Veronica Fregoso/Courtesy Photo

On the inside, Logan Johnston and Matt Quontamatteo’s house isn’t anything out of the ordinary. They share a small kitchen, living room, bathroom and one bedroom. Johnston apologized for the messiness.

Step outside, however, and the house is surrounded by four barns and a classroom. Several pairs of dirty boots line the perimeter of the home; a green sign reads “Welcome to Cal Poly Swine Unit” painted in cursive letters.

Where it started

Agricultural science senior Johnston saw a posting on MustangJOBS to live and work in the swine unit. He and agricultural business senior Quontamatteo applied and interviewed with professor Lee Rincker who teaches Systems of Swine Production (ASCI 222) and oversees the swine unit.

“We’ve been up here for the better part of two years now. Thirty of the hours we work go to our reduced housing rates (…) and whatever we worked past that [we] will be paid for,” Quontamatteo said. “Basically, it’s a pretty good guarantee that we’ll get a good paycheck along with our reduced housing.”

For the 2016-17 school year, a shared bedroom in Poly Canyon Village costs $6,866 a year, or approximately $686 per month. Johnston estimates that the cost of his rent is approximately $460 per month, so the financial savings of living at the swine unit are a huge incentive.

Day-to-day tasks

Both Johnston and Quontamatteo were dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and dirty boots just like the ones outside of the house. It’s the standard uniform for someone who is about to work with more than 100 pigs and doesn’t mind getting dirty.

They alternate whose turn it is to feed the pigs based on their class schedules. They typically get up at 8 a.m. to load 35-gallon trash cans with swine feed to distribute to about 130 pigs.

“We go around and give a scoop to each sow and then we’ll check all the barns as we go to make sure everyone’s got feed in their feeders and check on animal welfare to see what we need to medicate or anything like that,” Johnston said.

In addition to feeding and caring for the pigs, they also get to work with animal science majors in enterprise classes. They help students plan their day-to-day tasks and assist with planned activities. Johnston recalled their first show pig sale last year, where they assisted in selling 42 pigs.

“That was a pretty great experience, just getting to see how things work,” he said. “I mean, 42 pigs, if you’re just pushing them up a chute and into the truck is pretty simple, but when you have kids running around and everybody’s gotta pick one and you gotta pull the pigs out, it’s just all about management.”

Looking to the future

Neither Johnston nor Quontamatteo plan to specifically work in the swine industry after college. Johnston hopes to be a teacher in the field of agriculture and Quontamatteo is unsure about what he wants to pursue when he graduates.

“I’m not quite sure what my future plan is, but hopefully I’ll get to utilize my degree to some extent,” Quontamatteo said.

“Regardless, we get the opportunity to manage employees in the enterprise and that kind of stuff goes wherever you want to take it.”

Rincker agreed that the experience the two men have gained as student managers of the swine unit will be beneficial to them in whatever they want to do, not just agriculture jobs.

“It’s neat to see how they’ve evolved, but I think the biggest thing they are going to get out of it is responsibility,” Rincker said. “The daily care of these animals is reliant on them … but I think the responsibility of time management and just understanding the scheduling around here is going to help them immensely.”

Rincker also wanted to stress that future students don’t need a lot of previous experience before taking this job. While Johnston was a part of Future Farmers of America in high school, he and Quontamatteo didn’t know much about working with swine before college.

“Don’t think that just because you don’t have any swine experience that you can’t apply and can’t be part of it,” Rincker said. “We want people that are just willing to work and willing to learn.”

Reflecting on the experience
Both Johnston and Quontamatteo are glad they decided to follow this nontraditional route. Johnston said his favorite part is working with various professors who he didn’t get to spend time with in the classroom.

“A lot of the animal science professors come up here and utilize the facility, so we kind of get to work closely with them, giving tours and helping them out,” he said. “And it’s been pretty cool to build relationships with professors that you don’t necessarily have in the classroom.”

Quontamatteo appreciates getting to see the whole process of working with pigs from start to finish.

“We’re a farrow-to-finish operation, which basically means we have the sows [female pigs] and they’ll give birth and then for the majority of them … we get them to market weight and sell them,” Quontamatteo said. “Seeing those pigs that I’ve pulled out of their mother and see them grow up and that whole process — it’s pretty cool.”

One aspect of living in the swine unit that’s not so fun is, unsurprisingly, the smell. Though Quontamatteo and Johnston said they’re used to the smell for the most part, there are some days that are worse than others.

“Yeah, there are times when I’ll be around pigs for a while and I’ve got fecal matter somewhere on me — pig fecal matter — and I’ll sit down in class and I’ll catch a whiff. Like, if I can smell this, everybody in the classroom can, too. So you feel bad sometimes,” Quontamatteo said.

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