Otwell Middle School welcomed its very first pigs this year in September. The school currently holds three market hogs, Barbie Q, Pluto and Tyrone, using them as contributing factors to the students’ learning.
The livestock that is kept at the school helps students in projects for the Future Farmers of America club on campus.
Alyssa Nistal, reporter for FFA and seventh-grade student at Otwell Middle School owns Barbie Q, the first pig brought to the school grounds. She and Barbie have been working hard this year, placing 10th in their first show together.
With the support of her teacher, Sierra Andrews, Nistal was able to work on her Supervised Agricultural Experience project with Barbie after school. The SAE is designed to help students explore all aspects of a career in agriculture, allowing them to consider multiple different careers, learn expected agriculture workplace behavior, and develop specific skills within an industry that they enjoy.
“Anything that the kids are really interested in, they can focus on that and dive into it and really study it,” Andrews said. “My kids choose what they want to compete in, and then they have to study for it and prepare themselves.”
Barbie and Nistal did just that this year, focusing on creating a bond that would help them compete well together.
“We have to handle the pig every day,” Nistal said, “by walking with her and getting comfortable handling her in large and small areas.”
Nistal also detailed that they must practice keeping the pig’s head up while walking, preventing the animal from running away, and maintaining a slow and steady pace, saying this is crucial to performing well during a pig show.
“We … have to wash her and trim her body [hair] before the shows so that it looks like a clean cut,” she said.
Nistal still has plans to show next season.
“I currently have another market hog, this time a barrow (male pig), and I plan to show him for the winter season,” Nistal said.
Andrews said show hogs have a short window of time to compete before they are considered retired.
To celebrate Barbie’s retirement, the students made a parting gift for her. They stamped her hoof in plaster and decorated the surrounding parts with different colored mosaics.
“It was a little hard because Barbie’s so messy,” said Stella Previto, historian of FFA and seventh-grade student at Otwell Middle School. “But we had a lot of fun making it.”
Otwell Middle School houses other animals as well.
“We have a lot of animals,” Andrews said. “We ask a lot of the community to donate if they want to, and we take in rabbits or any animals that people don’t want.”
The rabbit program, featuring Netherland Dwarf rabbits and English Lop breeds, is also popular among students.
“My students actually pay a barn fee, and then they can rent out a rabbit for either the quarter or the year,” Andrews said. “And that fee pays for all their supplies, too.”
Conrad Pritzlaff and Carla Sapere are a few of the students that work with the rabbits.
Just like pigs, rabbits have a small window of time to compete in shows before they are retired.
“At shows, we put them on this long table that has cages on each side,” Previto said. “You put your bunny in a cage, and then the judge will come by to examine it.”
Pritzlaff, a sixth-grader at Otwell, said that the judges score based on the rabbit’s fur, teeth, ears and weight.
“They also round-up for each different rabbit breed,” he said. “So that’s like Netherland Dwarf, English Lop and Polish rabbits.”
Otwell is currently raising Holland Lop rabbits for future shows. The baby Holland Lops will remain in the agriculture classroom until they are old enough to be moved to the barn.
“The two babies are pretty small,” Andrews said. “But we’re hoping to show them soon. Their names are Pancake and Muffin.”
The school also has chickens on campus. Josh Cramer, parliamentarian of FFA and seventh-grade student is fondly known as “The Chicken Kid.”
Both he and Andrews explained how Cramer has raised chickens, and how he hatched his very own duck, Lucky, at home.
The chickens at Otwell are still too young to be laying eggs, but the students are hoping that they begin laying in the next few months.
“You can tell what color eggs they’re gonna lay when they get to this stage,” Cramer said, pointing to a chicken’s earlobes. “The earlobes are always gonna show you what color eggs you’re gonna get.”
Otwell houses both Bantam and Ameraucana chickens.
The school’s agriculture program doesn’t stop with livestock. The greenhouse, along with the barn, was completed in August, allowing students to propagate and grow plants.
They have been working on propagating ferns and growing different vegetables. Andrews said she hopes they can create their own garden with the produce that they have planted.
Each student involved in the program can explore all the facets of agriculture that they find interesting.
“We really try to do different things here,” Andrews said. “We have vet science competitions, we have public speaking competitions, we have employability competitions, lawnmower maintenance and operation, poultry science, animal science, livestock judging, all kinds of stuff.”
Students are encouraged to pursue their passion. For Josh Cramer, it’s raising chickens; for Alyssa Nistal, it’s competing in pig shows. There’s nothing too big or too small for the program and each agricultural passion is supported.
“We’re working on getting facilities for Forsyth County so we can have more livestock like cows, goats, sheep and pigs,” Andrews said.
They also plan to work with the elementary and high schools nearby to foster education and love for agriculture.
“There’s always a lot going on here,” Andrews said. “We’re also getting a donkey. We’re getting a lean-to built here, and it’s still in progress. Once we get a new fence put in … he’ll come here and live outside.”
Many of the students lit up with visible excitement at the mention of the donkey.
“His name is Bart, and the kids are so excited.”