by Evelyn Boswell for the MSU News Service
BOZEMAN — For the first time, Montana State University has purchased 4-H pigs to feed MSU students who eat in the university’s award-winning Miller Dining Commons.
“It's good quality food so it's going to taste great,” said Jill Flores, who went to the Gallatin County Fair on behalf of MSU this year to purchase the animals. “Because most of the students who eat in Miller Dining Commons are freshmen and many of them have participated in 4-H, it will be a way for them to touch base with home.”
Flores is the production manager for Miller and routinely buys Montana products to serve at MSU. Also a former 4-H Club member from Plains, she got the idea for buying 4-H pigs last year when she attended a 4-H and FFA auction where her nieces were selling livestock.
This year, Flores spent more than six hours in an arena at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds. By the time the county fair’s 4-H/FFA market livestock sale ended after midnight July 22, Flores had bought nine pigs that are expected together to yield more than 1,000 pounds of meat, including sausage, bacon and deli meats. The pigs are being processed in Big Timber at Pioneer Meats, which MSU alumnus Brian Engle owns.
“We are doing this because we are a land-grant university and we strive on campus to buy Montana products,” Flores said. “I feel like it's important for us to serve good quality locally grown food to our students.”
Flores and other MSU officials pointed out that MSU Extension is housed at MSU and Extension oversees the statewide 4-H program. Therefore, buying 4-H pigs and serving the meat at MSU seems only fitting.
“What a great tie-in with the land-grant mission,” said Todd Kesner, director of the Montana 4-H Center for Youth Development at MSU.
Kelton Jensen, 4-H youth development agent for Gallatin County, said, “I think it's great that the university is supporting the 4-H program.”
Selling pigs to MSU were:
Will Baeth of Manhattan, member of the Manhattan Clever Clovers and son of Lewis and Donna Baeth.
Riley Black of Belgrade, member of Saddle Stars and son of Lisa Black.
Blake Fitch of Manhattan, member of Manhattan's Tater Gems and son of John and Kim Fitch.
Hutch Herron of Manhattan, member of the Gallatin Valley Livestock 4-H club and son of Brad and Lindsay Herron.
Derek, Emily and Cannon Ireland of Belgrade, members-at-large and children of Chad and Christy Ireland.
Wesley Russell of Belgrade, member of Gallatin Valley Livestock and son of Todd and Lisa Russell.
Misa Smetana of Bozeman, member-at-large and son of Dusan and Lorca Smetana.
“I like it. For one thing, I like Bobcats better than Griz,” 11-year-old Smetana said of MSU buying his pig, a Hampshire/Yorkshire/Duroc crossbreed named Squee. He added that he also liked the thought of the meat staying in Montana.
Merle Farrier of Manhattan, an MSU graduate who served on the 2016 swine committee, said the young pork producers spent 90 to 120 days preparing their pigs for the fair. Among other things, they fed their pigs until they weighed at least 220 pounds, watered them and cared for them if they became sick. The youngsters took the pigs for walks, sometimes as much as a quarter mile, to exercise them. They practiced their showmanship skills, which included keeping their pigs moving at all times in the show ring and keeping them in front of the judge without getting too close.
Jensen said the 4-H'ers learned to raise pigs according to the best practices for raising livestock. In the process, they learned responsibility — both to the animals and consumers.
Kesner said, “Young people in the 4-H program work under the guidance of positive and knowledgeable adult volunteers to produce a healthy, robust and quality meat animal for public consumption. 4-H animals receive a lot of individual attention on their path to maturity while members learn not only responsibility and accountability, but also the tenets of animal quality assurance that often surpasses even industry standards.
“The purchase of 4-H animals by Miller Dining Commons brings Montana State University full circle from administration of the 4-H youth development program to offering the products conscientiously raised by 4-H members,” Kesner said. “This kind of support reaffirms the commitment of Montana State University to the youth of Montana.”
Photo: Local 4-H participant Misa Smetana is pictured with his pig Montana State University purchased at the recent Gallatin County Fair. Submitted photo.