Streator High School agriculture student Demetrius Hendrix had stories to tell at his after-school job.
He and his colleagues in Riley Hintzsche’s agriculture classes delivered 12 piglets Jan. 25 as part of the school’s Think OINK project.
“Everybody was asking me about them,” said Hendrix, who wants to go to college to be an agriculture teacher. “They ask how the piglets are doing, and all sorts of questions about what they do. It helps us have a lot of knowledge, beause we have to be able to answer all their questions.”
Think OINK is in its third year at Streator High.
The program gives students a hands-on lesson of pig breeding, starting with an artificial insemination of the sow, leading up to the piglets’ birth and concluding with the care of the piglets in their early life.
Brockman Farms in Verona has been a key partner in the program, providing the sow, which this year was named Alberta Einswine by a class vote. Alberta succeeds Betty White and Charlotte.
In addition, the program has a social media component as students create videos to share on Facebook. The page has more than 3,600 followers.
With students now having a chance to repeat the class after a year of taking it, Hintzsche has been able to step back and let students have control of the operation.
He still has to take care of the roughly 350-pound sow, giving Alberta her regular shots and such, and keeps a watchful eye over everything to make sure students are handling themselves properly, but they were the ones with the sow, towels in-hand during birth, cradling the piglets after they were born.
“This is the first time I didn’t put one hand on a pig,” Hintzsche said of the birth. “It was really cool, beause I didn’t need to. The kids were doing what they were supposed to.”
Students handled the counting, cleaning, warming, weighing and other responsibilities during the birth.
Junior Julian Wright got a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I got to bring a piglet back to life,” Wright said. “I had to keep it warm and keep it moving, and active. It was a really cool experience.”
The piglets will stay at the high school until about Friday, Feb. 22. Some students will take piglets home to raise and show in the county fair.
In the time being, students are split into committees to handle the feeding of the sow, monitoring of the piglets and cleanup of the greenhouse where the pigs are housed.
The class is getting better at controlling odors from getting into other parts of the building, Hintzsche said.
Streator junior Haylee Dimmig, who came up with the name Alberta Einswine because she enjoys puns, walked around the pen Thursday with a checklist to keep tabs on each piglet’s health.
“They’re all doing well,” she said, watching one pig in particular. “He’s moving fine, but taking longer to socialize.”
One piglet died two days after birth, for what the class believes was a birth defect.
Dimmig said she enjoys watching the piglets socialize as they play with each other, try to establish dominance and even chomp on each other’s tails. Hintzsche said the class will trim the piglets’ tails, which helps prevent future infections, a key for a pig because the tail is part of its nervous system.
Students laugh when the piglets chase each other and “aww” when they snuggle up in groups under the heat lamps.
As Alberta gets ready to roll over after eating, she lets out a barking noise to communicate feeding time. The piglets all take their spots.
Hintzsche said the piglets grow and socialize fast, which is a big reason why they are an effective animal for classroom learning.
The program has grown in popularity, going from one class period of agriscience now to two. There are 126 students in the agriculture/FFA program at Streator High.
Students interested in going into nursing, medical fields, veterinary science and other sciences are attracted to the class, because of the hands-on experience.
“I don’t live on a farm,” said Taylor Irvin, a junior. “It gives me agriculture experience with farm animals I wouldn’t be able to get.”
“It gives a sense of what it would be like to be on a farm,” said Shelby Dovin, a sophomore.
Hintzsche said he hopes the program will continue to grow, thanking all the sponsors and the district for the opportunity to put it together. This year, 400 people from around the district signed up for text message updates during the birth.
And many more followed along from the stories the students are able to tell.
“I always hear people tell me they wish they had this when they were going to school,” Hendrix said. “It’s cool to be able to share.”