FAIR OAKS | Malcom DeKryger is seeing a two-year dream come alive in the form of Pig Adventure, the latest agritourism destination at Fair Oaks Farms.
"To do a joint venture like this, which 'piggy backs' on the intent and themes of what Fair Oaks has been about for eight or nine years, is really exciting," said DeKryger, president of Belstra Milling Co.
The latest venture by Fair Oaks Farms, the nation's largest agritourism facility, follows the popular Dairy Adventure, which is powered entirely by cow manure produced at the site.
Now, pig manure is added to the mix and used to power buses covered in photos of pink piglets that transport visitors to the 110,000-square-foot building that houses the Pig Adventure just north of the main Fair Oaks facility on Interstate 65.
"We very quickly came to realize that the pig is really the star of the show, so our emphasis is to show how amazing the pig really is," DeKryger said.
Tourists are greeted at the Pig Adventure building by virtual guides on a life-sized flat screen waving them in. Visitors move into a large, interactive exhibit hall where they can learn about the history of pig farming; virtually chomp up pig feed on an image projected on the floor and watch a video about the Pig Adventure before taking a virtual shower just as the farmers do before entering the gestation barn.
There, visitors view the farm's operations below from second-floor exhibit halls with glass walls in climate-controlled, carpeted exhibit halls.
"We see people just staring at the interaction of the staff and pigs," DeKryger said. "There's just a lot of touch between the people and the pigs, and both are really comfortable with it."
Some 2,400 pigs in the building are either pregnant or soon will be. All of the pigs are artificially inseminated.
Electronic sow feeders use computers to scan radio frequency identification devices implanted in the sows' ears, which tell the machine how far they are in their gestation period and how much food to dispense for that individual sow.
The tour then moves to the birthing barn, where all the sows are either in labor or recently gave birth. Leah Lentini, an intern from Kouts, said there are as many as 6,700 piglets at the farm on any given day, with about 250 born daily.
The pigs produced at the farm are sold to farmers in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
A gilt developer unit is planned to open Aug. 5, where 6 1/2-month-old gilt – pigs who have yet to give birth – will be brought into the facility to replace the older sows.
Lentini said Fair Oaks pigs and dairy cows are just the beginning. Fair Oaks hopes to add chickens, beef, aquaculture and crops to its agritourism mix in the next 10 years, she said.
Susan Webb, executive assistant at Fair Oaks Farms, confirmed plans to break ground this fall on a full-service restaurant and for a groundbreaking for a hotel in 2014. A fruit orchard has already been planted and is growing as part of a future exhibit, Webb said.
DeKryger said kids tend to be the most vocal about their excitement with the latest exhibit, but he's heard from seniors as well.
"I had a 90-something-year-old man look at me the other day and in his very slow, quiet way say, 'This is amazing,' " DeKryger said. "That was confirmation to me that we have accomplished what we set out to achieve."