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NHF-SDSUTours1-1540.jpg South Dakota State University

SDSU students open barn doors on how pigs are raised

The facility has hosted 10 virtual tours in 2018 and has completed six out of the 36 scheduled thus far for 2019.

I’m a fan of FaceTime. My husband is not, but when I’m traveling for work, I love to check in with the kids, to see the giant block castle they built, the funny new dance moves they’ve created and just their crazy facial animations as they tell me about their day. The conversation often runs from room to room, so I also get to inspect how messy my house is from afar (but don’t tell my husband that!)

All in all, it helps me feel like I’m back in Brookings, S.D., my home and home to the great South Dakota State University. Go Jacks!

So, you can imagine my excitement a couple weeks ago, when sitting in a conference room more than 1,600 miles away from Brookings and SDSU at the National Pork Board meeting during Pork Forum, I, along with a couple hundred other pork industry representatives in the room, were able to get some “face time” with the SDSU Swine Education and Research Center.

“I hold a special place in my heart for that whole facility and to see them doing these innovative things,” says Steve Rommereim, president of the National Pork Board and a pork producer from Alcester, S.D. “I got to actually see a young lady walking us through the barn, answering questions in real time from Florida. This absolutely is a way to reach out to the whole world on what we are trying to do.”

Since the Pork Checkoff’s Operation Main Street began collaborating with SDSU to “open the barn doors” on how pigs are raised, the facility hosted 10 virtual tours in 2018 and has completed six out of the 36 scheduled thus far for 2019. This is in addition to the two dozen in-barn tours the site provides each year, according to Cameron Pewe, SDSU barn manager.

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While in-barn tour participants range from state agencies, civic groups, students and producers, the virtual tours are reaching a much more diverse audience. Seven schools of veterinary medicine, along with two culinary art groups from Missouri and Colorado and one dietetic association from northeast Indiana had the opportunity last year to see the state-of-the-art SDSU teaching center, explore all phases of pig production and get insight into the latest technology for reproductive physiology, nutrition management and sustainability.

“Virtual tours help non-traditional audiences understand today’s pork production,” says Bob Thaler, SDSU professor and a swine Extension specialist. “Our goal is to demystify how pigs are raised.”

An added benefit of the virtual tours is that they are conducted by SDSU students. The students give live barn tours and participate with the OMS speakers during presentations to answer questions.

“Another positive around that is these kids come in, learn how to do these virtual tours, learn about the hog business itself, and then will be able go off into the world, whatever industry they are in and be able to go out and do the same thing outside the doors of the university,” Rommereim says. “I think that is a real benefit, a real positive.”

Maddie Hokanson, an SDSU senior and one of the Pork Checkoff’s 2017 America’s Pig Farmers of Tomorrow, says the tours underscore how technology is driving continuous improvement in pig farming.

“The live tours provide virtual face-to-face communication that show how far we’ve come with barn technology to raise healthier pigs,” Hokanson says.

Rommereim says the virtual aspect is also very important in this day and age of biosecurity.

“We can’t have a lot of people tromping through our barns anymore, especially the barns with young pigs, farrowing and birthing barns. There is just too much opportunity to bring diseases in to these pigs. We can’t allow that. It’s an animal-welfare issue and it’s a profitability issue,” Rommereim says. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity for producers, for pig farmers and all stages of our industry, the whole food chain if you will, to get the word out about what we are doing, when it comes to public safety, nutrition, all the messages we are trying to send out there, this a great venue to do it.”

Transparency is key and it’s great to see these up-and-coming young leaders step up to the camera and do a little “face timing” about our great industry. It opens the barn doors to people who might never have a chance to tour a pig farm, and it provides an opportunity for these students to sharpen their skillset in public speaking. I know I’m proud of my alma mater.

Go big. Go blue. Go Jacks!

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