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THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT TO MARKET

When we were little, one of our favorite games that mother used to play with us was “Five Little Pigs.” 

"First little pig went to market; second little pig stayed home; third little pig had roast beef; fourth little pig had none;  fifth little pig cried  wee, wee, wee …all the way home.” 

This last little pig was accompanied by a tickling movement of mother’s hand up our bellies to our chins, provoking a lot of laughter, and then a firm,  “night night.”

I have recently had occasion to ask myself, just what did it mean when the first little pig went to market.  Did it mean that he, as a human-like person, went to go shopping at the market to bring home food?  Or did it mean that
he was the food. 

Did “went to market” mean, “processed”  just as “gone missing” means “kidnapped”?

I have seen the little pigs, and there are a lot more than five of them.  They number in the hundreds in one highly efficient, highly protective feeding building.

Imported from Canada at about 10 pounds each, they will be fed for about 140 days, adding about 2 pounds a day, until they are “ready for market” at about 270 pounds.

I think that the little pig who ran all the way home, had the best idea.

















Recently, Linda and I flew to Minneapolis, then rented a car and drove down to Iowa wherein reside Linda’s brother-in-law, Doyle and his wife, Marilyn.  They live on lands that were once a part of Marilyn’s family, the Williams’ farm,  On it still stands the house that her grandfather built for her grandmother, and across the street from it, stands the house that Marilyn and Doyle’s son, Russ, with wife, Diane, built to raise their four children.

Russ, in describing to me the evolution of his activity in farming, told me a fascinating story.  He got his college degree in agriculture, and so his grand-father (Marilyn’s father) placed the farm in trust for Russ and his brother Rock until after Marilyn and her sister, Frances, are gone.  At first he raised corn and soybeans for cash crops and farrowed pigs as a main activity.  This meant breeding sows, keeping them safe in various temperatures, overseeing their birth, caring for little pigs in the first days of life, (to be sure they all were fed by mama pig) and then carefully weaning them away and fattening them up for market.

Farrowing pigs is a very, very labor-intensive activity.  Sows must be bred all at the same time, so that when the farrowing begins one knows that many pigs will follow.  No time for uncertain arising in all hours of the night for weeks on end, as was the case with horses.  When the first sow is bred, all sows are bred quickly so that the babies all arrive at about the same time.

Now, any young boar will tell you that this sounds like a good deal….but still, to breed dozens of sows all at one time is a formidable undertaking.  So, in this kind of operation, there are seven boars kept available for breeding, and they rotate with the sows/gilts, with more than one breeding to each to ensure maximum fertility. 

Then, their work is done and the mother-to-be takes over and
three months, three weeks and three days later, baby pigs start to arrive.

Now the job of caring for them and raising them for market begins, and as any manager of pigs will tell you, the end product after all of this labor is as uncertain as tomorrow’s weather in Iowa.  The market may be up or it may be down, and once you have hauled them off to the slaughter house, you might as well sell them because it will cost you more money to take them home and keep feeding them.

In that environment, turning pigs into hogs meant that you got them “hog-fat” so that their weight would bring more money. 

But in the last few decades, the business of putting pork chops on the table has changed significantly.  The industry began to specialize in certain parts of the life-span of the hog.  Some “farmers” bred sows and farrowed pigs, then sold them at about 40-50 pounds to another “farmer” who would finish them out to weights of 270-300 pounds. 

Some farmers who were in the farrowing business began to look around for a more specialized strain of pig (hybrid)  and a more certain kind of market. 

Cargill Corporation, the largest privately held business in the world, and one that deals with feeds and livestock has asked, “what could it do to assist creation of certainty in the hog industry?" 

The answer was “contracts.”  Contracts with those who farrow pigs and  those who take them and raise them to market weight.  If Farmer X bought his pigs from a supplier in Canada, his price is known.  If he markets them to a local slaughter house, according to contract, what he gets is known. 

Contracts take some of the variances out of the market and lets the feeding of pigs become something of a specialty.  Cargill wants their customers to use their feed, distribute it by their calculations and feed the hogs up for maximum lean meat and then weight.   Feeding, living conditions, medical maintenance become especially important to the manager of the hogs because every pig that dies or fails to gain weight quickly is a loss.

And the purpose of the feeding is different than it used to be.  Those who feed their hybrid hogs with an emphasis upon producing lean meat are eligible for premium prices.   The new standard is ‘GRADE AND YIELD”. 

No longer is the purpose to bring the fattest pig to market.  The purpose is to reduce the fat on the hog, and then bring larger ones to market, and to do so within a time frame that minimizes feed costs and maximizes automation in the process of production.

