KAY SHIPMAN FarmWeek
Two sows are teaching Streator Township High School ag students and many other people, including 4,800 Think OINK fans on Facebook.
For a sixth year, agriculture teacher Riley Hintzsche is providing agriscience students hands- on lessons about hog production from artificial insemination to farrowing to moving weaned pigs from the school’s temporary nursery. By providing their sows, Mark and Sara Mitchell of Brockman Farms are also educating others about the pork industry.
“The Think OINK project has taught me real-life skills by showing us how a pig is born and teaching us how to care for a pig, how to keep a pig healthy and keep it alive,” said Zach Walkling, an agriscience student.
This year, students are comparing experiences with two sows for the first time and learning about animal differences as well as a variety of lessons. But the images and lessons about animal husbandry and livestock care extend far beyond the school grounds.
Over the years, the sow celebrities have drawn visits from school board
members, administrators and students who aren’t in ag classes. Thousands watch and comment on videos, photos and updates on the Think OINK Facebook page. Visit facebook.com/ ThinkOINK40.
Sara Mitchell explained she and her husband value the opportunity to teach young people and demonstrate the work and care needed to raise hogs. “Everyone in the pork industry has a way to impact the livestock industry,” she said, adding that Think OINK has been their chance to represent the industry “even though we’re a small, niche producer.”
In September, Hintzsche’s 16 students, mostly sophomores, helped artificially inseminate a sow on Brockman Farms. A second sow later joined the project. About a week before the pigs’ due date, they were moved into the school’s greenhouse that was transformed into a nursery by the students.
Since arriving in January, student ag teacher Gwen Heimerdinger has witnessed excitement among students, faculty and the community. “This project brings exposure to students that may have never touched a pig, while at the same time, teaching the real-life decisions pork producers have to make on
their farms,” Heimerdinger said.
The pigs “draw a new audience for us” and help recruit students to study ag, said Hinztsche, a 2021 National Teach Ag Champion, one of only three across the U.S.
To share responsibilities for the sows and their litters, the students divide work among spatial, feeding, cleaning and piglet committees. Just as on a farm, extra jobs pop up. Students stepped up to bottle feed three pigs that weren’t thriving among one sow’s initial litter of 18.
The class will wean the pigs at three to four weeks before returning them to Brockman Farms at four to five weeks of age.
In the interim, Mitchell and Hintzsche help students learn about processing piglets. While students handle tasks like notching ears, a local veterinarian castrates the animals, Mitchell explained. Demonstrating animal care
When Think OINK was new, Facebook posts surfaced thousands and thousands of questions and comments, including negative ones, according to Hintzsche. “Now a lot of questions and comments come from people who have watched for years,” Hintzsche said. “Maybe some who were against it are now advocates because they’ve seen the care (given to the
Photo by Riley Hintzsche
pigs) and understand.” Mitchell continued: “Now we have an army of educated students. They have posted the animals are stress free because they are well cared for, and they refute negative
If an ag student wants to
own a pig, the Mitchells work with that individual. “We’ve had students get Think OINK pigs who never had ag before,” she said. “Some were successful, and others learned pigs are a lot of work and didn’t repeat that again.”
Think OINK has also benefited Brockman Farms. Mitchell said they gained customers who bought pork directly from their operation and were able to connect consumers with other local hog farms.
For ag students like Walkling, knowledge is the biggest reward. “This project has taught me so many different things to use in the real world,” he said, “and I am so grateful to have two awesome teachers (Hintzsche and Heimerdinger) who give us the opportunities to do things like this.”
Thisstorywasdistributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow. com.
STREATOR, Ill. — Streator Township High School agriscience student Sydney Long checks on a piglet farrowed at the high school in January. For a sixth year, agriculture teacher Riley Hintzsche and Brockman Farms have taught about the pork industry with hands-on lessons and experiences.