While 5,800 freshmen made LSU their new home this month, so did 11 piglets born to Irma, a pig at the LSU AgCenter Central Research Station.
Irma is a 3-year-old female Hampshire cross sow who was acquired in September 2017 from a local producer in Zachary. There are five sows and one boar at the research station used for teaching in the LSU School of Animal Sciences.
The piglets, however, do not have specific names. Instead, they are given a unique ID by ear notching. The number in the pig’s right ear is its litter number (1), and itsleft ear is the individual animal’s number (1-11). This system is used on swine operations across the country. Several students came out to help with the ear notching.
One of professors in the department jokingly calls the piglets "the bacon bits," and so the animal science department calls the swine family "Irma and the Bacon Bits."
Animal science professor Tyler Braud’s students had the opportunity to assist with breeding two of the University’s pigs on April 17. Irma was the only one that conceived, and gave birth to her litter on Aug. 10. The traditional gestation period of a pig is about 114 days.
The piglets were given iron injections two days after their birth to prevent iron deficiency, which can develop rapidly due to low iron reserves. Shots have to be given because they are born in a barn and cannot obtain iron from soil.
Braud said the pigs are not used for research.
"We decided to bring a few pigs back to enhance our teaching program and allow our students to have a hands-on experience in class," Braud said.
The daily care for the animals on the farm consists of feeding them, turning fans on during the hot months and hosing them down to keep them cool. Braud, the farm unit staff and students take care of all of these.
"Animal comfort — we pay close attention to that," Braud says.
The LSU AgCenter Central Research Station also has horse, beef, sheep and goat units, and each has a manager responsible for taking care of their unit.The center also employs students of all majors, but a majority are in the animal science department.
"Pigs are very smart animals," Braud said. "Our sows are very tame [and] very docile animals. They’re really curious, so they get excited when they see us coming into the barn."
Each semester there are two to three classes that meet once a week where students have the opportunity to interact with all of the animals and can rotate animal species.
Braud’s swine production class is "totally about pigs." His students go to the farm every day for feeding and making sure everything is taken care of. When the class is not in session, the work falls on the farm staff and himself.
The goal of the animal sciences department is to be able to produce litters of pigs to be used for teaching farm animal management, swine production, live animal and carcass evaluation and meat science.
"Our students learn all aspects of animal science including nutrition, genetics, reproduction and management," Braud said. "We also have courses related to meat science. Some of the animals that we raise on this farm, we harvest in our meat lab on campus."
The meat from animals raised on the farm can be purchased at the LSU AgCenter Dairy Store.
Animal science junior Kristy Trahan said her experience with the piglets has definitely helped her a lot because she didn’t really have a lot of experience with pig production.
"It’s a really good thing that we have animals at the research units because it gives that overall foundation to animal science," Trahan said.
Animal science junior Nick Uzee said working with the piglets has been a rewarding experience.
"This research station and other supporting research stations allow us to gain further experience in all aspects of animal agriculture," Uzee said. "It’s been quite rewarding seeing the piglets grow up, even though it’s only been two weeks."
Agricultural and extension education junior Kevin Chanove said it was interesting to see Irma go through artificial insemination, since he’s only ever seen it in cattle.
"It’s rewarding seeing a sow, and then many months later, you see all of her piglets," Chanove said "You can’t learn agriculture in a book. You just have to do it."