The future of the Lakewood Ranch High School agriculture lab has been rewritten with more pens.
New upgrades have doubled the space in its beef barn and have led to the construction of a new state-of-the-art swine facility.
There are now 15 beef pens, 17 hog pens and 16 wash pens in the swine facility.
The agriculture program celebrated the upgrades with a ribbon cutting April 28.
McKenzie Gorskey, an agri-science teacher and FFA advisor, said the pens will already be full for the 2023-2024 school year as more students can take on beef and swine projects.
Gorskey said even if students don't house their animals on campus, the more than 160 students enrolled in the school's agriculture program will be exposed to the industry through the agriculture labs, which provide hands-on learning opportunities. For example, students learn how to do injections on the animals as well as how to tag them.
"For them to be able to gain this exposure at Lakewood Ranch gives us more of an impact as far as raising future consumers and then potentially future producers as well for the industry," she said.
When students are in the upgraded agriculture lab, Gorskey said they are getting insight into what the industry is doing in barns across the country. The program is able to model the best handling practices and animal welfare practices.
Gorskey said having an agriculture program at the high school is a "lifeline for the ag industry."
"It gives students an ability to see what we do, but also gives them an appreciation and understanding for it," she said. "It helps plug them into what could possibly be available to them in the industry as far as careers or even internships."
Before the upgrades, Gorskey said students and staff members faced challenges with taking care of the animals. She said cattle like to work in circular motions and in groups, but they way the barn was set up, they couldn't keep them together. When one was separated from the pack, it would panic.
"It made for a longer process because you're having to work the animals back into a calm environment," Gorskey said. "Just having the upgraded fences, that's one less thing we have to focus on when we're handling the livestock."