Hog Sloppers and Calf Weaners

Indiana collector adds 'place settings' and 'behavior modifiers' to his farm collection.

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Ron Moore's hog slopper collection shows

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Ron Moore collects hog oilers. For him, expanding that collection to include cast iron hog pans and stoppers is as natural as, say, a tractor collector adding a few implements to his collection.

'They show the whole story,' Ron says. Ron, who lives in Bloomington, Ind., has nearly 100 hog oilers. Cast pans and stoppers, though, are harder to come by. Just as tractors and engines were scrapped during World War II metal drives, so were hog pans and stoppers. Later still, when old barns were razed, 'the pans and stoppers went off in the hauler with everything else,' he explains.

Relics of the past

Cast pans and stoppers are relics of the days before commercially produced hog feed existed. In those days - in addition to table scraps - hogs were fed leftover whey from cheese production and dregs from the cream separator.

Hogs were also fed a liquid commonly referred to as 'gray shorts.' 'I remember my grandpa mixing a brown powder with water, even in the '50s,' Ron recalls.

Ron didn't grow up on a farm, but he spent a lot of time at his grandparents' farm as a boy. 'They raised dairy cattle and hogs,' he says. 'My dad was raised on the farm, but he got out as quick as he could.'

Ron's early visits to the farm, combined with a career working as an animal husbandry operator for a pharmaceutical manufacturer, dovetailed into a hobby. Although Ron downplays his collection - 'I don't have a great collection, but I have a good start,' he says - Ron has become quite knowledgeable about hog equipment.

The only trouble is, he says, there's little resource material on most of it. 'Outside of a few old advertisements, there's not much,' Ron says.

Function defines form

Function was key in slopper and pan designs. 'Cholera was a big problem in a hog lot,' Ron says. 'Manufacturers of sloppers and cast pans all claimed that their products - with one-piece construction, smooth bottoms and no corners for germs to grow in - were more sanitary than square pans and V-shaped troughs made from two boards nailed together. Some of those troughs were just two boards nailed together. Metal made for a cleaner construction. It was less porous than wood.'

Manufacturers tried to make the farmer's life easier with better pan and slopper designs. 'Hogs were notorious for spilling their water and making mudholes to wallow in,' Ron says. Accordingly, most pans and sloppers were made of cast iron, and many have holes in their feet to allow them to be bolted in place.

'Two of my sloppers weigh 130 pounds each,' he says. 'Even the biggest sows would have trouble tipping them over.'

The cast pans were simple designs, intended to do little more than hold scraps or a liquid feed. The round sloppers, however, are almost graceful, with center sections and compartments. Still, function was the prime consideration.

'They all had a purpose,' Ron says. 'If you've ever seen hogs eat, you know why you need compartments. They'll just knock the little ones out of the way. Compartments allowed the runts and smaller hogs a fair share of the food.'

The center rings and compartments also allowed use of different feeds in the same slopper, and prevented hogs from laying in their food and water. Many of the pans featured round bottoms, which protected them from breakage when water froze in them during the winter.

Though not among the 'glamour' collectibles, pans and sloppers sometimes sell for more than $200 each.

'Anymore, it depends on condition,' Ron says. 'It's a lot of money, but where else are you going to go to find one?' Ron looks for pans and sloppers at major swap meets, and friends keep a look-out for them as well.

'They're as scarce as hen's teeth,' Ron says. 'They're really quite rare.'

In their heyday, sloppers were out of reach for the poor farmer. Ron's found clues to pricing in vintage advertisements. The 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, for instance, listed an eight-compartment, 120-pound slopper at $4.85 and a four-compartment, half-round slopper for $3.95. At the other end of the spectrum, the Iowa Gate Co. of Cedar Falls, Iowa, sold a 30-pound cast hog trough for 98 cents.

Ron's collection is displayed in his house and outbuildings. He gives occasional tours, but he quickly admits that he isn't overrun by requests. 'Unless you're interested in this stuff,' Ron acknowledges, 'it's just a pile of iron.'

Weaning the hard way

Every collection is built within a framework unique to the collector. For Ron, a collectible must be related to his interest in animal husbandry. It must be a size and weight that's easy to handle. It can't be common, either. Calf weaners, then, are a neat fit with his hog equipment collection.

'I don't like collecting the same thing that everybody has,' Ron, who owns 55 of the devices, says. 'I want something that's hard to find. Most old-time farmers know what calf weaners are, but they're not too common.'

In the old days, Ron explains, not all farmers had a separate lot to put the calves in when it was time to wean them from their mothers. 'So they were left in with the mothers and a weaner was put on each calf to keep it from nursing,' he says.

Most calf weaners were designed to clamp on to a calf's nose or nostrils, Ron says. A few were made with straps or chains similar to those on a halter. What most had in common, Ron says, was something sharp, like pointed metal ends.

When the calf lowered its head to feed on grass or hay, the weaner swung out, or away, from the calf's mouth. But when the calf raised its head to reach an udder, the weaner swung back into place, and the points came in contact with the udder before the calf could get to the cow's teats.

'I've never seen a weaner used,' Ron says. 'But I would bet money they'd work! I think the cow would kick the calf into the middle of next week before she would let it near her udder very many times!'

Not all weaners were made for calves. Some cows tried to nurse themselves -or each other - 'cheating the farmer' out of his milk check, Ron says. Accordingly, some weaners were made large enough to fit full-grown animals.

Different designs

Weaners have been around for a long time, Ron says. 'The oldest patent date on any piece in my collection is 1907,' he says. They're also far from obsolete. Ron's seen them advertised in current farm supply catalogs. 'But weaners today are a lot more humane,' he says. 'The ones with points just aren't produced anymore.'

Because manufacturers were eager to avoid patent infringement complaints, early weaners came in a variety of designs. 'They were all just a little different,' Ron says. 'There were probably 30 different shapes. It all depended on how much pain they wanted to inflict on a cow.'

Ron's favorites are homemade models. A farmer short on either time or money crafted his own calf weaner from whatever materials he had on hand, Ron says. One weaner in Ron's collection features 8-inch tines taken from an old pitchfork.

With just one exception - a crude, wooden collar-like piece - all of the weaners in Ron's collection are made of metal. They remain an affordable collectible (Ron says they can still be bought for $20 or less) and can be found at engine shows and farm sales. And there's plenty of variety.

'There's just no end to them,' Ron says.

- Ron Moore is interested in learning more about cast hog pans, sloppers and calf weaners. If you have information to share, contact him at 691 West Beach Road, Bloomington, IN 47832; or call (765) 597-2049. Read more about his hog oiler collection in Farm Collector, November 2001.