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Raising Poland China Hogs in Waseca County, Minnesota (Part I)
Brian Wayne Wells
(As published in the May/June 2008 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
The soil of Waseca County is black, rich, fertile and flat—very flat. The deciduous forests of southern Wisconsin, called the “big woods,” extended into southern Minnesota up to a point about thirty-miles to the east of Waseca County. Everything to the west of the big woods, including Waseca County flat prairie land. Although the land is flat as a tabletop just like the Great Plains further the west, the climate of Waseca County is not at all dry like the climate of the Great Plains. Indeed, in a normal year, Waseca County will be bathed with 34.7 inches of rainfall. (From the Waseca page of the city-data.com web site on the Internet.) The combination of very rich soil and abundant moisture makes Waseca County ideal for raising corn. A healthy crop of corn requires about 22 inches of rain per year. As a result of this abundant rainfall and rich soil, Waseca County traditionally produces corn yields that nearly double the national average yield per acre. In 1921, for example, when the national yield per acre of corn was 27.8 bushels per acre, the yield in Waseca County was 46 bushels per acre. (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service [N.A.S.S.] webpage of the United States Department of Agriculture [U.S.D.A.] website.)
The three townships along the southern boundary of Waseca County from east to west are New Richland Township, Byron Township and Vivian Township. A person driving down any dirt road the within these townships in 1935, would see corn fields on both sides of the road, broken only by the driveways leading to the homesteads of the people living along that particular road. For nearly every mile that a person traveled down that country road, the person would find another crossroad. The crossroads usually indicated the boundary of another section of land. Moving ahead into the next section of land the person would once again find corn planted in the fields on both sides of the road. The only variation in this pattern was the fields of oats and hay. Corn was the primary cash crop of farmers of Waseca County. Oats and hay were not cash crops. Almost all oats and hay raised on the average farm in 1935 was used on the farm—primarily to feed the horses that were needed for the field work in the summer.
Relying only on corn as a cash crop was risky. If the corn market went “soft” and corn prices fell, the farmer would lose money. Traditionally, diversification was the method used by farmers to avoid, or mitigate, the effects of “soft markets.” This was usually accomplished by decreasing the amount of corn raised on the arable land of the average farm and devoting that land to a second cash crop. Traditionally, wheat was raised as a secondary cash crop. However, the amount of acreage devoted to wheat each year had been declining in Waseca County for a long time. Currently, the amount of wheat raised each year was only about a quarter of the amount of corn raised in Waseca County. The most popular method of diversification used on the farms of Waseca County was to raise pigs. The rationale was that when corn prices fell, the farmer could feed the corn to pigs on their farm. Then they could sell the pigs. Provided that pork prices did not decline together with the corn prices, the farmer might still be able to make a profit despite the low corn prices.
One particular farmer in Byron Township in south central Waseca County, had this principle of diversification imprinted on his mind for most of his young life. Originally, his grandfather had “homesteaded” this 160-acre “home” farm. Our current Byron Township farmer’s father had taken over the farming operation from his parents in 1895. Like their neighbors, they needed to devote 35 acres to pasture for their small herd of dairy cows, 30-35 acres to hay and 35 acres to oats. The balance of the arable land, approximately 45 to 50 acres was devoted to corn. The crops were rotated from field to field each year to avoid depleting the soil with any one crop.
A portion of the corn used on this farm had traditionally been used for raising and fattening pgs for market. However, the balance of the corn not needed for feed was sold to the grain elevator in New Richland in the winter of each year. The income derived from the sale of the corn crop made up a substantial portion of the cash income of the farming operation, milking the cows and selling cream to the local creamery in New Richland provided the family with a regular income on a year-around basis. Thus, the dairy operation represented another form of diversification of the farm income.
However, on our Byron Township farmer’s farm, it had always been the pig operation that provided the real diversification and alternate cash income when corn prices were low. All through the 1920s, the price of corn, cycled regularly from an average annual low of $.75 per bushel to an average annual high of $1.19 per bushel. Likewise, during the 1920’s, the wholesale price of hogs had cycled on an annual basis from an average low of $8.29 per hundred weight up to $11.21 per hundred weight.
Generally, the corn in the corn crib was shelled out in February or March each year. After filling the granaries to feed the pigs for the rest of the year, the remainder of the shelled corn could be taken to the grain elevator in New Richland straight from the sheller and sold. This provided the family with the major portion of their winter income on the farm. The feeder pigs generally reached their market weight in July or August and, thus, could be sold at that time. This provided the family with the major income in the summer. This was the pattern of life that our Byron Township farmer knew as he grew up on his parent’s farm.
Gradually, over the years, as our Byron Township farmer grew up into an adult, his father relinquished more and more of the daily decision making regarding the farming operation to him. It became a true partnership. Basically, our Byron Township farmer agreed with his father on the course of the farming operation. His father had been raising pigs for years. Our Byron Township farmer had always been interested in the hogs. However, the hog operation took on a whole new importance on his mind when he began showing pigs at the Waseca County Fair.
His very first pig that he had raised and shown at the county fair had been one of the newborn pigs from one of the litters born to his father’s crossbred sows. That first pig was memorable because the pig had won a blue ribbon at the Fair that year. Winning the blue ribbon had been more the result of more luck than of skill on his part. Still he had been hooked. That blue ribbon perked his interest at an early age to find out all he could about the most profitable ways of raising pigs.
