Improving hog genetics to improve show ring performance

Breeders are working hard to improve swine genetics, not just for commercial production but to provide better show pigs for youth programs.

At the Stephen F. Austin Swine Center in Nacogdoches, you will find Dr. John Michael Mehaffey as happy as a pig in slop. Although, no slop around these pig pens. This breeding facility is kept pristine for these prized animals.

According to Dr. Mehaffey, “In the state of Texas, we are dealing much more so with the show pig industry and really trying to help our youth develop those leadership and responsibility skills that they wouldn’t have otherwise, and it’s a huge business in the state of Texas... our youth shows and the scholarship program through those youth shows and allowing those students those opportunities.”

Dr. Mehaffey is the Associate Professor of Animal Ag at SFA. He joined the ranks of academia in 2012 following a career in research and development in the meat industry.

He also has hands-on experience from showing pigs as a teenager.

“I think one of the most rewarding fields that’s out there and also probably a field where all the universities in Texas could probably work as hard as we could and not fulfill all the ag teaching jobs in the state... Every year, I really have students that are animal science majors who have never touched a pig, never smelled a pig, never even touched a cow, and so the fact that we can get them in here--even if it’s just one lab day where they get to hold a baby pig and ear notch it and dog it’s tail, and see what it smells like and the sounds and squeals they make-- it makes a huge impression on those students.”

Mehaffey says that there is not a large market for commercial swine in Texas so this center focuses on providing livestock for 4-H and FFA students to exhibit in the show arena.

“I think it’s a huge step, especially in today’s world, of making sure that we kind of hook those youth and let them know how important agriculture is, and a pig is kind of one of those easy projects... that you can do and learn a lot from,” he adds. “As we keep dwindling in agriculture, I think, it’s important to get more and more youth involved and so the fact that we do have the show pig industry, I think, it really helps us.”

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