Thursday, November 8, 2012

Memories of Hogs

I chuckled as I read Dave Minar's "Thoughts from the Farm" in the latest Cedar Summit Newsletter.
(Scroll to the bottom of the newsletter to see Dave's article.) He recalled helping his father raise hogs in the 1940s when Dave was a teenager, a time when no one used electric fencing or steel gates. Gates were constructed of sturdy, home-sawed lumber, but given time, the hogs would eat their way through. Dave's dad called hogs "The Demolition Crew," a name which I think truly characterizes the nature of the critters.

Although Dave's farm memories may go back a few years beyond mine, our memories of hogs during our youth are similar. After raising hogs for a few years in in late 1940s and early 1950s, my folks decided that the joy of having pork was not worth the constant effort to keep them fenced. I don't remember the exact words that Dad used to describe the hogs, but I'm sure it wasn't as kind as calling them "The Demolition Crew."

That hog experience was in my mind in 1973 when Nancy and I bought a farm near Donnelly, MN, as a way to supplement my first-year teaching salary. My new neighbor, Ted Pulasky, was willing to loan me gilts and a boar to get started, and I saw how easily an electric fence kept his hogs in the pen. Nancy and I thought it over and agreed to the proposition.

The learning experience wasn't always fun, but it was always memorable.
We kept the boar with the gilts for several months, and sows started to farrow some time in March. Our neighbors all warned me how I would be up all night sitting with the sows as they farrowed, each sow typically having 8-15 piglets.

Instead, what happened is that I never had to sit up with a sow because our sows always started farrowing about the time I had to leave for school. My dear wife Nancy was left to the task of tending the sow as one piglet after another was born. After the birth of each piglet, Nancy learned to trim its razor-sharp teeth so that the piglets didn't hurt each other as they competed for teats on their mother. She learned to give each piglet an iron shot shortly after birth, and she learned to use a scoop shovel as protection against a sow's sudden reaction to the squeal of its young. She did all that while I was in my dress slacks, shirt, and tie, teaching high-school students about five miles away.

At first I worried a lot, but I knew our neighbor would help if she needed it.
The funny part is that Nancy learned to like tending the sows and raising hogs, in general. So did I. I even got used to the ribbing the neighbors gave me about how I managed to get sows to farrow during the day, instead of at night.

As the little tykes grew, we learned to enjoy watching them play with each other. Giving them a fresh bale of straw was cheap entertainment for us because we could watch them jump and twirl in mid-air as they gave a loud, joyful bark.

And honestly, Nancy enjoyed doing chores in the morning so much that she captured one typical morning scene in the photograph below:
Piglets lying under heat lamps with kitties lying on top of them. 
In the lower, right corner, a tomcat we called "Goofy Tom" warms his back.

Raising hogs wasn't all joy and perfection, but the activity did provide us with some lasting memories that now, after 42 years of marriage, define our "Good Old Days."

And I thank our friend Dave Minar for the article that brought those memories to the forefront.
Take some time to read the article yourself by clicking on the words  Cedar Summit Newsletter.

Also, if you're looking for some really quality grass-fed beef, dairy, and other organic products, give Cedar Summit Farm a visit. Click on the words Cedar Summit Farm to learn more.

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