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Written by: Jacquelyn Prestegaard

For students studying animal science, hands-on experience is the best way to master animal handling skills.

Thanks to the national outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), many swine lab classes may be confined exclusively to lecture settings this school year.

Colleges like the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pride themselves on providing firsthand learning experiences for its students. Since the majority of attendees at UIUC are from non-rural backgrounds, animal science undergraduates are required to take several labs involving direct contact with livestock.

One of these required classes is called Working with Farm Animals. During the swine portion of the lab students dive into pig processing methods. For many of them, it is their first time handling hogs.

“All of the students have taken an introductory Animal Science course and have seen a pig on a piece of paper,” said Lauren Honneger, a teaching assistant for Working with Farm Animals. “However, many of the students have no experience handling hogs.”

During the course, students learn how to dock tails, give shots, notch ears and castrate newborn piglets. They additionally learn how to sort pigs with a hurdle, identify a female in heat, artificially inseminate sows, and collect blood for testing.

Other classes that take regular trips to the swine unit include Introduction to Animal Science and Animal Reproduction. Both of these courses are mandatory for animal science undergraduates.

Unfortunately, these courses may have to be taught differently this year.

“Being at the university, one of the biggest things we want to continue doing is teaching,” said Dr. Corinne Bromfield, Agriculture and Animal Care and Use Program Veterinarian. “Unfortunately, this is also a great way for us to maximize our risk for PEDv.”

With biosecurity at its most stringent on swine facilities, the farm simply cannot afford the traffic of hundreds of students. Only faculty is permitted to enter the premises to care for the pigs and carry out research protocol.

Photo courtesy of the Animal Science Image Gallery

Photo courtesy of the Animal Science Image Gallery

Even farm workers are required to take extra biosecurity precautions. They must remove street shoes, shower prior to entering swine housing, and keep dedicated clothes and boots at the farm.

“A person who has been to an infected farm can carry the virus on their clothing, shoes and even their skin,” said Bromfield, who helped design the university farm’s PEDv biosecurity protocol.

Bromfield said it is hard to predict when students will be allowed back on the farm.

“Right now we are trying to see whether or not we can accept the risks of having students back on the facility,” Bromfield explained. “But we want to have them back as soon as possible.”