A Shot to the Snout: Hog Control on the Farm

Pig snouters and nose rings limited pigs' ability to root and escape farmers' fences.

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Early promotional material for Hill’s Triangular Hog Ring from Hog Control: A Patent Study of Ringers, Holders, Snouters and Jewelry compiled by Onie Sims.

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What in the world is a pig snouter? A device used to cut a hog's snout to control its rooting. Hogs are not native to North America. When the first Europeans came to this continent, they brought domestic animals from their homelands. Among those animals were horses, cattle, sheep, goats and hogs. In Florida, free-range cattle were a challenge to round up. Each year, Florida cowboys (called "crackers") began the roundup by driving cattle out of the lowlands, swamps and brush. They cracked long bullwhips to move individual animals out of the brush and assemble them into large herds to drive to market.

Free-range hogs, on the other hand, were wary and elusive. They were much harder to find and round up for butchering or to take to market. Farmers soon learned to fence in an area where hogs could forage. However, with their long, strong snouts, hogs dug holes deep enough to allow their escape under fences. Farmers were then faced with the same problem as before: wild hogs all around, but few in their enclosures.

Farmers tried putting one or more wire rings in the hog's nose, a practice known as ringing. The rings supposedly made the snout tender so that hogs could not root aggressively enough to escape their enclosure. Rings worked well in the north, where soil was hard and compacted, but were less effective in sandy soil. Ringed pigs in the south were still able to escape.

So, farmers devised another solution. The new implement was a hinged, plier-shaped apparatus with handles on one end and a clipping or notching mechanism on the other. The device was named a "pig snouter."

According to Bobby Noell, pig snouters were the answer to the problem. Bobby owns one of the museums at the Florida Flywheelers show grounds near Fort Meade. His museum carries the title "Noells' Ark Mymythsonian," a playful reference to both Noah's Ark and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. "It's filled with a conglomerate of wonders from yesterdays past to present from near and far, far away," he says.

Among the eclectic items displayed at Bobby's museum is his collection of hog handling tools, hog oilers and hog waterers. The collection includes nooses and wrenches used to catch and hold hogs, castrating tools, hog ringers, ear notchers and pig snouters.

Snouters were used to cut (or notch) the hard, durable outer ridge of the pig's snout. The tool cut a slice at least 1/2-inch wide in the center of the ridge that never grew back together. Although notched, the snout was still useful in foraging for food, but it could no longer dig deep depressions. Without the solid ridge, hogs rooted with one side or the other, but could never again muster the full strength of the snout to move a heavy load of dirt. "The pig snouter is a very cruel thing," Bobby says. "They would never allow that today."

Pig snouters were but one part of the hog farmer's arsenal. He also needed a way to identify his animals. According to legend, the Hatfield-McCoy feud resulted from a dispute over ownership of a hog. Floyd Hatfield had the hog in his possession, but Randolph McCoy maintained the animal was his. One family believed that since the pig found its way to their land, the animal belonged to them. The other family objected, and a feud began.

To identify pigs, farmers used ear notchers to permanently mark each hog's ear. The tool served the same purpose as cattle brands. Notchers cut varied shapes: diamond, round, v-shape or half-moon. When escaped, half-wild hogs were rounded up, each farmer's animals could be identified according to their particular ear notch pattern, effectively ending disputes over hog ownership.

For more information, contact Bobby Noell at (727) 785-6063.

James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington, Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in antique farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and related items. Email him at jboblenz@aol.com