To do this requires volume, and so each time he begins a feeding rotation, Farmer X will start off with hundreds of pigs,.  He and the supplier assume that he will lose 10% of them to shipping stress, undersize, ruptures and other miscellaneous causes that make the task of raising the pig to maturity no longer cost effective.  Those that fail are quickly killed and buried so that they are not eating up valuable food and taking up non-productive space.  So, he starts with a payment for only 90% of the pigs delivered.

Of these perhaps 80% will be sold "on contract" which calls for delivery of a certain amount of hog poundage at a given time.  It does not matter how much each hog weighs so long as the contract weight is achieved.  The remainder are fed up to as close to 270 pounds as possible, then marketed under the "grade and yield" standard.

The specialized effort to feed these pigs takes place in a single confinement building which can hold between 800-1200 finished hogs weighing about 270 pounds each.

When they arrive, pigs are broken up into lots of about 20 each, quickly sorted by size and soon sorted again by appetite and growth.  Barrows (boys)  grow more quickly than gilts (girls).  And once in a pen with a cohort group for any extended period of time pigs become very territorial.  Should another jump the low fences into the adjoining pen, it would be attacked and killed.

Once in place, they are given free rein inside each pen to eat and drink as they please, and as much as they please.  The feed is augured out of grain bins outside the shed into plastic tubes where they are joined in each of the pens to a feeding station.





















Each feeding station will allow four pigs to feed at a time, and they get food by pushing the little “dial” in the floor of the feeder with their noses.  They learn quickly and soon they can get their meals whenever they want.  If the four ahead of them are done, they have easy access;  if there is no space, then they have to push their way up to the feeder. Thus the phrase, “being pushy”. They drink from hoses dangling from the ceiling that respond to suction.

There are many things that can slow the development or take the life of a pig being fed for market.  Stress can kill them, and I noticed as I walked down along the aisle between the pens, that if I made any kind of sudden movement with my arm, they would squeal and run, then settle down quickly.  But I could certainly see how calm an environment they really needed. 

All pigs are vaccinated against pseudo-rabies and a number of other diseases when they arrive.  Should there be a need to medicate them because of  pneumonia or other alarming pathogen, anti-biotic is placed  into a single dispenser that sends it through the water, thus medicating all of the animals at the same time.

There are two diseases that can harm the growth pattern: pneumonia, which while treatable, slows eating and sometimes kills the pigs resisting it.   The other is “bloody scours (a form of dysentery).  It is an extremely contagious disease, and can be carried by humans just by walking through the aisles of a herd that is infected then going to another herd miles away.  If it should appear in a batch of pigs, it requires the farmer to market them and close down his operation for one year, (under quarantine)  effectively putting him out of business.

The far side of each small pen is where hogs deposit their waste, with the urine and feces dropping through little steel slats in the floor to a channel, which is accessible to a scrapper and occasional “new water” to send it flowing out of the shed through a large plastic pipe to the “waste lagoon.”

The “lagoon” is located either in heavy clay soil which does not allow “leaking,” or in a large hole lined by heavy plastic.  It is frequently inspected by the DNR (Dept. of Natural Resources) to be sure that it is meeting all standards.  Typically, it may hold 3 million gallons of waste.  Once a year, it  is pumped from the lagoon through 6" pipes that are themselves pulled by very large tractors directly into fields as much as mile from the lagoon.  There, 8 disc-like knives about 15 inches apart slice the earth down about 8 inches and force the manure into the ground with a hydraulic pump placed on top of the rear of the tractor.  This effectively eliminates oder from the use of a valuable fertilizer. 


By Iowa law no lagoon can be any larger than the lands necessary to take all of it each year.  So that means that no “super large” pig feeding operation can take place, unless someone owns a “super large” farm in which to distribute the waste.

Since animals produce large amounts of methane gas, large fans are located outside the shed, pulling air out from underneath the gratings, and letting fresh air come in. 

Automated curtains on the sides of the building are raised and lowered depending upon temperature. And should heat begin to soar,  an automated dialing system will call a series of persons until one is found to come to solve the problem. 

When they are ready to “go to market” they are loaded out of their pens, into a narrow walkway and directly into trucks.  They are then taken to the closest meat packing plant, where they are anesthetized with carbon dioxide.  This avoids panicking the hogs, (panic spoils meat quality) and it keeps their hearts beating until they are killed and processed into various parts that can be shipped to stores and meat cutting shops around the country and the world.

EACH DAY, a plant such as this will process 17,000 hogs.  In the United States, 100  million hogs are butchered each year..  Of these numbers, 35%  come from Iowa.

Finally, a word about odor.  This is a hog farm, and despite the excellent ventilation and sanitary conditions, the odor of pig permeates the air inside the shed.  So to take these pictures, I dressed in clothes that could be washed immediately afterward and wore shoes that Doyle provided me so that they could be set out to be washed.  I showered immediately after returning and had to wash my eyeglasses because the odor had permeated the joints of the metal frames. 