Over their lives, hogs gain 3000% of their own birth weight. (Sara Rath, The Complete Pig [Voyageur Press: Stillwater, Minn., 2000] p. 78.) Furthermore, only a short amount of time required for raising the baby pigs for market—generally five to seven months. Combining this rapid weight gain with the short gestation period of three months, three weeks and three days from breeding until “farrowing” (giving birth), made the hog operation on the average farm the most profitable part of the farming operation. (Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs.[Storey Pub. Co.: North Adams, Mass., 1997] p. 22.) This rapid turn-around in time from initial investment until profit in hogs compared with the nine month gestation period in cattle and then the nearly two years needed to bring feeder cattle up to their market weight. (See the article called “A 1931 Farmall at Work in Mower County, Minnesota” in the March/April 2008 issue of Belt Pulley magazine for a description of a small beef operation on a diversified Midwestern farm.) Our Byron Township farmer and his father both knew that this very rapid turn-around combined with fact that an average sow would farrow a litter usually contained ten baby pigs could generate a great deal of income for the farming operation and be a real “mortgage lifter.” It all depended on getting the baby pigs successfully raised to their full market weight. Proper management was the key. It all started with the mother sow.
Gilts (young female pigs) have the ability to be bred only six months after birth. (Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, p. 53.) However, our Byron Township farmer knew that it was better to let the gilt become a little more mature (perhaps a year to eighteen months old) before having her first litter of baby pigs. The first litter of a new sow was often her most difficult. Because of all the new adjustments, it was best for the gilt to have as much maturity as possible. Having had her first litter, the sow would usually settle down to being a good mother to her second and third litters. Furthermore, the various breeds of pigs each had their own particular characteristics and the Poland China sows that was favored by our Byron Township farmer had the characteristic of being “good mothers.”
The various breeds of hogs tended to fall into two general groups. Some breeds—the Berkshire, Chester White, Hampshire and Yorkshire breeds—tended to be leaner “bacon” hogs, while other breeds—the Duroc-Jersey (or Duroc) breed and, especially, the Poland China breeds were preferred for lard hogs. (“Poland China Hog Operation: The Fashion Herd” p. 3, an article on the Internet by an unknown author). Lard-type hogs predominated in the North American market until about 1900. Then the demand shifted to bacon hogs. Lard was a secondary market and after 1900 became a shrinking market. Across the nation families still favored commercially-sold lard for flakey tender pie crusts and soap makers required lard to make soap. However, consumer and soap manufactures did not represent a large enough market to produce a real economic demand for the raising of lard pigs.
War, however, created a large market for lard. Lard was a prime source for hydro-carbons (or glycerol) which was necessary in the production of nitroglycerine for explosives used in munitions. With the entry of the United States into the First World War, the lard hog, once again, came back in vogue. Following the war, in the 1920s, the demand for lard was reduced and the ideal hog for the hog market shifted back to the leaner bacon hogs. Now in the late 1930s, as war clouds were forming over Europe and China, the demand for lard for explosives meant that meat packers were once again encouraging the growing of large fat lard-type pigs. (Sara Rath, The Complete Pig [Voyageur Press: Stillwater, Minn., 2000] p. 78.) Our Byron Township farmer realized that the raising of pigs for lard was once again profitable.
Our Byron Township farmer always favored the black Poland China breed and inclined toward favoring lard type pigs in his breeding characteristics. He felt that lard had its own value, lard would make pigs more valuable,. Early on he had influenced his father into getting rid of the cross-bred pigs and to build a herd of purebred black Poland China hogs. Their Poland China herd actually began with the purchase of a single registered purebred Poland China boar. The boar came with a certificate of registration from the Poland China Record Association located in LaFayette, Indiana. His prior owner had named him “Majestique.” However, our Byron township farmer and his father just called him “Knute.” That first year, Knute sired litters from the crossbred sows. However, the next year, our Byron township farmer and his father purchased four Poland China sows. These sows also had their own registration certificates from the Poland China Record Association. Right from the start, our Byron Township farmer began showing the best of their sows and feeder pigs at the Minnesota State Fair as well as the local Waseca County Fair. They also entered Knute in the large boar contests that were held at these fairs.
Our Byron Township farmer had seen an example of one of these large boar contests in the 1933 Will Roger’s movie called “State Fair.” (This Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical was later remade in 1945 starring Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews. Later still the musical was again remade in a 1962 movie starring Pat Boone.) Many of the boars in these large boar contests were of the Black Poland China breed. Indeed the largest boar ever recorded was “Big Bill” owned Buford Butler of Jackson, Tennessee in 1933 was a Black Poland China boar. Big Bill tipped the scales at 2,552 pounds. (Sara Rath, The Complete Pig p. 79)
Exhibiting at the county and state fairs, became good advertisement for the hogs they were raising on the farm. In this way, our Byron Township farmer developed a hog operation which became known in the community for quality breeding stock of the Poland China breed. He began to recognize those pigs that showed signs of being good breeding stock. They would have their ears “notched” as baby pigs. These pigs would generally be sold to other Poland China hog breeders. The biggest thrill that our Byron Township farmer experienced in developing his hog raising operation was when he began to realize that other farmers offered to purchase individual pigs from his breeding herd because of the positive traits they saw in our Byron Township farmer’s herd. It was a sign of the respect that he was receiving from older farmers, even at his own young age.
The male pigs that did not meet the required breed criteria did not get their ears notched. Rather they were castrated and would be sold as soon as they reached the market weight. Despite the glamour and price surrounding the sale of one of his breeding stock, it was the marketing of his unregistered stock that was the bread and butter of his hog raising operation. The market for lard hogs was growing and he was positioned to take good advantage of the increasing demand for lard hogs. However, unlike bacon hogs where feed must be balanced with protein to develop muscle, lard hogs were fed a rich diet of corn, corn and more corn.
