Derry Area High School students aim to raise piglets for fair
Spring has finally sprung, and Derry Area High School's Agriculture/Horticulture building is teeming with new life — specifically, a dozen piglets born last month.
The school's agriculture program purchased a pregnant hog, or bred gilt as she's known in the farming world, from Shipley Swine Genetics in Newark, Ohio, and picked up Hazel on Jan. 17 with an assist from Derry Township farmer Paul Winklosky, who volunteered his trailer and services to haul her to the Ag building.
On March 12, students helped Hazel, a purebred Yorkshire who had been bred to an exotic boar, give birth to 10 Yorkshire-cross piglets more than a week earlier than expected. Two more were born on the next day.
“She went into labor at 11 o'clock, so we had to be excused from school in order to help her birth her piglets all day,” sophomore Michaela Smith said. “She didn't finish up until about 5 o'clock that evening.”
“Most of the piglets came breech — they came backwards — so it was a little bit more difficult for her to farrow them,” Smith added. “We did have a little bit of complications, but after the first few she was alright.”
By purchasing Hazel, the district presented students in the Large Animal Sciences class with unique hands-on experiences with the birthing process and infant care.
“It was amazing,” sophomore Amia Martin said. “I think that was definitely my favorite part of this — just being with her whenever the babies were being born and helping out.”
In the weeks since the piglets arrived, the class has been busy caring for Hazel and her litter.
Along with the educational benefits, having Hazel and her piglets in the Ag building offers students a less cost-prohibitive way to raise hogs for the Westmoreland Fair.
“The educational benefit is tremendous,” Superintendent David Welling said. “And then to have quality show pigs, because that's what these are — they're quality cross pigs. The idea then is that these kids have a really good chance to take these (piglets) and take them to the fair. And it's exciting also. If we can come out with a grand champion or reserve champion pig, that would be ideal.”
Agriculture and horticulture instructor Roy Campbell said the students are required to make a $150 deposit to reserve a piglet. The deposit will be refunded once the student sells the hog at the fair and repays the agriculture program for feed costs and expenses, he said.
“It's really, really nice,” Martin said. “I know myself I can't afford to go out and get show hogs.”
All 10 of the show-quality piglets have been spoken for, with Future Farmers of America members jumping at the opportunity to show the animals.
“Even though we live in a rural area, some kids live in town, and they don't have the opportunity to raise livestock and show them,” Smith said. “I think it's more of an experience for them to have the chance to do something like this since they can't have bigger animals in town.”
Shipley's bred gilts normally range in price from $750 to more than $2,500, but the company offers special deals to high school and college agriculture programs, according to owner Randy Shipley.
Although the company does not have a set pricing or discount plan for educational groups, “we'll give them a bred gilt that's got more value than what we charge them for,” he said.
The school is likely to keep Hazel beyond the end of the school year and have her bred again, so a future Large Animal Sciences class can have the same educational experiences, Campbell said.
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913, or email@example.com.