Each family picked up two pigs (for a total of 44), which they will raise for the next 120 days.
According to Danny Miller, Cherokee County extension agent coordinator, these new farmers included 14 families from Cherokee County and eight from Etowah County.
At the end of the 120-day period, they will bring one pig back for a public show and auction and will keep the other pig for their own use.
Schools represented included Cherokee County High School, Spring Garden School, Sand Rock School, Gaylesville School and also Sardis, Southside and other Etowah County Schools.
“We designed this project for these kids similar to the old fashion Chick Chain project,” Miller explained.
“There is a $100 fee,” he said. “When they complete the project and bring one pig back, then we give them their $100 back, plus whatever the auction money proceeds. So they get their money back and they get the auction fees above $100 and if they choose to sell the other pig, they get all that money as well.
“But it is also a good opportunity for people in the community to pitch in and support the 4-H by purchasing these pigs. They will participate in a show and auction right here at Sand Rock pavilion in April.”
After doing the Chick Chain program in Cherokee County for the past three years, Miller said they are excited about Operation Pig Squeal.
“We were looking at our 4-H program and we were trying to find ways to get more involved in home and family based projects,” said Miller. “We noticed that 4-H as a whole wasn’t doing as much as it did years ago. So we have tried to implement these projects and we have changed it. We have had great success with these projects that don’t require five years. We are still able to teach them all we can about raising pigs and the facilities and animal husbandry. Plus they still get all the record keeping and 4H activities that goes along with the project. We are just really, really excited about this. It is one way for us to teach kids about animal husbandry and livestock practices.”
These pigs all came from commercial farms, Miller said.
“They are going to stay with these kids for a set number of days on full feed,” said Miller. “The kids are going to work with them, exercise them just like they would a show pig, they are going to come back to an actual show where the kids will literally get in a ring and present the pig to a judge. After they are judged, they are going to be auctioned off.”
“Auburn University Meats Lab is going to process some of the pigs and we are going to take the kids down to Auburn University and let them watch how to produce a safe food product,” said Miller. “It is all about producing safe food through a home project.”
Raising a “backyard” pig or chicken is not as easy as one might think, Miller said, especially when trying to produce a safe consumer product.
“That is what we are doing with these kids and we are just having fun too,” said Miller. “It is all about having fun. A lot of the children involved in this project have never had a home production project of any kind and this is the first thing they have done. And there is a possibility that some of these kids’ parents have never had a project like this. We really push the kids to work with parents, grandparents. This is a home project for the kids and everybody. We are really excited about it.”
Miller estimated that these pigs weighed approximately 50 pounds each the day the families took them home which was Dec. 15.
“They are about 60 to 63 days old,” said Miller. “We are going to have them on feed for approximately 120 days. We are going to end up with a 180-day-old pig that is going to hopefully weigh in the 240-pound range and that is the processing size of a commercial hog. We even made these kids develop a mortality plan in case something happens. They have guidelines for how to handle their pig if it dies. We’ve got a nutrient management plan, we are going to talk to them about proper housing and ventilation and environment, deworming practices. Every one of these kids has been through a program for quality assurance.”
“We had a swine specialist come up from Auburn and train these kids on not only how to keep the products safe for the consumer but how to keep their physical bodies safe from these animals,” noted Miller. “When these pigs get to 200 pounds, they could hurt some of these children. So we have taught them, trained them on the mannerisms of the hog, we have trained them how to keep themselves personally safe, keep safe distances, how to observe the pigs and notice when they are okay or when they are not okay, all the aspects of production of pigs. A 4-H record keeping and other 4-H opportunities have been incorporated.”
“We give them a manual and CD they can take home and view,” said Miller. “We are also working on a Facebook page. We have tried to incorporate social media into this project.”
Miller credited JPS Swift and also a donation from the Alabama Pork Producers Board, which will help in promoting the auction and other Operation Pig Squeal expenses as well.
“We were also able to get several of these feeders from Auburn University on inventory,” said Miller. “They (participants) have to bring them back at the end of the project for kids to do it next year.”
“We are also having a lot of success in promoting the sale of these pigs and we are going to set up a remote video auction location at one of the halls in Auburn University because all the professors are wanting to bid on these kids pigs,” said Miller.
And a local producer donated the feed, Miller said.
One of the participating families in Operation Pig Squeal is Jimmy and Kris Martin of Southside and their two sons, Ethan, who is 8 and Dalton who is 11. The boys attend Rainbow City Middle School and are also participants of the Chick Chain project.
While Martin has raised pigs in the past, his boys have not so they are looking forward to a new experience.
Stan Rogers and son, James Isaac of Spring Garden are also participating.
“I think he is excited about it,” said Stan. “I think we will have fun.”
Rogers’ cousin, Boyd Rogers and daughter Grace, who is a fourth grade student at Spring Garden School picked up their two pigs and feed too.
“This is our first time,” said Boyd. “Her granddad has pigs and he is going to be helping her out with it. She is real excited about that.”
“We’ve got chickens,” said Boyd. “My son did the Chick Chain project. Grace wanted to do the pigs.”
“Everything has really gone well,” said Miller. “We are ahead of schedule. The pigs are staying extremely docile, and comfortable. The kids are smiling from ear to ear and are excited.”