For the hog operation to be profitable at all, the corn which was fed to the pigs needed to be raised in as efficient a manner as possible. Thus, our Byron Township farmer and his father also agreed on the use of modern equipment on the farm. Having worked with the steam engines on the Bonanza farms of North Dakota in his youth, our Byron Township farmer’s father had always been attracted by mechanized power farming. Accordingly in 1919, after the world war, his father had purchased one of the 1,651 International 15-30 (Titan) tractors that were sold that year by the International Harvester Company. The Titan was nearly as bulky and awkward to operate as a steam engine. However, it was an internal combustion powered tractor, but it did the belt work and the heavy field work around the farm. Our Byron Township farmer’s father had purchased the new Titan tractor from the McLoone dealership in Waseca, Minnesota (1910 pop. 3,054).
The city of Wascea served as the county seat of Waseca County and was located thirteen miles north-northeast of their farm. John Henry McLoone was the owner and sole proprietor of the implement dealership that bore his name. John Henry was born in 1871 as the fourth of nine children that had been born to John H. and Mary G. McLoone. His father, John H. McLoone, had been born in Scotland, but had moved to Northern Ireland where he had met and married Mary. All nine of their children had been born in Northern Ireland. In 1879, John and Mary and their whole family immigrated from Northern Ireland to the United States. They settled in St. Mary Township in Waseca County just to the west of the city of Waseca, the county seat of Waseca County. This is the home where young John Henry McLoone came of age. Sometime between 1905 and 1910, John Henry McLoone founded his farm equipment business in the county seat. He had started his business by offering horse-drawn farm machinery to farm operators around Waseca County. Now he was selling International Harvester tractors to the farmers of Waseca County, like the Model 15-30 tractor that he sold to our Byron Township farmer’s father.
The large Model 15-30 tractor certainly saved time in the heavy field tasks like plowing and discing on the farm. However, the tractor did not help at one of the most time consuming summer tasks—cultivating the corn. On this task, they were still attempting to cover their corn fields one row at a time with horse drawn cultivators. It was a large and difficult task. Not only did they cultivate the corn lengthwise, but they also “cross-cultivated” the entire field a second time and they re-cultivated the field lengthwise—every field was, thus, cultivated three-times. Our Byron Township farmer and his father both recognized this as a considerable “bottleneck” in their farming operation.
In 1924, the International Harvester Company introduced their new “Farmall” tractor which proved to be the solution that farmers were waiting for, which would allow them totally mechanize their power farming operation. After four years of watching the success of this new tricycle designed tractor and the skyrocketing growth of sales of the Farmall tractor, our Byron Township farmer and his father began to think about trading the large Model 15-30 in on the purchase of one of these new Farmall tractors.
In 1927, the national average yield for corn had been reduced by 6%. This shortage of corn in the market caused the price of corn to rise to more than a dollar ($1.00) per bushel. Waseca County, however, did not suffer from any reduction in yield in 1927. Indeed, the corn yield in Waseca County that year was above normal. This was the ideal situation that farmers dream of—a nationwide harvest that was lower than normal which kept the price high while locally there was a good harvest which allowed the farmer to bring a lot of crop to market while the price remained high. Drying the corn in storage on the farm until February 1928, our Byron Township farmer had been able to take full advantage of the relatively high price of corn. In February, our Byron Township farmer and his father had shelled out all the corn in the corn crib—saving back only that which they would need for their pigs in the coming year.
Following the successful corn harvest of 1927, our Byron Township farmer and his father made a number of changes in their farming operation in the new year. Indeed, 1928, proved to be a memorable year for our Byron Township farmer and his whole family. On March 1st of that year, his parents and he had taken possession of the neighbor’s 160-acre farm which they had bought when it suddenly had become available for purchase. With the purchase of this new farm they doubled their farm acreage to 320 acres.
In June of that year, our Byron Township farmer was married to a neighborhood girl. Together they moved into the house on the home farm, while his parents had moved into the house on the newly purchased neighboring farm. Furthermore, in the fall of 1928, after the harvest, our Byron Township farmer and his wife had actually signed a purchase agreement for the home farm. By this agreement, our Byron Township farmer and his wife purchased the farming operation from his parents.
In anticipation of farming twice the amount of acreage, our Byron Township farmer had also purchased a new Farmall tractor that spring of 1928. However, this time, they did not drive the 13 miles north to McLoone’s in the county seat. (McLoone’s was now more correctly known as the McLoone, Bathke and Brown Implement dealership. During the decade of the 1920s, John Henry McLoone had taken on two partners in his farm implement dealership—William Bathke and John Brown.)
Instead, our Byron Township farmer and his father drove seven miles west and north to a new IHC dealership that had recently opened—the Robert Schmidt Implement dealership in Waldorf, Minnesota (1930 pop. 183). Our Byron Township farmer and his father both felt that the new dealership in Waldorf would be more anxious to make a sale and, thus, they anticipated that they might receive a better price for a new tractor from this new dealership than they would could expect from the established McLoone dealership. The Robert Schmidt Implement dealership and the McLoone, Bathke and Brown dealership were the two IHC dealerships serving the whole of Waseca County. Robert Schmidt, the owner and proprietor of the new dealership in Waldorf, did not disappoint our Byron Township farmer in the price he offered our Byron Township farmer for the new Farmall.