Still and all, this was a wonderful look at a vital livestock industry, and it was quite an education to see how modern hog-raising methods along with contracts with large corporations can make an agricultural lifestyle both healthful and profitable.  And best of all, for those of us out there eating the Other White Meat, there are pork chops on the table.
MARILYN'S GRANDFATHER BUILT THIS HOUSE FOR HER GRANDMOTHER  IN THE 1860s
ACROSS THE STREET, TODAY'S MODEL OF THE SUCCESSFUL FARMER'S HOME
DICK, LINDA, MARILYN, DOYLE
MARILYN AND DOYLE'S HOME AND THEIR POND
RUSS' BARN
MANY LITTLE PIGGIES, ALL IN THEIR PLACES
BLOWER VENTILATES METHANE GAS
FEED STORAGE AND DISTRIBUTION TO HOGS...SEE THE WHITE PIPE LEADING TO THE INTERIOR OF THE FACILITY
White pipe outside runs into the facility and down its length, dropping feed into the stations below.    One can always tell when more feed is needed by looking at the pipes. Every effort is made to place the biggest eaters at the end of the line so that when they need feed, all get fed.   Food is constantly before the pigs. 
CLICK HERE TO SEE PIGGY DRINK FROM PIPE,
SEE SHADES PARTLY OPEN, WATER HOSES HANGING AND FAN ABOVE
FEEDERS ALL ALLOW FOUR PIGS AT A TIME; NOTE VARYING SIZES... BETWEEN 50-70 POUNDS.
THESE ARE HYBRID PIGS, BRED TO PRODUCE LEAN MEAT, AND THEY COME IN DIFFERENT COLORS, THOUGH MOST ARE "WHITE."
EAT, DRINK, REST.  NOTE THAT THEY ARE WELL AWAY FROM THE BACK OF THE PEN, WHERE ONE PIG IS RELEASING WASTE. 
THIS IS THE LAGOON, CAPABLE OF HOLDING 3 MILLION GALLONS OF WASTE.  SOMETIMES THE DOGS THINK THAT IT IS THE POND...:-)
"BOOTING UP" TO GO VISIT THE PIGGIES
THE OTHER WHITE MEAT....THANK YOU MR. PIGGY
CLICK HERE TO SEE THEM IN ACTION
CLICK HERE TO SEE THEM EAT
FROM IOWA TO WISCONSIN TO MINNESOTA
After a wonderful visit with Marilyn and Doyle, and the thrill of watching their grandson, Paul, score the two winning goals in a soccer match against bitter rival, Notre Dame (Burlington), we left on Wednesday morning and drove to La Crosse, Wisconsin.   Next day, we toured parts of the city, visited the various homes that Susan and I had lived in and treated ourselves to a nice breakfast.   We then visited friends, Marty and Bill Pemberton, Lois and John Graff, in Galesville, and stopped by Susan's grave where we left flowers that will stay in bloom all summer.  After that, it was a quick trip up to Minneapolis, a visit to a Sports Bar for a snack  (sound was so loud it was physically hurtful) and then some rest.  The next two days, we visited with my son and daughter, Rick and Jessica and their families.    We had a great time with lots of laughter and kindly admiration of Rick and Vick's two new vehicles,....a Honda Gold Wing Motorcycle for Rick and a Nissan SUV for Vickie.  Linda and I took rides on the motorcycle...she went first cause I was scared, and then Rick took Jessica on a 100 mph ride which seemed to exhilerate them both.   We left on Sunday morning and got back into Bakersfield that afternoon, with our luggage awaiting us....thank you America West.
TONY AND JENNY
VICKIE CHECKS MANUAL ON HER NEW SUV
RICK'S NEW HONDA GOLD WING.  WE KNOW THAT IT CAN GO AT LEAST 100 MPH!
JAMIE BLEACHES THE DECK ! ! ! Photo by Linda
CLOCKWISE:  JENNY, TONY, VICKIE, ALIA, JESSICA, AMBER, RICK, LINDA
JESSICA
Photo by Amber
RICK AND DICK
Photo by Linda
JENNY
ALIA AND SKYLAR
QUINN WITH HIS NEW MODEL PLANE
ALIA, QUINN, JENNY
QUINN IN THE HOT TUB, CLOSELY WATCHED
THEY NAMED IT AFTER ME AND NUMBERED IT FOR MY OFFSPRING
DICKEYVILLE GROTTO
INDIAN TOTEM IN LA CROSSE
DICK ON THE MISSISSIPPI, LA CROSSE
SUSAN'S GRAVE, GALESVILLE, WISCONSIN
ALIA
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CLICK HERE TO SEE RICK RIDE AWAY
CLICK HERE TO SEE RICK RIDE BACK