Sow gives birth to the “dirty dozen” during live webcast from Cheyenne
Cheyenne – Junior Mikayla Zimmerman brought her swine project for FFA to Cheyenne East High School to help teach the students about the farrowing process.
“I’ve always been interested in doing a breeding swine project, and the gilt that I showed at fair for showmanship and breeding class had a long enough body for breeding purposes,” says Zimmerman, owner of Pinky Jane. “We decided that this would be an amazing learning opportunity for everybody.”
Pinky gave birth on Feb. 8 to 13 babies via live webcam through a website called Ustream. One of the babies was born stillborn, and the litter included seven girls, named Doc, Twizzler, Jelly Bean, Oreo, Sparkle, Josie and Sammy, and five boys, named Alfred, Spot, T-Bird, Duke and Patches.
“When Pinky gave birth we almost had 300 people watching,” says Zimmerman. “We also did a poll on Ustream for people to vote for what the babies names were going to be. It was a lot of fun.”
“I’m just blown away that on the morning of Feb. 10, we had over 30,000 hits on the webcam, and we have had such great feedback from people who say they have learned so much,” says Joe Allen, agricultural instructor at Cheyenne East High School and Frontier FFA advisor. “We had about 11,000 hits on Feb. 8 when Pinky had her babies.”
“Instead of me just teaching by showing a bunch of slideshows on artificial insemination, we wanted a hands-on opportunity. We thought we would do the slideshow and then take the kids out and actually do it and show them,” says Allen.
Pinky was inseminated in October and has been kept at the high school since late September.
Students also learned about vaccinations and animal record keeping, and they gave Pinky the required shots and tracked her weight.
“There are about 130 students in my ag classes, and all of them have been actively working with Pinky,” comments Allen. “Our school has approximately 1,500 students, and they also come and visit Pinky.”
Allen adds, “She has become part of the East High family and will have her picture in the yearbook this year.”
Webcam and blog
The webcam will be left up until the piglets are about one month old to show how the piglets are doing, as well as to show some standard procedures that occur after birth.
“We positioned the camera, so people could see what we were doing with the babies, as far as clipping their sharp teeth to reduce harm to Pinky and the other piglets, and giving them iron shots to prevent them from becoming anemic,” describes Allen. “We will continue to show other procedures, like castrating the males and notching the ears.”
Allen adds, “As soon as we are done messing with the pigs, they go straight back to eating and being happy and very content.”
The blog portion of the project will also continue once the webcam is taken down, and some of the piglets will be followed as they grow up and are sold as market hogs to be shown at the county and state fairs by the chapter’s FFA members.
“It’s been a good educational opportunity to let people know about swine,” comments Allen. “Sometimes there’s a lot of negative news that goes on about the swine industry, and this has been nice to have a positive twist on it and get more people involved with it.”
Plans are being made to repeat this project for next year’s students, maybe even with Pinky again. Allen explains that the swine’s gestational period works well with the class schedule.
Pinky and her “dirty dozen” piglets have reached people in Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom and France.
There has also been a K through 12 school in Michigan that followed Pinky and did projects about her progress, also incorporating her into their school curriculum. In that system, high school students researched different events in the process of Pinky’s gestation and then taught the younger kids about it.
“It’s been awesome to go on Ustream and see someone asking a question and then see one of my students answer that question,” remarks Allen.
“I also had a lady from Arizona call me who is 70 years old and had never seen anything born in her life, saying this was an incredible experience for her and allowed her to learn so much,” says Allen.
One Park County 4-H group also held a gathering at their leader’s house to watched the farrowing live.
Zimmerman and Allen both expressed their gratitude for everyone’s involvement with the project and helping to spread the word about it.
“We’ve had the opportunity to teach people in France,” says Allen. “As an ag teacher in Cheyenne, I’d never have had that opportunity without this project.”
“I would just like to thank Mr. Burket for donating the semen to A.I. and to the school district for helping us promote the project and letting us use their facilities for educational purposes,” says Zimmerman. “It has been quite an experience and none of it would have been possible without any of their support.”
Madeline Robinson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sow characteristics and behavior
0 – 10 days
Mammary glands enlarge and become firm
0 – 10 days
Swelling of the vulval lips
Mammary glands become turgid and tense and secrete a clear fluid
12 – 24 hours
Mammary glands begin to secrete milk
12 – 24 hours
Overall restlessness, nesting behavior
Abundant milk secretion
30 minutes – 4 hours
15 – 60 minutes
Sow quiets and lies down on her side
30 – 90 minutes
Straining, passage of blood tinged, oily fluid and meconium (fetal feces)
Tracking progress – Mikayla Zimmerman of Cheyenne utilized this table, in cooperation with a veterinarian and her agriculture instructor, to assess Pinky’s progress through labor