and understood.”

Mitchell continued, “We now have an army of educated students. They posted that the animals are stress-free because they are well cared for, and they refute the negative comments.

If an agriculture student wants to own a pig, the Mitchells work with him. “We’ve had students buy Think OINK pigs that have never had ag before,” she said. “Some succeeded, and others learned that pigs are a lot of work and didn’t repeat it again.”

Think OINK also benefited Brockman Farms. Mitchell said they have gained customers who buy pork directly from their operation and are able to connect consumers with other local pork farms.

For agricultural students like Walkling, knowledge is the greatest reward. “This project has taught me so many different things to use in the real world,” he said, “and I’m so grateful to have two great teachers (Hintzsche and Heimerdinger) giving us the opportunity to do things like that.”

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