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Twenty-two youth in Cherokee and Etowah counties are about to begin a unique project to teach them about producing safe food products by means of animal production.
These youth will participate in the first ever 4-H Pig Squeal Project, raising two market hogs and then taking one to show and sell. Youth and parents will pick up their hogs Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Sand Rock Livestock Pavilion in Cherokee County.
All youth paid $100 to participate in the program, and will be given two feeder pigs of their choosing. At the end of the 120-day production, one pig will return to the Sand Rock Livestock Pavilion for show and sale. As a result of the show and sale, the participants will receive their $100 back plus a portion of the auction proceeds. The other hog will be kept by the family for processing or selling.
In addition to the hands-on learning of caring for and showing a live animal, the youth will also learn real-world industry concerns and safety concepts about production animals, say Danny Miller and Amy Burgess, Alabama Cooperative Extension System County coordinators who are heading up the 4-H Pig Squeal Project along with Landon Marks, a regional Extension agent in animal science and forages and 4-H Regional Extension Agent Michael Dillon.
Animal husbandry, feed rationing, marketing, biosecurity, and pork processing are all practices the youth will participate in as they enjoy raising their animals for this 4-H project.
Hinging on the recent success of the Chick-Chain project also developed by Miller and Burgess, the Pig Squeal project came along as another way to showcase live animal production in 4-H that allows kids to gain practical knowledge while enjoying an animal production project.
Alabama is among the top 10 states in the country in food production. With the decline in pork production in Etowah and Cherokee counties this project may fill an educational gap--what it takes to produce safe food products may not be first-hand knowledge to the current generation of young people.
“Unlike previous pig-chains from the 1950s and 60s, this project provides a terminal end. This is a 120-day commitment made by these 4-H’ers to provide a safe high quality food product for local consumers while obtaining a unique educational experience in livestock production,” said Cherokee County Extension Coordinator Miller.
Important educational components of this project include: facility design and management, feeding and watering, medicating, biosecurity, animal and youth safety, record keeping, mortality plan, show ring preparation and execution, and the realization of the pride of accomplishment.
The project will end in April when the youth are required to bring one of their market hogs to show and market, selling it to the highest bidder for eventual processing. Most of the parents are excited about their kids participating because they will be able to keep one of their animals to process or sell for their family.
In addition to youth helping promote the April event to the community, Extension staff is also working to have an online live remote bidding site in Auburn. Meat processors in Cherokee and Etowah counties are invited to attend the sale so the animal will go directly for processing once the sale is finished allowing the bidder to never take possession of the live animal. Some animals will also go to the Auburn University Meats Lab for processing to end the project with a hands-on workshop educating the participants and their parents about pork processing from start to finish.
“This project appeals to not just youth, but consumers as well,” says Etowah County Extension Coordinator Burgess. “Many people are concerned about food safety and they will be able to support youth in this project and buy locally.”
Prior to receiving the two feeder pigs, youth and parents attended a mandatory meeting with County Extension professionals, where the project was explained in depth and a production manual, produced by Marks was distributed and explained. In addition to teaching about animal care and production, AU has also loaned the youth feeders, an expensive but much needed piece of equipment needed for proper feeding of the pigs.
Extension staff will also conduct home visits to ensure the animal is being raised correctly and youth are progressing with their animals. Youth and parents will receive updated information by Facebook and other social media.
About half of the youth participating also took part in the Chick Chain, or had a sibling participate. More than half of the 14 Cherokee County youth are participating for the first-time in a 4-H project. “That’s very exciting that more youth are interested,” Miller added. Burgess agrees. “The bulk of Etowah County kids have never had a livestock project before.”
Miller said the training has been extensive so youth and parents will fully understand what is involved in a livestock project. “We’ve trained them on how to be safe around the animal, which will grow from 50 to more than 200 pounds, as well as how to keep the animal safe for the consumer.”
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Contact: Danny Miller and Landon Marks in Cherokee County at 256/927-3250; Amy Burgess and Michael Dillon in Etowah County at 256/547-7936.
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