When Jenna Chance arrived on Kansas State University’s campus in August 2016, the central Indiana native was eager to get involved in every organization, internship or activity that could prepare her for a career in the swine industry.
“In terms of the future of the swine industry, I not only want to be an advocate and a positive light for the industry, but also be someone who is continually pushing other people to be the best they can be,” Chance says. “That is something that I’ve always tried to do.”
So, when the young student realized the Manhattan-based university was missing a swine club, she — and a few other swine enthusiast students — took the initiative to start one and provide more extensive swine experiences to existing animal science students. In August 2018, the Kansas State University Swine Club was established, with Chance as the club’s first president.
“That was a great opportunity to get out and see how many kids within the College of Ag — not even animal science, but within the College of Ag — are interested,” she says. “I think half of our members are ag business and not even animal science. It was fun to connect with the industry and see their passion for getting undergraduates involved in this swine industry, and really the need for kids out of college to go into the swine industry.”
That passion has made Chance a rising star not only at K-State, but also across the United States through her national research projects, internships and advocating activities. Cassandra Jones, K-State associate professor and coordinator of undergraduate research, says Chance is an exceptional student, and one U.S. pork producers will want to get to know in the future.
“Jenna is easily in the top 1% of students with whom I interact,” Jones says. “Throughout my career, I have noticed that some students can be identified early on as influencers, and Jenna is clearly one of those special students. I have no doubt that she will be someone who helps provide solutions to the swine industry in the future.”
Start in show business
Chance hails from a 250-sow, farrow-to-wean farm just outside of Lebanon, Ind. As she grew up, her family had a few show sows that her dad would breed for local 4-H’ers; and when Chance and her older sister, Nicole, were old enough, they both showed in 4-H in the Pig Project.
By her sophomore year of high school, her family quit the commercial pig business, giving Chance more opportunity to participate in the National Junior Swine Association and attend the National Barrow Show in Austin, Minn., National Junior Summertime Spectacular in Louisville, Ky., and the NJSA Southeast Regional in Perry, Ga.
“We opened up the herd, and we went out and bought purebred Yorkshire and Duroc females. We had around 30 show sows at that point,” Chance says. “Those were great opportunities. I love to show, but never quite had the opportunity to get out as much as I probably would’ve liked to.”
While her time showing may have been limited, Chance says the experience really instilled in her a passion for the swine industry, as well as a further interest in swine nutrition. With her family’s main business in grain farming now, she was also leaning toward agronomy upon high school graduation.
However, a after 10-hour trip to the plains of Kansas her senior year, Chance knew where she wanted to go and what she wanted to study.
“I ended up going out and checking out K-State and just fell in love with the environment and the people out there. I decided to take a leap of faith and go off to K-State,” Chance says. “I thought, man, if I hate K-State, I can always go home and go to Purdue; but if I go to Purdue, I’ll never leave.”
K-State and beyond
Chance first made her mark at K-State by being on the winning team for the Animal Science Academic Quadrathlon as a freshman. The team went on to win two reserve national championships.
“Jenna’s swine industry knowledge, practicality, poise and charisma were key to their success,” Jones says.
Chance has also been a leader in several activities on and off campus. In addition to starting the K-State Swine Club, she is a member of Block and Bridle, Sigma Alpha professional agricultural sorority and the College of Agriculture Ambassadors.
She has helped teach Pork Quality Assurance with swine nutrition and management professor Joel DeRouchey and his graduate students at the Kansas Junior Swine Producer Day; and she also was a 2017 member of the National Pork Board’s #RealPigFarming Student Social Forces team, the Pork Checkoff’s social media outreach program that helps real farmers share real stories with consumers through #RealPigFarming.
“For me, it was a really great experience to meet other kids that were interested in swine, and had that same passion for the swine industry, from other universities,” Chance says.
National pork producers’ organizations have also taken note of Chance’s ambitious nature. She had the opportunity to partner with K-State doctoral candidate Annie Lerner to apply and receive a National Pork Board undergrad research grant for a project evaluating oat groats in nursery pig diets. She presented that research at the 2019 American Society of Animal Science Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, in July.
Chance was also one of the Pork Checkoff’s 2019 Pork Industry Scholarship recipients and one of the National Pork Producers Council’s 2019 Lois Britt Memorial Pork Industry Scholarship award winners. Jones says it was Chance’s “scholastic merit, leadership activities, involvement in the pork production industry and plans for a career in pork production” that led to these awards.
