What started with an eagerness for a hands-on learning experience in the Department of Animal Science in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences ended with a new passion and opportunity for Carlie Rogers ’24, a first-generation college student from Diana.
In April 2021, Rogers began a student worker position at the department’s swine center unit and now her sights are set on a career as a sow farm manager.
Rogers is no stranger to the livestock industry. She grew up around livestock and companion animals and wanted to become a veterinarian. But after realizing the endless opportunities available in the animal science field, Rogers shifted her perspective on a career path.
This shift led her to the swine center, an animal unit located on the grounds of the O.D. Butler Jr. Animal Science Teaching, Research and Extension Complex, a 580-acre center near the main Texas A&M campus in College Station comprised of five unique facilities supporting various areas in animal agriculture.
Even though she had no prior experience working with swine, her agricultural background made her want to grow in a new area of animal agriculture. As a student worker, Rogers helped with the day-to-day operations of feeding and general care of swine, gaining a wealth of experience to support her in a future career in the swine industry.
“I was interested in this opportunity because I wanted to learn from hands-on experiences and make connections with animal science faculty and industry stakeholders,” Rogers said.
Immersive learning experience
One of the best opportunities for students to directly apply the knowledge and skills learned in their animal science courses is to work at a department animal unit, said Jeffrey Wiegert, Ph.D., instructional assistant professor and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service swine specialist, Bryan-College Station.
“Immersing in the day-to-day aspects of animal care exposes our student workers to thought-provoking challenges and realities of animal husbandry that are difficult to recreate in a classroom setting,” Wiegert said.
Beyond putting their knowledge to practice while working at an animal unit, students are introduced to potential career paths from both the production and research sides of the industry. Wiegert recruits student workers from the swine center for research projects before opening the opportunity to others because the student workers are already familiar with the farm and how the animals are managed.
“Our student workers gain a broader and deeper learning experience because they’re the ones at the farm with the animals really living it,” Wiegert said. “This is perhaps most valuable for the students who did not grow up around production agriculture or showing livestock, but who have a strong interest in science and an intense motivation to do something within the field.”
A typical work shift includes keeping the pens and overall facility clean, feeding the animals, monitoring health and recording any observations on a daily log, Rogers said. If treatments are needed, Rogers helps administer the treatment and records the information. Other tasks involve moving pigs as needed and assisting with heat checking, artificial insemination, ultrasound for pregnancy diagnosis and piglet processing.
“I had to go back to the basics and learn new terminology, as well as remember the techniques that were taught in the introduction classes,” Rogers said. “I also established a routine for my job responsibilities that helped ensure that every animal was well cared for.”
Rogers said Wiegert, other student workers and the swine center manager warmly welcomed her and graciously acclimated her into the role.
“I am thankful for all of the people I have met and everything I learned from them,” she said. “They truly made this job enjoyable. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would have this experience and connection at a large university.”
Strong work ethic and passion
Wiegert said Rogers showed her intelligence, dependability, strong communication skills and a dedication to doing the right thing on the farm, which quickly earned his trust.
“Carlie’s best attribute is that she genuinely cares for the pigs,” he said. “She always went above and beyond to ensure the animals were healthy and comfortable because she cares.”
Rogers fed and checked the pigs before her 8 a.m. classes and returned later in the day between classes to complete other chores. During the summer, Rogers arrived at the farm at dawn to help breed sows before it became too hot. When the sows gave birth, she routinely checked the sows and piglets into the night hours and over the weekends.
Much of the work was routine and necessary, but Rogers found a sense of accomplishment and purpose she believes will resonate beyond her time at the center.
“I realized that, through my work at the swine center, I was making contributions that directly benefitted the pork industry,” she said.
Outlook for the future
Rogers graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal science on Dec. 14, and has multiple opportunities to continue down a path in swine production.
Her experience working at the swine center shaped her future career aspirations and provided her with both technical knowledge and leadership skills that will benefit her in any role she decides to pursue. On the technical side, Rogers said she gained resources and knowledge to handle management responsibilities and feels confident that the lessons learned can be applied to other species.
In addition, Rogers said she learned about the importance of working as a team and how to care for people.
“It takes a team of good people to make a system work,” Rogers said. “As a leader, it is important to make sure everyone working with you is heard and cared for. We were one big work family that understood each other, and I will miss everyone.”
Wiegert said it won’t be the same at the swine center without Rogers, but he knows the next students to take advantage of this learning experience will also deeply care for the animals. The experience will open doors for them in more ways than one.
“Students, like Carlie, will learn about the dedication pig producers have for their animals and how we use science to improve pig health and welfare to increase the sustainability and profitability of pork production,” Wiegert said. “This knowledge will help our graduates apply science similarly to their chosen fields, in addition to becoming educated consumers who are lifelong advocates of animal agriculture.”