By Sabra Jackson, Staff Writer
Agriculture students gain hands-on experience in the swine industry, as they oversee farrowing sows on Murray State’s North Farm.
Each semester, the AGR 426 class learns about breeding gilts, gestation, farrowing and raising pigs on the farm. The class learns the ins-and-outs of how to make a decision on what boars to breed with what sows.
Matt Shultz, lecturer and head of the farrowing unit, teaches the class. He said students in the class check on the sows that are getting ready to farrow. This ensures the sows are not having any problems. But if they are, he said someone is able to assist them.
“We try to have the students in the class do the work,” Shultz said. “So normally they sign up for two hour shifts, show up and check vital signs. If everything is okay, they go home. If there is a sow farrowing, they call a student worker who is on call and then the student worker coaches them through it.”
It can be difficult to push the piglet out at times when a sow is farrowing. When this happens, Shultz said, someone may have to help assist the process by inserting their gloved arm into the pig’s vulva to guide the piglet out.
The farrowing procedure normally takes two hours, but can take three or four hours should troubles arise.
“We try to group the sows to where they will farrow within about three days of one another in a group,” Shultz said.
Students are split up into groups, allowing everyone to get a chance to check on the sows. There will be a group of three to six sows that are due to farrow one week, and then another group that will farrow two to three weeks after the first group.
“My favorite part is seeing students usually for the first time, that they’ve overcome something that all of them are very scared to do,” Shultz said. “Going into it, to watch their face when they first reach into a sow to pull out a pig, they are terrified. It very quickly turns into an ‘I did it’ moment when they pull out a pig successfully.”
Students are encouraged to call Shultz or Ella Fourqurean, graduate agricultural communications student, to assist in the farrowing procedure.
Fourqurean said these pigs will be going to Duncan, Oklahoma in the fall to be sold or will act as replacement sows on the farm.
“They are pretty much champs when they get in here,” Fourqurean said. “There are some that you can obviously tell that this is definitely not their thing but they are still out here working.”
Brianna Barnes, junior from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, is one of the many students in class who has not been around pigs.
While Barnes did not help birth any pigs, she said she was able to do a few check ups and watch for signs of farrowing.
Barnes said she is excited to see what opportunities this will provide for her as an agricultural education major.
“I want to be able to have all of these experiences to take to my students,” Barnes said. “And also to have the resources of where to take them to see pigs and things like that.”
Right now, the pigs farrowing are Yorkshire sows. The next round of farrowing will be around Sep. 5, with the Hampshire sow in A Carman Pavilion Animal Health Facility. The last group, the crossbred sows, will farrow the second or third week of September.
So far, about 20 piglets have been born, five gilts and 15 boar piglets.