ASHTON - The Ashton-Franklin Center High School hallways have smelled a lot like fairgrounds for the last couple weeks, but the mix of manure and pine shavings has led to a new litter of baby pigs, four gilts and two boars, that were born in the ag shop on Friday, Jan. 8. The first baby was born at 2:45 a.m. and the last one was born around 6:40 a.m. Former FFA member Jay Long helped with the birth. Ag Teacher and FFA Advisor Mrs. Viall had a camera set up from Jan. 4 to 8 to monitor the sow around the clock. The hope was that the pig would deliver her piglets during school so that her students could experience it, but the sow had other ideas. Sow is a term used to identify a female pig that has given birth to piglets. It is a great learning experience for students who don’t have the opportunity to go out on a farm and see a sow and piglets and feed into the already existing program of the livestock cooperatives, which give students the same opportunities.
Last year, the ag department acquired a farrowing crate from the Hog Slat in the hopes of having pigs last spring. Hog Slat, Inc. is the largest construction contractor and manufacturer of hog production equipment in the United States, with a retail location in Rochelle. However, there turned out not to be a pregnant pig to bring in, which was probably good news, since in March, the students were no longer at the school building due to COVID-19. The farrowing crate is used to help minimize piglet loss from being crushed by the sow. It allows the mother to move forward and backward as well as lay down but she cannot turn around. It helps control her movement when lying down, which is when piglets are most at risk. Most piglets are around 3-pounds at birth, in comparison to our current sow, who weighs around 300-pounds.
The sow, Ariel, is owned by Elsie Viall and was purchased locally from Levi Meurer of Crestview Showpigs. Levi, a previous AFC FFA member, has been an integral part of the hog cooperative program. Ariel is a one-year-old Duroc, which is a breed of pig that is dark reddish-brown in color. Pigs are pregnant for three months, three weeks and three days. She was artificially inseminated in September to prepare for this January litter.
Students played a part in preparing for this litter. Before the litter came, students checked for signs of labor and milk. They also went into the ag shop daily to check on the sow and piglets. They replenish pine shavings and clean up the crate. Everyone is so excited to have piglets in the school!
Farrowing pigs is one thing that is planned for the livestock lab that the AFC FFA Alumni and Supporters have been working towards. Having this experience this year would get students involved in the livestock lab and be able to participate. The livestock lab would have a variety of animals including cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens. Students could go and collect eggs, feed cattle, pigs, and sheep for a record book entry. There would be opportunities for agriscience research projects as well. Students would also be entered into the FFA Fair where they could show the animals that they participated in taking care of.