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Darren Ponto, quality assurance manager for New Vision Cooperative, teaching participants about feed. (Special to the Daily Globe)

4-H co-op calf, co-op swine programs offered in Minnesota

WORTHINGTON, Minn. — The Nobles County 4-H co-op swine and co-op calf programs are back this year, once again giving youths a chance to learn how to raise an animal firsthand.

The program — available to all 4-H members ages 5 to 19 —  is led by experts from New Vision Cooperative. They educate the participants on everything about raising animals, from building a pen to feeding them, keeping them healthy and showing them at the county fair.

Nobles County 4-H Program Coordinator Katie Klosterbuer said whether enrolled in the calf program or the swine program, participants will receive their animals in April. Then, with assistance from New Vision, they raise the animals until county fair time, when they can decide to keep them or sell them.

The co-op calf program is returning for its ninth year; the co-op swine program will have its second go-around.

Andrew Bents, who works predominantly with swine as a veterinarian with the Veterinary Medical Center at Worthington, helped get the co-op swine program off the ground. Last year, in the program’s first year, Bents said the kids and pigs completely outperformed his expectations.

“On average, the pigs gained over a half a pound more a day than their littermates side by side,” Bents said. “The pigs were on average 100 pounds bigger than we anticipated. It was a fun problem to have.”

Bents said they underestimated how much the pigs would grow under such good conditions.

“The kids were taking care of them one on one, and they had plenty of room to do whatever they wanted,” he said. “They didn't have any competition to eat or do anything really, so they had a chance to grow to their genetic potential.”

Bents said most of the students had interest in livestock before they started the program, but nearly all of the kids in the swine program didn't know anything about raising pigs. By the end, however, they were pretty much experts. The only real problem for the kids was simply the sheer size of the pigs.

“This time around, the pigs are going to be a lot younger when the kids get them, so they’ll be much smaller at the fair,” Bents said.

Bents added that the program would change the way they reinforce what the participants learn.

“Last year, we presented the information and they had to answer questions based on what they learned,” Bents said. “This year, we’ll let them learn as they go and keep a journal so they can keep track of what they’ve learned.”

As with the co-op calf program, the swine program was started to increase interest in raising livestock among area youths. This year, participants will sit down with real-life producers to learn more about the industry.

“This is an opportunity for kids to learn about raising livestock in general,” Bents said. “Raising pigs or cattle is an integral part of the community, so if it's something that interests them, join 4-H and give it a shot.”

Registration for the co-op calf and co-op swine programs is currently open and ends Feb. 1.

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