Our Byron Township farmer traded the old 15-30 Titan tractor in to the Schmidt Dealership on the purchase of the new Farmall, a new McCormick-Deering No. 8 “Little Genius” two-bottom plow with 14 inch bottoms and a McCormick-Deering Model 401 mounted two-row cultivator. (Later in the 1930s, the International Harvester sought to simplify the Model designations of the Farmall cultivators such that model numbers beginning with the number “4” would apply only to four-row cultivators and model numbers beginning with the number “2” would apply only to two-row cultivators. Accordingly, the Cultivator Parts Catelog which is dated April 15, 1944, lists the Model 401 and Model 401-A two-row cultivator under both the original model numbers 401 and 401-A and under their “new” model numbers—201 and 201-A.)
While our Byron Township farmer was negotiating with the Schmidt Dealership over the price of this new equipment, his father suddenly decided to purchase another identical Farmall tractor for himself from the Schmidt Dealership. His father was had been growing a little uneasy over the all the sudden changes that were occurring in his life. His father did not want to leave farming altogether. Accordingly, his father signed another contract with the Schmidt Dealership for a second Farmall tractor, an identical No. 8 plow and another Model 401 two-row mounted cultivator. His father kept “his” tractor over at the homestead on the new farm. Our Byron Township farmer’s mother was upset when she first heard that his father had made this impetuous decision, but she had become resigned to the second Farmall by noting “You can take him out of farming, but you can’t take the farming out of him.” His father attempted to justify the purchase to his own wife and to his son by saying that the with the purchase of the new land they would need the second tractor just to get the work done.
Over the years since they had purchased the Farmalls, our Byron Township farmer had noticed that they had increased the efficiency of the work around the farm to a great extent—especially the extensive cultivation of corn that they did every summer. Since the arrival of the Farmalls on the farm, they really had no use for the horses in the field work. Thus, they had, gradually, sold off their horses. As a result they, found that they needed to grow only about half the hay and oats that they needed in the past. This freed up more arable ground for planting to corn each year.
The homestead where his parents now lived was only ½ a mile down the road and so his father continued to come to the home farm to help his son with the farming operation. His mother would also come over to the home farm to “help” his young wife in the house. This sometimes caused some irritation with his wife, who said such frequent visits his mother made her feel as though she were still an intruder in her own house. However, after seven years of marriage, this irritation was beginning to give way to a more settled relationship which still required a certain amount of consideration by all parties. Besides there were now two new reasons for a happier relationship between his wife and his mother. Two sons had been born to the family and his mother was now a thoroughly doting grandmother.
Now in 1935, the farmers of Waseca County were just emerging from the severest economic crisis that had ever been experienced in their lives—or, indeed, in the lives of any of their parents or grandparents. No amount of diversification had worked, in these hard times to prevent financial distress. In February of 1933 corn prices reached a low of 24¢ per bushel. This was the lowest that corn prices had been since June of 1897. (From the wholesale corn prices macro history page of National Bureau of Economic Research web page on the Internet.) Hog prices fell to 3 cents a pound (or $3.00 per hundred weight) in 1931. (Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Crisis in the Old Order [Houghton Mifflin Co.: Boston, Mass., 1957] p. 175.) In December of 1932, pork prices fell still farther to 2 ½¢ per pound (or $2.50 per hundred weight). This was the lowest price for pork since May of 1862. (From the National Bureau of Economic Research page on the Internet.) This severe depression had caused harsh suffering by the nation’s farmers including the farmers in Waseca County. However, since the pit of the depression, both corn and hog prices had recovered. This was a welcome bit of news—like rain on a long parched desert—for our Byron township farmer.
All through June and July of 1935, the corn plants had prospered under the regular gentle soaking rains that had occurred every few days in June and July—½ and ¾ inch accumulations of moisture with each rainfall. If this good weather continued until harvest there would be a bumper crop of corn. With the corn, now, too tall for any additional cultivation, our Byron Township farmer could turn his attention to the pigs. The feeder pigs were approaching market weight.
Accordingly, in late-July, our Byron Township farmer backed the little 1929 International S-Series Six Speed Special truck up to the hog house and loaded up six or seven of the hogs that looked as though they had reached 260 pounds or more. Then, he pulled the little truck out of the driveway of his farm and onto the township road.
He followed the township road to State Route #30 and then turned east on Route #30 to New Richland, where he turned south onto State Route #13. Once out on the hard gravel surface of State Route #13, our Byron Township farmer worked his way up through the shifting pattern to third gear in high range for the 16 mile trip down to Albert Lea, Minnesota. (1930 pop. 10,169) It was a pleasant trip, rolling along in the little truck. It was cloudy and cool enough today that the pigs in the back of the truck would not become stressed due to overheating and or sun stroke. Indeed, as the little truck moved along down the road, the clouds released a little sprinkle of rain. Provided it would not become a downpour, the sprinkle would help the pigs stay cool, he thought as he reached up to loosen the turnscrews on either side of the windshield of the truck. This would allow the top part of the split windshield to be pushed open and then the turnscrews were tightened to hold the windshield in the open position as he drove down the road. This particular S-Series truck had not been fitted with optional manually-operated windshield wipers which had been available in 1929 as optional equipment. Thus, the only way to see the road when the rains fell was to open the upper part of the windshield a little and view the road out the open crack. The lack of any windshield wipers surely dated this little truck.
Now, by 1935, all new cars and trucks were not only being fitted with windshield wipers, but the windshield wipers were automatic!! They operated themselves—usually powered by vacuum from the intake manifold. The driver did not even have operate the wipers himself as in the case of manually operated wipers.
Still cruising along in the truck, the rain did not distract from the pleasure of the trip. Both the visor extending our over the top of the windshield and the downward slope of the open top section of the windshield would keep all but the heaviest of rains from penetrating the cab of the truck. Rolling along at 35 mph. the little truck could make the 16 mile trip to Albert Lea in just a half an hour. The time spent driving along in the cab gave him time to think.
