Queanbeyan students learn value of free range farming

QUEANBEYAN High School agriculture students are learning the value of free range farming as they play host to three rare Wessex Saddleback piglets for a month.

The nine-week-old purebred piglets are on loan from Peter Macpherson's free range farm based in Parkesbourne. The two males and one female arrived a fortnight ago and will soon be sold off for pork or breeding, depending on interest.

Teacher Ian Crabb said the hands-on experience has been great for students who also help rear cattle and chickens. He said the emphasis is for students to know and understand where the food that gets served up for dinner, has actually come from. The free range farm practices also bring up issues such as animal welfare.

"One of the most interesting things has been the behaviour of the pigs. We're running them free range and they've ploughed this paddock up better than I can do with a tractor," Mr Crabb said.

"When you think that most pigs are raised in an intensive piggery and don't have any of these natural behaviours. It shows we can produce just as good an animal to market in a free range environment as we can in an intensive piggery."

Students learn about the different pig breeds, the various parts of the live pig and parts of the carcass as well as common pests and diseases.

Mr Macpherson said he's been pleased with the students' efforts. The pigs - who have jokingly been named 'Pork, Bacon and Ham' - arrived at the school weighing 18 kilograms and have put on another seven kilograms in the last two weeks.

"The kids are really doing a good job, [the piglets] are looking fantastic ... a little bit overfed but that's easy enough to do. You have to be careful because when it comes time for them to be processed - it's like you go to the supermarket and you see meat that's quite fatty on it, you won't buy it. That's what you've got to be careful of," he said.

"Free range is the way to go; with these little guys I just treat them like you treat family members. You make sure they're comfortable and they've got the right amount of food. You can tell by their tails - when they're happy, they're rolled up and wiggling."

The students haven't just been busy with the pigs, they've also been inundated with more than a dozen baby chicks which have hatched in the last few days.

"The parents of these chicks were the champions at this year's Royal Easter Show so we're hoping that those genetics will be passed on to the chickens," Mr Crabb said.

"We've already started the training process. The year nine girls like to sit with the little baby chickens in their lap while they do their classwork. That means the chickens will lose their fear of people and really show themselves off when the judge comes along because they're not scared of people being close to them and having a look."

Anyone interested in purchasing the piglets can contact Queanbeyan High School on 6297 2088.

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