French agronomy students bring studies to Spiritwood

Education is a valuable asset and the opportunity to study abroad in a hands-on atmosphere is an irreplaceable experience.

At least the program has been for Damien Richette and Justine Robert of France. These post secondary students are studying agronomy and animal production in their home country and the strategic alliance built between Fast Genetics in Spiritwood and the students' place of education has provided an opportunity for them to strengthen their knowledge on animal production through the study of pig genetics and production.

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Robert is originally from Béganne, Morbihan, Bretagne (Brittany) and Richette is from Unverre, Eure et Loir, Centre. Both students attend the same university, Groupe ESA, Angers Brittany France.

The students are educated in genetics and plant breeding, and with the assistance of Fast Genetics, are able to apply this science to the lab and live pigs. This strategic alliance provides students with a means of combining their education in their chosen field of study with a host company willing to provide educational and work related knowledge. Richette is in his fifth year of study and Robert is in her third year.

Richette has been studying the pigs in the Fast Genetics nucleus barns and estimating carcass value on live animals using a variety of advanced technology such as digital images and ultrasound measurements. Richette was given approximately two weeks to collect the statistical data before the test pigs are sent to the plant in Manitoba, where cut out values are determined. Then the process would begin again with new test subjects.

Robert has been examining the optimum time to record feed intake on nucleus animals. Computerized equipment to record individual feed intake is expensive and high maintenance and it is usually not practical to record intake for the pig's entire growth period. Robert is recording weight and feed intake bi-weekly and will use statistical methods to see how well different combinations of periods predict overall gain and feed efficiency.

Throughout the three-month placement, Richette and Robert have been able to incorporate and apply the information learned from courses from several disciplines to the agronomic experience in Saskatchewan. During their time at Fast Genetics, they were required to experience all production aspects of the nucleus barn from the boar stud and breeding areas to the farrowing, nursery and finishing barns.

As vibrant youth, with some foreign experience, Richette and Robert have a strong potential of being recruited in the job market once they have completed their studies.

By living and learning in another country, students have a greater opportunity to not just learn more about their chosen field but also to experience the people, lifestyles and cultures of the host country. Richette and Robert had different host families while residing in the Spiritwood area providing them with an opportunity to experience rural Saskatchewan hospitality at its finest.

They had the opportunity to explore the local lakes, resorts, towns and wilderness as well as travel to Alberta and experience the majestic mountains. They were in awe with the vastness of the Canadian Rockies. Richette explained that the mountain range in Canada expands for miles unlike in France.

The students enjoyed fishing, socializing and learning about Saskatchewan and its people. Richette experienced the thrill of losing 'the big one' when out fishing for walleye and he even made the trek to experience the Craven jamboree.

Robert is a soft spoken individual who is enjoying her experience in Saskatchewan. She is flourishing in the work aspect and appreciates every opportunity to strengthen her English language skills.

Harold and Marjie, founders of Fast Genetics, have been strong supporters of providing students with the hands-on experience. From the first students to apply in 1984 to Richette and Robert in 2012, Fast Genetics has contributed to the academic and social development of many eager-to-learn individuals. Students gain insight into how the hog industry operates in Canada from biosecurity and government enforced regulations to basic guidelines of how a hog operation is managed and maintained.

Fast also commented that not only do the students learn about Saskatchewan and Canada but they are also ambassadors for their country, educating their hosts about their language, culture and socio-economic lifestyles.

Fast Genetics

Fast Genetics in rural Spiritwood was established as a family-owned company by Dr. Harold Fast and his wife Marjorie 30 years ago. With a degree in veterinary medicine and an interest in hog production, Fast took the opportunity to return to his roots and establish, what has now grown into, a business that is a leader in pig genetics.

Fast Genetics owns 3,700 sows in genetic nucleus and multiplication production in Saskatchewan. Benetics are incorporated into sow herds and market hogs throughout Canada, United States and China. The health and vigour of the nucleus herd and maintenance of efficient and accurate records on the health status of each animal is of utmost importance.

In 2006, Fast Genetics amalgamated with HyLife Ltd. of La Broquerie, Man., a pig production company that is well respected throughout North America and beyond.

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