Pig Math, Animal Science, and Other Lessons on the Farm

 Recording first-hand observations is the cornerstone of many Waldorf science lessons.

Recording first-hand observations is the cornerstone of many Waldorf science lessons.

One of the benefits of Waldorf education is that the curriculum allows students to learn through hands-on experiences, forming their own ideas and conclusions through personal observations. WSL’s 4th grade farm trip, part of the Human Being & Animal block, is one of these opportunities. There is a huge difference, for example, between reading about cows not having an upper row of incisors and actually putting your hand into the mouth of a 10-day-old calf and feeling it suckle your hand with its soft gums and rough tongue.

After a 3-hour bus ride, we arrived at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, NY. The class was divided into three groups and set out on a daily regimen of chores that ranged from cooking and serving meals, to feeding animals and cleaning out stalls, to hauling firewood.

Students also completed lessons related to farm animals:

  • They observed and compared the gaits of different animals and even tried to walk and trot like a horse—which proved a lot harder than it may seem.
  • They learned about the cow’s four stomachs and compared them to the chicken’s gizzard.
  • They compared the pig’s poor vision to the keen eyesight of the chicken. Everyone was quite amazed that pigs have a very fine nose (helping to compensate for their poor eyesight) and can detect tasty morsels far below ground.
 Next time you're on a working farm, put on your mud boots, catch a sow or a piglet, and see if you can do pig math!

Next time you're on a working farm, put on your mud boots, catch a sow or a piglet, and see if you can do pig math!

After sketching a litter of piglets, students were asked to catch a piglet and do “pig math” by measuring its girth and length. Since the piglets proved rather nimble and quick, the head counselor, Andrew, entered the pen of adult sows and measured one for us.

Formula for pig math

  1. Multiply girth by girth.
  2. Then multiply the product by the length of the pig.
  3. Now divide that product by 400 to establish the approximate weight of the animal in pounds.

Girth x girth x length ÷ 400 = the weight of the pig

Students calculated that the sow weighed as much as 5 or 6 fourth graders!

 Students learned methods of putting up surplus harvest for the winter.

Students learned methods of putting up surplus harvest for the winter.

Despite cold weather, there were still plenty of vegetables to be harvested. Since a farm’s bounty is always more than people can eat at one time, the children learned to preserve food by pressing apple cider, cooking apple sauce, and drying apples into fruit leather.

The farm trip also has a huge social learning component. The children learned to live and work together day and night, away from their families. Table manners, social skills, an ability to advocate for oneself, and keeping track of one’s belongings all are skills that we practiced.

 Students enjoyed taking turns pressing apple cider.

Students enjoyed taking turns pressing apple cider.

There are many challenges, of course, such as unfamiliar foods, creaky bunk beds, homesickness, and actual illness—all of which we experienced. But the class rallied around those who were having trouble, and the counselors praised the children for their teamwork, kindness, and willingness to be mindful of each other’s needs.

It was a pleasure to spend another week at Hawthorne Valley Farm. We reconnected with old friends and made new ones. The class is looking forward to our next farm adventure in 5th grade when we’ll study mushrooms and plants as part of our botany block.

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