Now entering the city limits of Albert Lea, the truck left the gravel surface of State Road #13 and rolled onto the smoothed paved streets of the city. The truck followed Route #13 into the city up to the intersection where Sunset Street veered off to the left and headed southeasterly in direction. In a couple of blocks, Fountain Lake came into view. Sunset Street changed names to Lakeview Boulevard and continued in a southwesterly direction until it veered off straight south. This particular street past the lake offered a nice view of the lake that our Byron Township farmer enjoyed. Fountain Lake was just one of the lakes around which the city of Albert Lea was situated. The location of Albert Lea in the middle of these lakes with the streets headed off into all directions explains why it was so confusing to find your way around the city. You had to be familiar with your route ahead of time so as to not get lost. You could not just “find” your destination by following a street for so many square block one way and then turn and go another few blocks. Nothing was square in Albert Lea. Everything was set off at an angle and streets angled this way and that way as a person attempted to negotiate them.
Luckily, frequent trips to Wilson’s had familiarized our Byron Township farmer with the streets of Albert Lea that led directly to Wilson’s meat packing plant. Now all he had to do was turn left onto West Fountain Street head straight east until West Fountain became East Fountain Street and veered off to the southwest as Fountain Lake once again came into view. He then turned onto Bridge Avenue which headed northeast for a couple of blocks. Then he turned right onto Wilson Street and went one block southeast again to the intersection with Main Street. Turning left onto Main Street, he headed northeast for a short distance and then Main Street arched to the right to head straight east and went under the railroad viaduct of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. Finally there at the corner of East Main Street and Garfield Avenue, our Byron Township farmer turned the little Six Speed Special into the driveway that led to the livestock unloading gate at the Wilson’s Meat Packing Company plant.
There he unloaded the pigs and checked them in and had the pigs weighed as a group. He was then given a delivery receipt and the pigs were all tagged in the ear with a numbered tag that matched the number on his delivery receipt. Thus, the pigs were then identified as his pigs. With his delivery slip in hand he was then free to leave the plant. He headed straight back to the farm by the same route that he had come. He really did not like getting tied up driving in the big city traffic. When the pigs had been graded and processed, he would receive a check in the mail.
This trip was the start of a regular series of trips that he could make to Wilson’s every week or so until all the market hogs in the “finishing” pen in the northwest corner of the hog house were gone. This was the time that he looked forward to all year. It was finally payday for all the work on the hogs. Nearly every week they would receive a check in the mail. With the price of averaging 9.3¢ per pound for the whole month of July, 10.3¢ per pound in August and 10.65¢ for the month of September in 1936, these checks were a real help for his family and his farming operation.
Our Byron Township farmer reasoned that if the price of corn became soft this fall, he should feed more of it to market hogs next year. Currently, the price of pork was remaining stable. Thus, it appeared that the most profitable use for the corn seemed to be feed it to the pigs. Consequently, he held back four of his best looking registered Poland China gilts from those that he might have sold to other breeders. These four gilts would be released into the field with Big Knute and his other eight (8) sows. These gilts would increase the size of his breeding herd for next year by 50%. However, 50% more pregnant mothers meant 50% more litters and 50% more baby pigs. This would stretch his hog facilities to the maximum. Not only would the feeder pigs have to fed next summer, but the sows would have to be fed more corn during pregnancy and after farrowing while the sows nursed the litter. Outside of the heavy expense of feeding of the market hogs, the biggest expense in pig farming was the keeping of the sows during gestation and nursing. (Sara Rath, The Complete Pig, p. 82.) Hopefully, however, all of this additional expense would mean more money coming in from Wilson’s next summer provided the price of pork remained stable. He anticipated receiving more income by this means than he might receive by selling all the corn at the local elevator this coming February.
Generally, he left his breeding herd wander the enclosed field for the first two months of their pregnancy. Although ticks and mites were not as prevalent in the late summer as in the spring of the year, our Byron Township farmer kept the “hog oilers” filled with a liquid compound insecticide solution that kept the sows free of a lot of external parasites. Even the young gilts soon learned that by rubbing against the wheels of the hog oilers they could spread the comfortable wet solution all over their lower body. As they lay on the ground and wallowed, the solution would eventually cover their whole body. Hogs the smartest of all farm animals (certainly smarter than dogs) and would soon figure out that regular rubbing on the hog oilers kept them free of iching all summer long.
In the fall, as he finished picking the corn in one of the corn fields, he moved the pregnant sows and Big Knute into that finished field. There the hogs were allowed to scavenge around for any ears that had fallen to the ground and been over looked in the picking process. However, as soon as the sows began showing signs of pregnancy, our Byron Township farmer would move the sows to the hog house where they had access to both the indoor bedding during the cool nights of autumn and exposure to the bright sunshine of autumn day light hours in the pig yard on south side of the hog house during the daylight hours.
Here he would begin to feed the pregnant sows a little ground corn as feed with oats. This feed was meant as a supplement for their usual forage in the pig yard. They also were able to partake of such table scraps and peelings from the kitchen in the house that were occasionally thrown over their fence. However, in late October and the beginning of November as the sows were headed into their third month of pregnancy, they needed a further improvement in their diet—more corn and larger amounts of feed.
Ordinarily, the sows would need to gain about 50 pounds during the gestation period to assure the birth of a healthy litter of baby pigs. (Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, p. 177.) The gilts, pregnant with their first litter, would have to gain about 125 pounds which represented the normal amount of their own growth as well as the weight from the developing baby pigs. (Ibid.) Thus, in mid November the sows would be restricted from the pig yard. Besides it was getting cold outside at night. The first killing frost in the fall of 1935 had occurred in late October well before Halloween when the temperature had dipped down to 19°F.
