An interesting article on the modern pig from US News &World Report.
I found that article interesting on a couple of levels. It reminded me of my own upbringing in the Midwest, and my first childhood close encounter with hogs.
My grandparents lived on a farm that had no running water and no indoor facilities located just outside the little town of Halfway, Missouri. My grandfather made his living by raising hogs and chickens and by selling eggs and milk. He milked twice a day, slopped the hogs, fed the chickens and did all the other things small farmers did (and still do, I suppose) to get by. One of my earliest remembrances (I must have been about 4) was when I went with him to slop the hogs.
The hogs lived in a large fenced area, maybe an acre or so in size, that was mostly covered in weeds as tall as my head. The hogs, huge red Durocs, made paths through the weeds and had completely trampled the area around their trough, which sat on bare dirt. The hogs would lie in the weeds most of the day, hidden from sight (my sight, anyway), and shaded from the sun.
At feeding time, my grandfather would get a couple of 5 gallon buckets, put feed in them from a sack, draw water from the well to fill the buckets to the top, and mix the slop. He would then carry a bucket in each hand, step over the low board fence forming the hog pen, pour the bucketsful of slop into the giant trough and yell, “Sooiee.” Not, Wooo, pig, sooooieee, as in the University of Arkansas Hog Call, with which I’m all too familiar, but “Sooieee, pigs, soooieee,” with great emphasis on the first sooooo. It came out from deep within his lungs as “Sooooooooooiee, pigs, soooiee.”
At the first note of soooieee the hogs would explode out of the weeds at a full run and bolt for the trough where they would jostle for position, snorting, grunting, and squealing their zillion decibel squeals as they wolfed (pigged?) their food. Granddad, standing amidst 8-10 of them, would yell and push the hogs out of the way with his foot so that he could get the rest of the slop poured in and get away.
My misadventure came when my grandfather actually let me go all the way into the pen and stand by the trough during feeding. It happened only once.
I was standing there troughside as he poured the slop in and soooieed. All of a sudden I was surrounded by a grunting, rooting, snorting, squealing, slobbering mass of hairy, mud-caked hogs trying to get to dinner. They were all at least 10 times my size, or so it seemed, and were jostling and knocking me around like I wasn’t even there. What looked kind of fun from the fence had turned terrifying for my young self in just about a heartbeat. I let out an earsplitting shriek that my grandfather heard over the noise of the hogs. He jerked me up and got me away.
Over the years I had a few more adventures in the very same hog pen with multiple generations of the same hogs, but never one quite as terrifying.
I was also interested in the article from a more professional perspective. I hadn’t realized that pork had also suffered from the fat phobia that has swept the nation over the past couple of decades.
Pigs aren’t porky anymore. Instead, they’re as lanky as marathon runners. While the pig’s makeover is partly a triumphant tale of producers meeting demands for leaner, more healthful meat, there’s a cautionary message here, too. Today’s pigs all too often don’t taste good. With pigs, unlike New York socialites, it really is possible to be too thin.
Since pork has become leaner, I figured I would do a little research to see if I could find out how they were made so thin. Whatever feeding changes have made the pigs leaner ought to work on us too.
I discovered that pork ranchers are giving their hogs more protein and fat to make them leaner. Interesting, eh?
Along with the extra protein and fat, however, hogs are fed a large amount of carbohydrate in the form of grain. I couldn’t figure out how the pigs could get lean with all the carb they were eating even though they were getting more protein. After doing a little more reading and thinking, it finally dawned on me.
Pigs have a normal lifespan of 10-15 years depending upon whose data you want to believe. Pigs are slaughtered at an average age of 6 months to 10 months. So pigs are lean at the time of slaughter which would put them at about the teenage years in pig-life terms. And, as we all know, teenagers seem to stay pretty lean and healthy despite a terrible diet, not because of it. If pigs were to stay on their high carbohydrate diet until they reached pig middle age, I would bet that they would end up as fat as, well, pigs.
I can’t let this post end without mentioning the name of head of animal science at Iowa State University who was quoted for the above mentioned article: Maynard Hogberg.