Investing time in industry
Chance has not only been investing time in her studies and student organizations, but has also pursued several internships. Her first didn’t have anything to do with swine, but Chance says she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dip her toes into other areas of livestock production.
She first worked for Reproduction Specialty Group during her last semester of her senior year of high school, completing a work-based learning program. The company, based in her hometown of Lebanon, focuses on sheep and meat goat reproduction. After the semester was over, the veterinarian invited Chance to officially intern with the organization after her freshman year of college.
“It was a great experience to not only learn about the reproductive technology side of things, but also to really get my hands dirty and understand sheep and goat behavior, nutrition and management,” Chance says.
After her sophomore year, Chance was selected as an animal science intern for the science and technology department at the National Pork Board.
“That was an awesome experience. I loved Des Moines, loved the people at the National Pork Board — and it was a great opportunity to really see how the Checkoff dollars are allocated, what they’re put towards, and how hard the people at the Pork Board are working to advocate positively for the industry,” Chance says. “They are there to be the voice, and they’re there to work hard for American pork producers.”
During her summer at NPB, Chance helped to develop literature reviews; completed a scholarship tracking study; reviewed the new Pork Quality Assurance; attended several industry meetings, including World Pork Expo; and participated in a dietitian farm tour in North Carolina.
“That [dietitian farm tour] was a great opportunity to connect with dietitians, because they’re kind of the middle ground between producers and the consumer,” Chance says. “They’re the people that can really advocate for the farmers and also be like, ‘Hey, I’m just like you. I don’t know anything about farming, but I had the opportunity to go tour sow farms, and I can tell you that these animals are well taken care of, and the meat that you’re eating is safe and nutritious.’ ”
Currently Chance is working at United Animal Health in Sheridan, Ind., as a monogastric research intern, where she has had the opportunity to bleed finishing pigs, help weigh sows and perform enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays and mycotoxin testing of feed samples. It’s been a busy summer she says, but one she thoroughly enjoys.
Paying it forward
After just a short three-and-a-half years at K-State, Chance will graduate this December with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and industry with a bioscience-biotechnology option, and a minor in agronomy. Chance attributes graduating early to the dual-credit classes she was able to take in high school, which meant she brought nearly 30 credits with her to college.
She also recognizes she wouldn’t have made it this far in her studies so fast if it weren’t for her family and the faculty at K-State. Her list of mentors includes Jones, DeRouchey and Lerner as well as swine research faculty members Mike Tokach, Steve Dritz, Jason Woodworth and Robert Goodband.
Chance would be remiss not to mention her start in show pigs and the influence former exhibitors had on her growing up. She makes it a point to return to her hometown’s 4-H barns, and stop at Kansas swine shows to visit with youth about all the opportunities in the industry.
“I know there’s a lot of kids that — especially in Kansas, with beef being the main species — they might’ve had one or two show pigs, but they really, really enjoyed it. You have to show them all the opportunities that are within the swine industry,” Chance says.
Future challenges, opportunities
Upon graduation, Chance will continue her studies in a master’s degree program with the applied swine nutrition group at K-State. She hopes to purse a doctorate in swine nutrition, and one day be a swine nutritionist, either for a pork production system or animal nutrition company.
“I think there’s a really bright future. I don’t think there’s enough people to probably fill the roles that we’re going to need, especially with the VFD [veterinary feed directive] put in place a couple of years ago, and trying to find alternatives to antibiotics for animal health,” she says. “We also need to keep in mind our ever-changing genetics. As we have a boost in genetics, then we have to change our nutrition to match these genetics.”
A related example, Chance says, is this year’s weather conditions and many farms not able to plant corn due to flooded fields.
“That’s obviously the gold standard as a starch product, so what are other alternatives to corn that have the same performance and the same feed efficiency?” Chance says. “It’s something that’ll continue to be questioned and, depending on the year and commodity prices, we might have to find different ingredients to utilize from different parts of the country.”
While Chance sees opportunity in crisis, her ultimate career aspiration is to help producers be more profitable.
“In terms of the swine industry, I want to really help producers find the best way, in terms of economics, to feed their pigs. How can we do that, with also keeping animal health, animal welfare, biosecurity, and those sorts of things, in the forefront of our minds?” she says. “I have grown up on a farm, so I know how much of a struggle it is and how hard these guys work to make ends meet — so I really want to be there for the producer and keep their best interest in mind.”