“Every single day we learned something that we could bring back with us,” reported Jackie Koster upon her return.
Koster was one of five WSU Student Swine Co-op members who broadened their knowledge of the pork industry while on a summer field trip to the Midwest. The students added to their knowledge of swine operations by attending the World Pork Expo, touring Murphy-Brown, and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the Blank Park Zoo.
“Everything that we bring back to our members doesn’t just benefit our members directly because we go out and talk to 4-H and FFA kids as well as going into the community in general; we can educate everyone around us,” said Gina Lo, a junior majoring in animal sciences who participated in the trip.
Venturing from Pullman proved fruitful as the SSC members had the opportunity to see firsthand the direction the pork industry is headed. “Even though we can’t necessarily copy exactly what they are doing, we can take what we’ve learned and apply it to what we do and see how it differs and how it might be better or it might be worse and how we can improve ourselves based on what we see,” said Lo.
In Pullman, the club members manage a farrow-to-finish operation. The 13 members of the SSC make all the management decisions including breeding, nutrition, and marketing. The co-op aims to have 10 breeding sows at all times and have hogs that are marketed for research, sales, private buyers, and even overseas. Jordan Profitt, a junior SSC member who is majoring in kinesiology, explained that “the co-op is very self sustaining.”
Herd genetics is one of the most influential management factors in the success of the SSC. “The number of piglets per sow is a little low comparative to what is going on at the [swine] center,” said Taya Brown, a senior SSC member majoring in organic agriculture. “Our main focus right now is to bring those numbers up. We are learning what goes into that; what sort of decisions that we can make to manage all the factors that go into the genetics of our sows.”
The successful management of their operation allows the students to take educational trips such as the one to Iowa in June. Koster, an animal sciences major and SSC member in her senior year, said, “We are also working on expanding our horizons. Through the co-op we get to see the industry side a whole lot so at the beginning of next month we are going to visit Wagner show pigs and see more of the show side of it. He shows a lot in the Midwest so as things are changing he is one of the first breeders to adapt to that.”
At the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, club members joined thousands of producers and industry professionals to converge on the Iowa State Fair Ground for the annual event.
“We went and watched some of the shows there and got to look at a ton of pigs. We got to learn about different equipment used. There are a lot of different ones based upon different setups compared to what we have,” said Profitt.
Three of the students also received their Pork Quality Assurance certification. “We have done workshops with 4-H kids where we talked a lot on the same kinds of things, like how to properly give shots and how to make sure your animal has good welfare and is going to be a safe product to eat in the future,” said Koster.
At the Blank Park Zoo, from left: Jordan Profitt, zoo curator, Taya Brown, Jenny Neuburgerm Gina Lo, Jackie Koster
Being PQA-certified enables the SSC members to not only implement sound management practices in their own farrow-to-finish operation but also to educate the community about those best pork management practices.
Murphy-Brown LLC was also on the students’ itinerary. Murphy-Brown is the world’s largest producer of pork.
“We got to see the facilities where they raise pigs and the facilities where they make feed for the pigs,” said Jenny Neuburger, a sophomore majoring in animal sciences.
“It’s really neat because their facilities are open barn compared to what we have, which is more of a closed-barn facility. It was interesting to get to see different set ups like that,” added Profitt.
Visiting the Blank Park Zoo in a “behind the scenes look” was also incorporated into the trip. The students were shown breeding systems and animal care while there. “Even though they are zoo animals, the breeding systems and feeding systems can be related back to production animals,” explained Lo.
“I think that we all gained a lot from our trip, whether it was from the zoo or going to the Expo, as well as having to plan the whole thing out, put it all together and make it succeed and so we’re just really thankful for the opportunity to do that and the support that we got,” said Brown. “I have just been constantly amazed that my professors and the people that I work with are willing to just stop and give to us as students and as a small co-op on campus.”
by Michelle Burns, WSU CAHNRS Marketing, News, and Educational Communications