Participants in the agricultural program at Columbia High School have their hands and hooves full, including students and Penelope, a 4-year-old sow who recently gave birth to 11 piglets.
Since she gave birth on Jan. 24, students participating in the animal science class at CHS have been busy tending to the critters’ needs. Every few hours during class time, student volunteers walk up to the FFA Land Lab and bottle-feed Larry, the runt of the litter.
“The other piglets found a teat but Larry didn’t get one, so we feed him,” CHS agricultural educator Emily Gehrig said.
Gehrig said this week, students will learn to wane the piglets off the mother.
“It teaches [students] a sense of responsibility,” said Emily Gehrig, agriculture educator at CHS. Along with the piglets, students also learn to tend to chickens and dogs, as well as proper inoculation techniques and common language.
“[At the Land Lab], kids can raise livestock and experience agricultural life. We [the school] provide a place to sleep and water, the kids take care of other responsibilities,” Gehrig said.
For much of the day, Penelope spends her time tending to her babies. Often, people tending to the sow will take her on walks or put her in a private area so she can sleep without the interruption fromher little ones. This is her second litter.
“Penelope does it all on her own,” Gehrig said. “She’s a rock star.”
And because rock stars get treated like royalty, so will Penelope. She will soon move into an upgraded barn, just past the Land Lab, with indoor heating and a practice arena in back. Gehrig said former student Chandlor Bucklin, with brother and friends, volunteered his time into building it over the past year. Penelope also snacks on apples donated to the program by Mt. Adams Fruit.
Penelope, originally owned by CHS graduate Oscar Kirkwood, is now tended to by his freshman brother Henry.
As part of an FFA market project, students will soon be able to buy the pigs, tend to them over the summer and auction them off at the upcoming Klickitat County Fair in Goldendale.
Gehrig also said Larry will make an appearance at the upcoming petting zoo at Whitson Elementary School.