Keepin’ hogs

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Muddy Creek

Growing up on Muddy Creek

Hog farming during my days growing up on Muddy Creek was similar to today’s version only in name. Any farmer who kept a half dozen brood sows was considered to be in the hog business.

‘Confinement’ in my days meant the hogs did not roam the countryside but were confined to an enclosure, a pen of most any dimensions. Housing consisted at best of a lean-to, 4-foot-high shelter, open on one side and facing away from the wind.

Dad always raised a few hogs. This might be as many as two truckloads a year or as few as a dozen, most of which were to be butchered during a cold spell in early winter. He and my grandfather once had been partners in an ill-fated cattle venture and had run hogs with the steers, as was the custom in those days. However, when the new university bookkeeping system set up for the farm showed a loss two years in a row, Dad switched to Jersey cows, selling the cream and raising only as many hogs as the cows’ limited skim milk production would support.

‘Ringing the hogs’ was one of the not-so romantic interludes around the farm in those days. That has a nice sound to it, doesn’t it? Ring the hogs. Kinda like ‘ring the bell,’ but it was more like ‘Ring around the Rosie’ when it came to catching free-running swine and gifting them with a not-so-beautiful but efficient anti-rooting adornment, a ring in the end of its nose.

A hog is a pig that has grown up, in case you are wondering. Perhaps you may recall the childhood ditty of the ‘Owl and the Pussy Cat,’ who sailed away together in a pea-green boat. Wishing to ‘tie the knot,’ they bought a ring for a shilling from a ‘piggy wig’ living in the woods. Well, the piggies that I knew were hogs that scaled in at a hundred weight or more, depending on the farm workload. You see, ringing hogs was a rainy day job, put off until we got around to it.

The hog has been debased and besmirched over the years. Even in Biblical days tossing pearls before swine was considered frivolous. If a hog’s digestive system has a maximum capacity, it is very difficult to tell. A pig will make a hog of itself whenever given the chance, whether it be in an unlocked corncrib or a cow lot, where steers are fed grain. I well remember when the hogs got into the silo seepage and went on a wood alcohol binge second only to the binge the hired man ‘enjoyed’ when he sampled the same seepage.

‘Rooting for a team’ or ‘rooting for a living’ have only the word ‘root’ in common – their meanings being quite different. Acting like a hog, or making a hog of one’s self may somewhat demean the good name of this animal. Far more fetching and romantic is the portrait of the wild boar being carried aloft by four yeomen into the banquet halls of ye knights of old.

But to get back to the task at hand: ringing the hogs. Long-time Paris residents can well recall the good name of the Stewart Hog Ring Co., which sold products that graced the noses of countless thousands of swine throughout the civilized world for well over half a century. Even though in its declining years, Stewart converted its products from anti-rooters to automobile seat cover fasteners, the latter using the smaller shoat-sized rings that attached with a plier-like instrument. The same tool was used to clamp the sharply pointed split ring through the gristle at the end of the bigger pigs’ noses. This flared and tough snout is designed for the pig, hog, swine, piglet, porker or whatever name it is called by, to root, dig, prod, poke or do a major spring excavation of the rain-softened pig lot. Pigs especially root if the lot is infested with white grubs or has an oak tree shedding its fruit nearby, for which the species has an inborn love and desire. This snout also allows the pig or hog, depending on its age and size, to tunnel under the most sophisticated ‘hog-proof’ fences with maddening disrespect. ‘Hog proof’ is a relative term. My father once traded a blind mare mule for a long-legged Hampshire sow that I guarantee could clear a 4-foot-high ‘hog-proof’ fence with room to spare.

The 4-H club movement grew out of pig clubs that flourished at the turn of the century. That was when the members realized the truth of the saying, ‘Son John had a little pig, when it was very small, but when it grew up and became a hog, it wasn’t John’s at all.’ More crudely put, it was ‘Johnnie’s pig, but Daddy’s hog.’

The 4-H members learned responsibility, recordkeeping and the joys of ownership by caring for pigs. They also suffered heart-breaking reality when little ‘Ambrose’ grew up and was sold at the 4-H auction to the local banker, who turned it over to the local IGA, whose butchers sold its chilled and naked body parts for premium prices. Money doesn’t fill that void.

Wild hogs? Oh, yes. Herds of several dozen roamed the thickets along Muddy Creek and made the gulleys, ravines and hidden thickets their habitat on old Red Hill. I can well remember the old timers braggin’ about the wild boars they had captured on the slopes. In fact, a giant 7-inch boar tusk lay around the shop for years. Dad claimed it came from an animal that had eluded hunters for years along Paul’s Creek, but hunting wild boar eventually gave way to chasing fox.

When fall came around, it was time to pen up the half dozen or so butchering hogs and put them on a skim milk, tankage and ear corn diet. Then, come a good cold snap, it was butchering time and that meant fresh sausage, back bones with sauerkraut, pickled pig’s feet, head cheese and corn meal mush fried in fresh sidemeat drippings. U-m-m-m-m-m. FC

– The late Perry Piper was a newspaper columnist in Indiana and Illinois for more than 12 years. His columns, reprinted here from his memoirs, appear in Farm Collector with the permission of his family.

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