Swine Education Programs Are Decade Best Kept Secret

By: Emma Wilson, CALS Communication Service

It’s no secret that more than 60,000 pork producers in the United States generate a gross income of over $20 billion per year, making the pork industry one that’s continuously growing and thriving.

But it may be a well-kept secret on what really helps to make these farmers so successful — two successful distance education programs offered through the leadership of Iowa State University’s Iowa Pork Industry Center.

This month, the PorkBridge program has started its 13th year and SowBridge is underway for its 10th year of continued educational programs for producers, operators, owners, managers, employees and anyone advancing the industry of pork production. Both programs are sponsored by a group of 11 state universities, including Iowa State, from the major pork producing states.

Ken Stalder, a professor in animal science and extension swine specialist, says PorkBridge and SowBridge are key programs for the success of pork producers across the nation and around the world.

The distance educational programs allow those interested in learning new topics, best management practices and improving other operation procedures to learn in the comfort of their offices or homes. PorkBridge presentation sessions occur every other month and SowBridge sessions occur each month.

Both programs allow to have one paid registration for as many as the paid registrant want to involve. One registrations provides unlimited access to each session's materials, contact information for each session presenter, one phone line for each live session and opportunity to ask questions during sessions and any time throughout the program year. 

One key to success is using the simplest, most accessible technology available to the widest number of people, Stalder says.

“The two programs are very user friendly for employees, producers, specialists and managers of all ages and all backgrounds,” he says. “It’s not a webinar, a Connect session or a Zoom session,” says Stalder. “It simply combines electronic computer information with live presentations of experts in the industry by phone.”

Kaj Jensen, manager of Center Creek Pork in Granada, Minn., has been working with sows for over 25 years.

“I require my employees to watch at least two of the presentations each year so everyone is held accountable for overall production,” says Jensen. “Its really beneficial to show employees rather than tell them way we do things a certain way, so the programs serve as a great reinforcement each year.”

Jensen says he learns something new each year from both PorkBridge and SowBridge.

“The last presentation I watched was how sows can better utilize colostrum,” says Jensen. “After the presentation, we started implemented different tactics for moving piglets. It has paid huge dividends in decreasing piglet loss for us.”

Jensen says he appreciates having the ability to pause the programs while being able to come back to it later, working around his schedule as well as his employees’ schedules.

“We tried to listen to the live presentations, but it just didn’t work very well with getting chores and other things done,” he says. “We can stop the presentation, come back to it where we left off and not miss a thing.”

In 2004, Mike Brumm, a now retired professor of animal science at the University of Nebraska, started an educational pilot program for producers in Nebraska and Ohio. PorkBridge was the first program released for producers with grow-to-finish operations. Three years later, SowBridge was launched for those who work with swine in breeding, gestation and farrowing barns with information to help them succeed in their jobs.

Stalder says the programs aren’t successful without the efforts of hard-working industry representatives and professors from across the country. Since their creation, the two programs have presented engaging topics by well-known industry experts that are provided by the collaboration of the 11 land-grant universities throughout the nation. The Iowa Pork Industry Center in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences serves as the home for the programs.

Although a significant number of pork producers take part in the programs, Stalder believes its still one of animal agriculture’s best-kept secrets.

The two programs have continued to thrive across the nation, and not just for producers.

“Although they’ve been designed for producers, the programs go beyond those in the barns,” says Sherry Hoyer, communication specialist with the Iowa Pork Industry Center. “We’ve had feed company representatives, veterinarians, and extension specialists take our classes.”


Feb. 27, 2018