At this time of year, when the temperature stays below freezing and the ground is white with snow, I remember doing winter chores. It’s been quite a few years since I did winter chores, but the memories are fresh enough, it doesn’t seem that long ago.
My dad had cattle and hogs along with chickens. The chickens were inside all the time. It was taking care of the cattle and hogs during the winter months that was time consuming.
Since they ate to stay warm, a lot of feed was not used for weight gain so feed bunks and self-feeders were filled frequently.
Then there was a tank heater in the water tank so the animals could be watered. I remember a tank heater that was fueled by pushing wood down an opening where it could be burned and it needed to be stoked often.
Starting a fire in the tank heater was one of the first jobs in the morning, so the ice would thaw and then keeping the fire going throughout the day was the next job.
What a great advancement when a tank heater that burned LP was installed and it had a thermostat. It could be temperamental, but was still a huge improvement over the wood burner.
Around 1966 my dad decided he was going to build a confinement house for his hog operation. That was a new idea at a time when most hogs were being raised in pastures.
The confinement house offered many advantages, one of which was a better place in the winter. He could also farrow year around which meant his hog numbers could go up.
He built it so one part of it was for farrowing and the other part was for weaning. In comparison to today’s confinement building it was modest in size.
This was a time when a 100-horsepower tractor was considered big.
He raised hogs in that building for many years and added an additional building to feed and house the pregnant sows.
He used it through the 1970s, stopped for a while, and then filled it again.
“I think he missed the money,” my mother told me.
So I have seen hogs raised both in a pasture and in confinement. I can see advantages in each.
Before the confinement house, raising hogs was not easy, especially in the winter.
Every spring we built fence for the hog pasture, towed buildings to the site for their protection, and laid over a quarter mile of garden hose to provide water. Then in the fall it was all taken down. The hogs returned to the building site.
The confinement house made raising hogs more of a routine as everything was there – feed, water, and housing. I am sure that building paid for itself quickly.
I admit that seeing the rare sight of hogs being raised in a pasture is enough to make me want to stop and appreciate those old ways of hog production.
But when there is a foot of snow on the ground with a strong northwest wind blowing and I see a building that is heated with a steady supply of water and feed, regardless of temperature, and I know those hogs inside of it are being provided for, I think that is not so bad either.
My wife bought a double smoked ham for a family gathering over the New Year weekend.
And I am going to appreciate what many people went through to see that getting that ham was as easy as saying, “I want to buy that ham.”
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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