Our Byron Township farmer knew that for best results, the pregnant sows should have a diet that contained about 14 to 15 % protein for the last month of gestation. (Ibid.) Thus, in late November, he started the pregnant sows on regiment of being fed twice a day and the feed would be composed of more ground oats. This would provide additional amount of the protein the pregnant sows needed. An open door to the hog house would allow the pregnant sows to have access to southeast section of the inside of the hog house in case of inclimate weather. Meanwhile the southwest section of the hog house was cleaned up in preparation for farrowing.
One morning in November, our Byron Township farmer started his Farmall Regular hitched the tractor to the old Rock Island four-wheeled manure spreader. The Rock Island had originally been a horse-drawn manure spreader, but after purchasing the tractors, our Byron Township farmer had shortened the tongue of the manure spreader to make it into a “tractor” manure spreader. After completing the daily cleaning of the gutters in the barn, he swung the tractor and manure spreader around and brought the manure spreader right up along side the east side of the hog house. Then, he turned the tractor off and headed for the house for a quick breakfast.
After breakfast, he and his wife set to work cleaning out the farrowing quarters in the hog house. Whenever, his wife came to the hog house she began talking to her old friends—Mac and Maggie, the two Muscovy ducks that habitually hung around the hog house. Muscovies are sometimes regarded as mute. They are not. (Dave Holderread, Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks [Storey Publishing Co.: North Adams, Mass., 1978], p. 77.) As she talked to them they would quack excitedly. They recognized her. This always made our Byron Township farmer smile. Although the ducks were pets of a sort, he realized that they served a valuable purpose around the hog house of keeping flies under control during the summer. (Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, p. 29.) As quintessential bottom feeders Mac and Maggie and their occasional offspring would search around in all the mudholes and the muck around the hog house all summer. They would uncover and eat a great deal of insect eggs and larvae of all sorts.
Additionally, they would catch live insects. Insects can be an important source of protein for the ducks. (Dave Holderread, Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, p. 206.) (Kelly Klober relates the noise of the bills of his two ducks against the sheet metal side of one of his hog huts as they picked off slow moving flies in the cool of a summer evening sounded similar to the “rat-a-tat” of a machine gun as he stood inside that hut. [From October, 2002 interview with Kelly Klober.]) The Muscovies were excellent foragers and seldom needed additional attention. (Dave Holderread, Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks, pp. 20 and 21.) Furthermore, they were more aggressive fighters than other ducks and they nested in trees or at least up of the ground at night. Thus, they are more immune to predators than are other ducks. Although Muscovies are tolerant of a great deal of freezing weather, now in the late fall with winter moving in Mac and Maggie preferred the natural warmth of the hog house where then would forage around the hog troughs for the feed the hogs had spilt or overlooked.
Because the hog house was positioned on the side of slight incline in the land the door on the east end was about two feet off the ground. This made it handy for cleaning manure out of the hog house since a 2’ by 8” plank could be extended out from the door to the edge of the manure spreader and his the steel-wheeled wheel barrow loaded with manure could be wheeled straight down the narrow alleyway of the hog house and through the east door on the plank. Then the wheel barrow was emptied directly into the manure spreader.
After the manure was cleaned out and had been hauled to the fields where it was spread, the concrete floor of the farrowing quarters was swept down and then scoured with a disinfecting solution of lye. The quarters were then separated into pens and fresh straw was place in the pens for bedding. The pens were then ready for the expectant mothers. Ideally, our Byron Township farmer liked to place the pregnant sow into the farrowing pen a couple of days prior to her giving birth to her litter. This way she might get accustomed to the farrowing pen before the birth of the baby pigs and perhaps she would build a nest out of the bedding. Ideally, the nest would be in a corner of the farrowing pen. Then Our Byron Township farmer could nail some 2 inch by 4 inch boards diagonally across that corner of the farrowing pen. The boards were just high enough from the floor and bedding to allow room for the baby pigs to walk under and have access to a part of the farrowing pen that the sow could not enter. This would restrict the sow from that corner of the farrowing pen but would allow the baby pigs a a place to gather and pile up and sleep the way they do. It was hoped that the baby pigs would make their nest inside this section. This would reduce the chances of the sow accidentally laying on and killing her own baby pigs.
Furthermore, it was hoped that the sow would find it convenient lay in her nest the on her side just outside the baby pigs protected nest with her belly facing the baby pig nest. This way the baby pigs would be able to nurse from the comfort of their protected nest.
Our Byron Township farmer wished to be present at the birth of every one of his pigs. However, with the crush of other chores on the farm it was sometimes hard to keep abreast of everything that was going on in the hog house. Thus, he was usually, scrambling to get a sow, that had already started “nesting” even outside in the pig yard, herded down the alleyway of the hog house and into her own appropriate freshly cleaned and bedded farrowing pen. However, by breeding only well-matured and well-fed sows, he found that farrowing pigs was one of the simplest, easiest and most natural of all the events surrounding the raising of hogs. (Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, p. 179.) Most of the time the whole process handled itself.
Black Poland China sows were characteristically good mothers and the breed tended to have less trouble farrowing under adverse conditions than other breeds. Only a few times would he discover that the sow had laid on and killed a baby pig. Rarer still were the instances when a sow would turn on and kill her own baby pigs. When this happened he would immediately “cull” the sow from the breeding stock. She would be moved immediately across the alleyway of the hog house to the finishing pens on the north side of the hog house and would be consigned for an immediate ride to Wilsons’ in Albert Lea. No matter how good the baby pigs of the cull sow’s litter looked, they would all be raised as market hogs. They would not become part of the breeding stock. He wanted every trace of the emotional nature that caused this kind of behavior eradicated from his breeding stock. (Ibid., pp. 182-183.)
