The nose knows: Hog snouters helped discourage hogs from rooting
Four sets of snouters from Jim Hicks' collection. Left to right: Casting reads "Dr. Miller Pig Snouter Pat. Sep 20 88"; unidentified, with leaf spring between the handles; unidentified, coiled spring; cast with "Rhu Bros. Pat. Feb. 1882 Mfg. Chicago, Ill."
The image of a hog with a ring through its nose is a familiar scene from bygone days. But the ring wasn't the first device used to discourage rooting. Before the ring, hog snouters were used to control that activity, by cutting a ridge off of the hog's nose.
"You take a baby pig, say up to eight or 10 weeks old, and if you notice, on the end of its nose, there's an upturned place," says Jim Hicks of Brazil, Ind. "Pigs would dig with the top of their nose, but not if you cut off that ridge."
Jim has a small collection of hog snouters. Patent dates on his pieces go back to 1882.
"Before the turn of the century, I'm assuming metal was kind of scarce," he says. "It was an expensive commodity. They just didn't have rings back then, so they used the snouters."
The first time Jim – now retired from a career with local and state Co-op systems – saw a set of snouters hanging on a barn wall, he had to ask what they were.
"I never had heard of such a thing in my life," he says.
After landing his first pair, he says, he assumed the snouter would be commonly found throughout the country. And for a while, that was the case.
"I found four or five pairs in two or three years," he says. "Then it just dried up. I bought my last pair five or six years ago, at a flea market in southwest Indiana, and the guy didn't know what they were, and I haven't seen any since."
The pieces in his collection are varied, but all resemble pliers. Each set has a wooden block where the blade makes contact. The set with the most advanced design features a spring for easier use. Two sets have primitive hand-grips; two have loops resembling those on scissors. One set went so far as to cut a notch in the remaining ridge on the hog's nose.
As the country's steel industry grew, farmers increasingly used rings to control hogs' rooting.
"I assume they were just easier to use," Jim says. FC
For more information: Jim Hicks, 5120 St. Road 340, Brazil, IN 47834.