Pigs ARE cool! Seniah Flesher’s internship adventures on a Washington pig farm

Pig nose

Seniah Flesher loves being around animals and has always thought she wanted to be a veterinarian. The sophomore animal sciences student grew up about 20 miles east of Tacoma in Lake Tapps, Washington, and did not have much experience with animals before attending high school. She volunteered to walk dogs at a local humane society and finally got her own dog when she was a high school senior. She took animal and veterinary science classes at Sumner High School but an introduction to swine production in FFA opened her eyes to the possibility of a career with animals that did not involve veterinary medicine.

Flesher said she discovered that pigs were cool and unique animals because of her experiences in high school. Wanting to learn more about pig production, she joined the Student Swine Cooperative (SSC) as a first-year WSU student. The SSC is a group of undergraduate students who immerse themselves in swine production by managing a small herd of finishing hogs each semester. They work closely with advisors and members of the Washington pork industry and run a profitable business. In her first year as an SSC member, Flesher was a pork sales associate and learned about marketing and customer service.

Seniah Flesher with a piglet
Seniah Flesher with a piglet at Alluvial Farms. Courtesy Alluvial Farms

With a year of experience in SSC under her belt, Flesher spread her wings and applied for an internship position that Dr. Kristen Johnson told her about at Alluvial Farms in Western Washington. Founded in 2015, Alluvial Farms is a first-generation family farm operating on 45 acres in Everson, WA. The farm’s mission is to provide high quality pork to consumers in Puget Sound, and high-quality lard and hemp-based wellness products for national distribution. They host farm experiences that inspire ecological stewardship and resilient local food sheds.

Farm owners Katie Pencke and Matthew McDermott were looking for an undergraduate animal sciences student who was interested in a seasonal swine technician and marketing assistant position. The farm is licensed to employ agricultural interns by the state of Washington. This means they have developed a curriculum in pastured pork management, farm and tractor safety, and small-scale regional meat systems.

Flesher met all their qualifications – she was an animal sciences student, had some experience working with pigs, and as a bonus, experience in retail and customer service – and was accepted as an intern for summer 2022. For three months, she lived in a yurt on the farm’s property and plunged into the day-to-day management of a farrow-to-fork pastured pig farm. She was a farrowing attendant and watched for problems as sows gave birth. She observed castration and vaccinations of 5-to-7-day old piglets and participated in daily and weekly feeding chores. In addition, Flesher gained a unique perspective about how important it is to properly string electric fences and helped move pigs amongst rotational pastures during the growing season.

Reflecting on her experiences at Alluvial Farms, Flesher said, “I learned a lot during my internship! I really loved that every single morning I would get up, go to the barn, and feed pigs. Sometimes the piglets would get out and I would find them running around the barn. They were funny!”

In addition to helping with animal chores, Flesher also got involved with maintenance jobs on the farm. To make her work easier, she was trained to operate farm equipment and especially loved using the skid steer. She also learned about the farm’s humane harvesting practices and got involved in post-processing marketing by delivering orders to customers, staffing a booth at a local farmers market on Saturdays, and helping with farm-to-fork dinners at the farm.

Flesher is still a member of SSC and is now one of the herd managers, sharing responsibilities for oversight of the barn and pigs. Although she aims to be a veterinarian someday, her experiences with pigs in SSC and at Alluvial Farms have made her consider other career options in the swine industry.

“We were thrilled with the professionalism and work ethic that Seniah brought to the position,” said Katie Pencke. Alluvial Farms hopes to continue their internship program. Students can learn more about the farm at www.alluvialfarms.com.