After such an incident, or whenever our Byron Township farmer needed to move “orphan” pigs from the natural mother an “adopted” mother, he was always glad to have the assistance of his father. Although he had a can of talcum powder in the hog barn to be used specifically for rubbing down the orphan baby pig and the snout of the adoptive mother to ease the transition of acceptance of the adoptee by the new mother, our Byron Township farmer usually relied on another substance to achieve this transition. Usually his father would visit the hog house just prior to Christmas to drop off an old bottle of aftershave to facilitate the adoption of baby pigs. Every Christmas, our Byron Township farmer’s father would receive a new bottle of after shave from his sister—this was our Byron Township farmer’s “Aunt Rita.”
Thus, Christmas and new baby pigs were always linked the minds of the whole family. Not only was Christmas time dotted with frequent visits to the hog house to check on the pregnant sows and newborn litters, but it was also a time to get rid of his father’s aftershave from the previous Christmas.
Aunt Rita lived alone in Duluth, Minnesota, where she worked as a nurse. Being single and employed, even during the worst period of the economic depression, Aunt Rita had the freedom and resources to do what she wanted. She loved to travel around and visit members of the family during vacations and over the holidays. She liked her cars. Aunt Rita traded cars every two years or so. Too often, it seemed to our Byron Township farmer, that she hardly got any wear out of the car before she was trading it off on a new car. Still it was always interesting to see her “latest” new car.
Currently she was driving a new 1936 Hudson Model Custom Eight Sedan. (Don Butler, The History of Hudson [Crestline Pub. Co.: Sarasota, Fla., 1982] p. 200.) Aunt Rita had purchased this new car, just last September at the start of the model year –when the new Hudson’s had made their first appearance at the dealership.
Whenever, she purchased a new car, she liked to take it on a trip—a break-in cruise. Thus, she had brought the new Hudson down to Waseca County in September. The 3,140 pound Hudson with its 127 inch wheel base was a luxurious car, fitted with the Hudson smooth-running straight eight, 8-cylinder 233.7 cubic-inch, 121 horsepower engine and 6.25 x 16” tires. Aunt Rita enjoyed the “automatic clutch” and the optional vacuum-powered Electric Hand gearshifting device that was a factory-installed option on the Hudson. The Electric Hand was a Bendix Company device allowed the driver to shift gears by moving an H-slot lever mounted on the steering column which triggered electrical action which controlled the vacuum powered gear shifting of the car’s three speed transmission. The pre-selected gear thus chosen by the driver through the Electric Hand, would be engaged by the automatic clutch, when the driver released the accelerator foot-pedal.
Aunt Rita always said she liked the roominess of big cars. Her new 4-door, 6-passsenger Hudson Custom Eight model car was no exception. It was big and roomy inside. It was privately speculated within the family that the big roomy car expressed Aunt Rita’s unspoken desire for a family. Aunt Rita always had an open invitation to come to Byron Township for Christmas. She always accepted the invitation at Christmas and arrived with the back seat of the Hudson full of Christmas presents including (one could rely on it) another bottle of Burma-Shave aftershave as a Christmas present to her brother, our Byron Township farmer’s father. She would place all the presents under the Christmas tree once she was safely in the house. She always gave Burma-Shave products because she so enjoyed the little red Burma-Shave signs that appeared in series as she drove along the highways while she traveling around the Midwest. One series Burma Shave signs that that were placed somewhere on the roads between Duluth and Byron Township began with a sign reading “Your razor” then a another sign a short distance down the road read “floats thru” then another read “the hair” and then “with the” and then “greatest of ease.” Every series ended with a sign that read “Burma-Shave.” (from “Burma Shave Slogans” on the Internet.) On her return trip to Duluth she would see the series of signs that was her favorite. This series of signs read: “Grandpa’s beard” “was stiff and coarse” “and that’s what” “caused his” “fifth divorce” “Burma Shave.”
Our Byron Township farmer’s father had hardly had the opportunity to use up the bottle of after shave from the previous Christmas before his sister Rita brought another. In his attempt to not appear ungracious to his sister, he would try to use up the aftershave before she arrived. Thus, quantities of the aftershave were sometimes used on any orphan baby pigs that needed to be introduced to a new litter. The after shave would be spread over the nose of the adoptive sow and over the orphan baby pig. In this way, the sow would be confused into accepting the orphan as one of her own pigs. The bottle containing the after shave was stored in a small cabinet that had been hung on the wall inside the hog house. This cabinet was called the “medicine cabinet” and contained iodine, which was occasionally used on the naval chord of the newborn baby pigs to prevent infection. Other medicinal remedies contained in the medicine cabinet which were intended to promote the health of the baby pigs. Our Byron Township farmer joked with his father that it was a fortunate thing that Aunt Rita scarcely ever visited the hog house. She see the contents of the medicine cabinet and understand why the hog house smelled so sweet!
Even before Aunt Rita arrive on the farm for the holidays in December of 1935, the pregnant sows had started farrowing—giving birth to their litters. At the birth of each litter, our Byron Township farmer would make sure that each new born pig would find one of the 12 teats on the mother to suckle. Each baby pig needs to get some of the “colostrum milk” that is produced naturally in the udder of the sow during the first 12 to 24 hours following birth. Since newborn pigs nurse about 16 times a day the colostrum can disappear quickly. The colostrum contains valuable antibiotics that every baby pig needs. These antibiotics fight diarrhea or “scours” which is real danger to newborn pigs. A case of the scours can dehydrate a baby pig and bring on death very soon. (Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, p. 184.) Even pigs, which are born perfectly healthy, will fail to thrive and will die up to a week later because they did not receive any colostrum at birth. (Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, p. 185.)
