AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — Through long-standing home projects, Alabama 4-H members are learning invaluable life skills. The Pig Squeal project is a prime example of how 4-H teaches responsibility, community involvement, partnership and work ethic.
Amy Burgess, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System coordinator for Blount County, said Alabama 4-H has offered Pig Squeal for 11 consecutive years.
“This year, 165 4-H’ers are taking part in the Pig Squeal project and 338 pigs were delivered,” Burgess said. “These 4-H’ers are in 20 counties across the state.”
Molly Gregg, Alabama Extension’s assistant director for 4-H programs, said these participants are cultivating responsibility, empathy and resilience.
“This experience fosters a work ethic coveted by employers, where dedication, attention to detail and the ability to adapt to changing conditions and circumstances requires grit and determination,” Gregg said. “Along the journey, participants are strengthening family bonds and building community support.”
Rooted in Research
A team of Alabama Extension and 4-H personnel created Pig Squeal because they saw members’ desire to learn where food comes from. In the project, participants receive and care for two feeder pigs for 120 days. Each member brings one of the hogs to a show and auction. The member is evaluated on showmanship, and the pig is evaluated on market characteristics. While every participant is required to bring and sell one of their hogs, they can decide whether they want to keep or sell the second hog.
Kent Stanford, an Alabama Extension specialist, said one of the draws of the project is the 120-day commitment.
“Parents can mark the start and end dates, knowing that they have a window of commitment,” Stanford said. “This is a structured program. Parents and students attend orientation meetings, complete quality assurance training, receive a handbook and have access to guidance and materials through Alabama 4-H and Extension personnel.”
The spatial requirements for two market hogs are like those of a small dog pen. This makes the project attainable for families without access to acres of land. Support from the Alabama Pork Checkoff and the Alabama Resource Conservation and Development Councils has made hog pens available for many participating members.
Off to a Squealing Start
Members received their hogs for the 2024 project during the last weekend in January. Each hog weighed approximately 50 pounds. Landon Marks, the Extension coordinator for Cherokee County, said the goal is to increase the hogs’ weight by 2 to 3 pounds per day.
“Four pounds of feed equals 1 pound of gain,” Marks said. “Some may require more feed to get the targeted rate of gain, but this is one of the real-life issues that participants will encounter and overcome with help from their local agents.”
Stanford said one of the most unique aspects of the project is that it encompasses all aspects of raising a hog, with an emphasis on record-keeping and communications.
“Marketing and branding for this project were intentional,” Stanford said. “The project walks participants from the caregiving process to the marketing phase. This includes a commission fee that supports 4-H programs and a contribution to the Pork Checkoff after the show and auction.”
Building Community and Teaching Responsibility
Wendy Padgett, a 4-H youth development coordinator in Clarke County, said the project has helped bring the small town of Fulton, Alabama together.
“The mayor and town workers have bought in to our Pig Squeal project,” Padgett said. “We have shavings donated from the local mill and bleachers brought in for the show and auction. The local feed store owner also allows showmanship clinics at his storefront. These community leaders are supporting our 4-H’ers and fostering community by making their space available.”
Chloe Wilson, the Extension coordinator for Limestone County, is in her third year of raising a pig at a local school.
“High-school students are in charge of caring for the pig, but elementary students have an opportunity to learn about raising a pig and what caring for a market animal entails,” Wilson said.
Jerry Allen Newby III (Newby), a Limestone County 4-H member, has reaped the benefits of Pig Squeal. His mother, Ashley, said it is an experience that gives him independence.
“Participating in the 4-H Pig Squeal has been such a good experience for Newby,” Ashley said. “Being from a farming family, this gives him his own responsibilities in the agricultural field. It’s rewarding for him to work with and show the pigs. It has taught him self-discipline and money management that he can use daily and will hopefully prepare him to be a better future farmer.”
Pig Squeal project leaders agree that the success of this program is largely because of community partners who want to see 4-H members succeed. From feed-store discounts to restaurants purchasing hogs for barbecue sales, the success of Pig Squeal is contingent on local partnerships. Learn more about Pig Squeal at www.Alabama4H.com.