New facility has caused FFA students to spend more time with the pigs.
Did you hear the one about the 300-pound pig in quicksand?
Jessica Jones, Carlos E. Haile Middle School’s Future Farmers of America adviser and agriscience teacher, did, and it’s no joke.
Haile’s old swine facility had a sand floor, and when it rained hard, both Jones and the pigs would get a sinking feeling.
Jones would gather her students and their families, and they would be at the school until 10 or 11 p.m. trying to dig trenches in an attempt to redirect the water. Meanwhile, they had to pull 300-pound pigs out of the muck.
Those days are over.
The School District of Manatee County spent $72,835 to build the new facility, which replaced one built 20 years ago.
“We are trying to make sure our bio security is on lockdown, and we have healthy facilities for our animals, so them being on concrete versus sand from last year is much better for them,” Jones said. “It was just no longer feasible. There could be no more Band-Aids put on it. This has been quite the gift that has been given to us.”
Since the construction of the new facility — which houses eight pigs including the FFA Chapter pig, Sassafras, who is also known as Sassy — Jones said students beg to stay with the pigs as long as possible.
“You might as well have cots in here because no one wants to leave,” she said.
Several students stay after school to take care of their pigs. Sixth grader Camryn Shear said pigs are her favorite animals because of their personalities and their reaction when she enters the facility.
“I come, and they come right up to the gate, and they’re just happy to see you,” she said.
Seventh grader Aubrey Barak arrives at school around 8 a.m. to take care of her pig, Nellie, until the bell rings at 9:15 a.m. She then goes after school to bathe, walk and feed Nellie. Barak also visits every Saturday to weigh her. In Nellie’s first week, she gained 7 pounds, and by January, the pigs should be gaining between 1.8 and 2 pounds per day.
The skills and knowledge Barak gains through FFA will help her become a veterinarian, she said.
“It feels like I have a lot to take on, but I like that because I like being busy,” Barak said. “Being busy with animals and agriculture makes me really happy.”
After Barak cleaned out Nellie’s pen, she told the story how she got her.
Nellie was a donation from Amanda Neal, a local breeder with Parrish-based Next Level Show Pigs. Barak entered an essay contest explaining why she thought she would be well suited to represent the breeder and do well showing the pig for FFA.
“I feel proud they knew I was capable of doing a project like this,” Barak said.
Barak wrote her essay on wanting more responsibility and gaining leadership skills. She thought taking care of a pig to eventually show and sell would also be an excellent experience.
She chose among two barrows, which are male pigs, and a gilt, a female pig.
“The two [barrows] were just like all the other pigs, and I thought that since [Nellie] is black and pink she would really stand out,” Barak said. “I liked her bone structure.”