When the mother had expelled the “after birth,”it was a signal the litter was complete. This usually resulted in a litter of 7 to 10 baby pigs. (Sara Rath, The Complete Pig p. 82 and Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, p. 2.) Sometimes up to 13 pigs could be born to a mother. With insufficient teats it is almost sure that one baby pig would die. The extra pigs would be taken from the natural mother and grafted onto an adoptive smaller litter. The most difficult art of making this graft from one litter to another was getting the adoptive mother pig to accept the new baby pig. Thus, making sure that the little adoptive pig received a good nursing of colostrum milk from its natural mother, the adoptive pig was moved to another litter. Best chances at a successful adoption happened when the birth of the adoptive litter and the oversized natural litter occurred at roughly the same time or within a few hours of each other. Liberal amounts of Aunt Rita’s aftershave would, once again, be employed to save the life of these baby pigs.
When the litter was complete and the mother was resting on her side with all the baby pigs busy suckling, it was time carefully inspect at each baby pig for required Poland China characteristics of a black pig without any red or sandy hair or skin color, with ears that flop down over the face and “six white points”—four white feet, a white face and a white switch at the end of the tail but without evidence of a white belt across the shoulders. (“Certified Petigreed Swine,” p. 1, an Internet document from the Poland China Record Association website.) All pigs that met this breed criteria had there ears notched and the notched pattern was entered into Registry Book that our Byron Township farmer had begun to keep on his expanding hog operation. This ear notching was required to be done within seven days after birth. Ideally he liked to get this operation and the clipping of the wolf teeth of the young pigs all done within the first 12 to 24 hours after birth at the same time that he was treating the navel with iodine. This would save time and also causes less stress and faster healing on the baby pigs when done at this very early age. Kelly Klober, Story’s Guide to Raising Pigs, pp. 185-187.
Only the baby pigs with notched ears would be considered for the registration with the Poland China Record Association. The baby pigs were observed as they grew up, to see if they developed the heavy shoulders, wide back and heavily developed hams that were prized by meat packers in lard hogs. (“Poland China Operation: The Fashion Herd” p. 4, another Internet document .) Those pigs that showed the best tendency toward these traits were, then, registered the Poland China Record Association located in La Fayette, Indiana and would then enter the breeding herd of the farm or they would be sold as registered purebred gilts and boars to other Poland China breeders. He needed to decide which male pigs he would keep to sell as registered boars. Our Byron Township farmer knew that the best chance to sell some of his purebred boars was at the Minnesota State Fair held in the last two weeks in August each year.
The rest of the males would be castrated and sold to Wilson’s as market hogs. He had to castrate the market lard hogs because all packing houses heavily discounted the price of un-castrated boars. The lard rendered from an un-castrated male had an undesirable taint and could ruin an entire kettle of lard from females and castrated males. Our Byron Township farmer tried to make this decision as early as possible before weaning so that the pigs would not have the double stress or recovering from the castration and being weaned at the same time. Sometimes he found that he would be forced to delay castrating the last of the male pigs until a couple of weeks after they were weaned. However, by this time the pigs would weigh about 55 to 60 pounds. By that time they would be a real handful to hold down for the operation.
Aunt Rita left work a little early on Wednesday December 23, 1935 and arrived on the farm after dark that evening. Aunt Rita always stayed in her own room in the house on the main farm when she visited Byron Township. This was the same room she had slept in during her childhood. She had been the youngest child in the family. She was considerably younger than her brother and was actually closer in age to her nephew—our Byron Township farmer. Even after her brother had moved over to the other homestead on the farm, Aunt Rita insisted on staying in the main house in her own room. It was a fortunate thing that Aunt Rita arrived as early as she did, because it started to snow the next morning, on December 24th . By that evening of the 24th a full blown blizzard had descended on Waseca County. The snow fell so deep across all of southern Minnesota that all travel activity was suspended the rest of the Christmas weekend. All across Minnesota families that had gathered for Christmas Eve in 1935, were unable to drive even a short distances to get back to their homes. Even our Byron Township farmer’s parents were forced to stay the night rather than attempt to drive the short distance back home to the other farm. In actual fact, with the sows farrowing, our Byron Township farmer enjoyed having his father around all night. All the pregnant pigs that had not yet farrowed were locked up inside the hog house at night rather than being allowed to roam outside in their pen on the south east side of the hog house. As good a mothers as his Poland China sows were, he did not want to tempt fate by allowing any of the sows to unexpectedly have their litter out on the snow bank during the blizzard.
All in all it was a very good Christmas. Being trapped indoors for a great deal of the time because of the blizzard, the family played cards and other games indoors. They opened their presents according to tradition—one present for each person on Christmas Eve before bed and the rest on Christmas morning—and they ate. There was as always a large ham that was cooked from one of the home grown butchered hogs. There were mashed potatoes, canned peas, beans and corn from the garden of the previous summer. One of the treats was the cranberries that were brought to the farm by Aunt Rita. Some of these cranberries were boiled with sugar and served whole and the others were combined into various relishes and puddings which seemed to keep coming from the kitchen all through the Christmas holidays. Meanwhile out in the hog house three more litters were born over the Christmas weekend. All of the litters seemed healthy and the mothers well adjusted to their offspring. It looked like a good year ahead.
(TO BE CONTINUED)