Agriculture education helps high schoolers find a preferred profession

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Thursday, March 10, 2011
— They are far cuter than the average career aptitude test.

But the 19 piglets grunting and growing in the back room of the Delavan-Darien High School agriculture department have an important job: sorting future devoted pet lovers from future dedicated veterinarians.

"The kids in veterinary science are deciding whether or not they really want to work with animals," ag teacher Marty Speth said. "Now they know, a few weeks in, that they don't dig the pigs. They're not really ready for all the stuff a veterinarian has to do."

For at least eight of the last 10 years, the veterinary science classes have raised market pigs in a small room built especially for the job at the back of the school, Speth said.

This season's two litters were born in February. The first 11 were born during a snow day following the Feb. 2 blizzard. The others were born later that week. The litters were the first for both mother pigs.

The pigs come from a Reedsburg farm where Speth's friend raises show pigs. Once the piglets reach 45 pounds, they will go back to the farm and be sold in club sales. They might compete this summer at the Rock County 4-H Fair or the Wisconsin State Fair, Speth said.

They'll be a little too old for the Walworth County Fair.

The breeder provides pregnant female pigs, the feed and the financial responsibility for the project. Speth and his students assume the labor.

The work starts as soon as the piglets are born. Their ears are notched, their navels dipped with disinfectant and their needle teeth clipped, among other chores.

Needle teeth are temporary teeth newborn piglets use to fight for space to nurse. Some producers remove the teeth to keep piglets from hurting each other or their mother.

Even teens who love animals might find they're not cut out for the work.

"It's not all hugging and brushing and petting," Speth said.

On the other hand, some teens take to the work, and Speth is happy to remind them that the demand for jobs in the agriculture field is steady and growing. Students who have an interest in a type of farm work and a willingness to work hard will have an easy time finding jobs, he said.

"I tell kids that if you want to farrow pigs all day long … I could probably find you a job by the end of the week if you were good," Speth said.

For many students, the pigs are their first brush with production agriculture. Few Delavan-Darien students live on production farms, although quite a few live on farmettes, Speth said.

The pigs also could be some students' last brush with production agriculture. Housed in the agriculture department are 12 classes broken into four career paths, and students are by no means limited to learning about jobs on farms, Speth said.

Students can explore careers in environmental science, natural resources, plant science and animal science, he said. Agribusiness classes also are available.

The science classes qualify for the science credits students need to graduate from high school and be accepted into college.

But unlike "traditional" science classes, those taught in the ag department tend to point out what careers go along with skill sets.

"We are putting in a career dynamic for those kids," Speth said.

Delavan-Darien High School's agriculture curriculum isn't unique in that aspect. Last week at Craig High School in Janesville, students were studying diversity in the "leadership in the workplace" class taught by agriculture teacher Diane Runde. Students gave oral presentations about cultures around the world.

At Craig, the agriculture department offers 15 classes. Four teachers are teaching 13 of those this year, Runde said. Two of the department's classes qualify for the school district's science credit for graduation, and the district is working to make those classes qualify for college entrance requirements.

Three rabbits and a brown and white rat live in cages in Craig's small-animal laboratory. The room is the place where students learn about the tools used in a veterinary practice. They study animal nutrition, anatomy and care in the veterinary science classes.

"We really focus on what it takes to own an animal responsibly," Runde said. "Underlying that are the sciences that go with the animals. We get their attention because it's a pet, and we bring along the science."

Last updated: 4:47 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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