W.Va. High School’s Swine Project Drawing Attention

10/20/2012 7:00 AM

ROMNEY, W.Va. — A livestock program at Hampshire High School is producing solid results five years after its debut.

The Berkshire Project is part of the school’s Animal and Veterinary Science Program.

Project director and agriculture science teacher Isaac Lewis had high aspirations for the program when he started it in 2008. In its first year, he took students and animals to the Keystone International Livestock Exposition (KILE), billed as the biggest livestock show in the eastern United States.

“Five years ago, we were dead last in every class,” said Lewis. “But some of the professional breeders saw the potential in a school program like this and sort of took us on as a pet project. They came to me and said, We need to look at your nutrition, we need to look at your genetics, we need to get you on track.’ ”

It didn’t take long to see results.

The program produced the champion Berkshire boar this year and the school was the premier Berkshire exhibitor at the show for the third year running.

“We knew we had a good one, we just didn’t know how good until we got there. To rise to the top is a pretty big thing for our school,” said Lewis.

The boar will likely be sold as a stud in the near future, he said.

Lewis also noted that being the premier exhibitor — the exhibitor awarded the most total points for all your entries — is just as important.

“It means that you didn’t just have one good pig; you had 10 good pigs,” he said. “There was not a breeder there that felt bad about it; they were all about the kids.”

“This is an amazing achievement and just one small part of the agriculture curriculum at this school,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass. “When I hear people asking where the next generation of farmers is going to come from, I can tell them, I know where some of them are going to come from — Hampshire High School.”

Last year, the school donated a gilt to the American Berkshire Foundation to show its appreciation for the organization’s support. The gilt sold for $2,800. The school was also featured at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference and Cast-Iron Cookoff culinary competition.

Berkshires are prized for their marbling, fat definition and overall meat quality tests. It’s the type of pork you find in “white tablecloth” restaurants, said Lewis. However, the program is currently focused on producing breeding stock, rather than meat production.

Students are involved in all aspects of the animals’ lives, starting with insemination and birth.

“We have six sows that farrow every year and the students go through the entire obstetrical process — all right during school. My kids fight over who’s going to work with the next piglet born,” Lewis said of the birthing process.

Ten new piglets are on the ground right now, he said.

The Animal and Veterinary Science Program is also finalizing plans for a new $1.1 million laboratory building that will include classrooms and professional-grade laboratory facilities that will allow the students to do diagnostic work.

“It’s a first for an ag program in West Virginia. We’re modeling some of the capabilities on things happening in Moorefield,” Lewis said, referring to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture’s regional laboratory.

According to WVDA state veterinarian Dr. Jewell Plumley, the respect is mutual. Plumley visited the school on her own time before the Keystone show to draw and test blood from the animals and to provide the certificates of veterinary inspection (CVI) necessary for the swine to cross state lines and participate at KILE.

“The type of program they’re talking about would go a long way in preparing students to be veterinary technicians and to do the type of animal health work we do in the department,” she said. “While breeding and raising animals is an obvious agricultural career, people need to understand there are a wide range of professional opportunities in agriculture.”

In fact, the plans for the new laboratory call for kennels, so that students can learn kennel management, as well as boarding and grooming skills. Lewis himself teaches six different classes to roughly 120 students. Three other instructors teach a wide array of classes in forestry, wildlife and horticulture-related subjects. Overall, nearly half of the school’s 1,200 students are involved in at least one agriculture class.

Students produced hundreds of pounds of vegetables and melons for the school salad bar, and Lewis hopes to one day market Berkshire pork locally and serve it in the school. Boutique ham in the cafeteria, anyone?

For more information, contact Isaac Lewis at 304-822-0377 or email ilewis<\@>access.k12.wv.us.

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