WAHS students care for an unusual visitor
During the month of February there has been an unusual visitor in the Agricultural Sciences room at Wellsboro High School. A female pig named Mabel was a guest in the classroom for about three weeks as she prepared for her final stages of pregnancy, giving birth, and then caring for her piglets. The idea for this project came from Grand Canyon FFA Chapter President Brody Coolidge. The Coolidge family has raised pigs for many years and had bred two gilts (young female pigs) in the fall to give birth this spring. Brody wanted to give students in the agricultural science classes an opportunity to witness the process of swine reproduction so he volunteered to bring one of his pigs to school. The agricultural sciences program received permission to bring the pig to school and Mabel arrived at school and settled into the animal production lab room on February 8th.
The technology department in the school district installed a live feed webcam on Mabel so that she could be monitored 24 hours a day. This was available for the general public to view and many students and staff members throughout the school district began to watch Mabel’s progress. The live feed was especially popular with the elementary school students in the district. This was a great opportunity for the high school agricultural sciences program to be able to educate students around the school district and community members about the processes used to produce livestock animals and practices that are utilized during reproduction.
Mabel finally began to give birth or farrow on February 16th. She began to give birth around 8:45 pm and finally pushed out the last piglet at 4:00 am the next morning. Needless to say, it was a long, sleepless night for Mabel and her assistants. Mabel gave birth to eight piglets in all and they weighed 2-3 pounds at birth. She had a steady stream of visitors the next morning and through the next weeks. Students enjoyed coming to see the piglets and checking in on their progress.
The animal science classes at the high school were able to interact with Mabel and learn more about livestock reproduction throughout this project. They were studying animal reproduction during the time Mabel was at the school so it was a great opportunity for some hands on learning. The second level animal science class utilized Mabel during lessons on checking animal vital signs. They were able to monitor her leading up to the birth to see any changes that were taking place in her vital signs. After the piglets were born, they learned more about the care of piglets after birth. Piglets are naturally anemic and need iron shots soon after birth to stay healthy. Piglets also have special teeth called needle teeth that need to be clipped after birth to prevent injury to the mother or other piglets. The students received a demonstration of these techniques and were able to help complete the tasks for these piglets. Students also monitored the weight gain of the piglets during the time they were at the school to learn about growth rates and average daily gains.
Finally, Mabel and her piglets had to leave to go back to the farm where they would continue to grow and be raised for market. These particular pigs were bred to become show pigs and eventually be raised by youth for the Tioga County Fair where they will be shown and sold at the livestock sale. Many students at the high school became more interested in this type of experience after interacting with Mabel – so there may be a few new showmen at the fair this summer. The piglets will stay with Mabel until they are done drinking milk and become weaned – around 4-6 weeks of age. Then they will be sold and the new owners will carry out the finishing diet with a grain based ration until they reach market size, around mid August.
Having Mabel in the school was a great hands on learning experience for all the students and community members that interacted with her in one way or another. The students in the agricultural sciences program are interested in completing this type of experience again in the future with another pig or possibly another type of animal. It was very positive and educational for all that were involved.
Idea/Concept: Melanie Berndtson, Bridget Kennedy
Videography: Erin O’Shea
Video Editing: Erin O’Shea
Writing: Melanie Berndtson
Produced by Vogt Media
Funded by Penn Wells Hotel & Lodge, Akiko’s Floral Arts