Thursday, January 13

Hog Science 101

Because I haven't posted any photos from our Iowa Christmas trip except for the red chicken house, here are just a few of one of the mornings we were there.

My parents raise hogs in addition to growing corn, soybeans and alfalfa on their place in north central Iowa, so one morning while we were home, my dad, sister Melissa, Scott and I went to one of the hog sites to help load in a new batch of pigs. After the barns are emptied of the previous round of market-sized hogs, they're thoroughly washed with hot water and disinfected and left to dry before the new pigs come, to prevent any diseases from being transferred from one round to the next.

These pigs in the photo are 'feeder pig' size, about 40 pounds, and they will stay under my parents' care until they reach 240 pounds, or market weight, which will take about four months. It's important to keep them in clean, well-lit, ventilated, warm and dry barns so they stay as comfortable as possible while they're growing. I'm sure these pigs are grateful to have a nice warm home in their barn through the winter months instead of surviving out in the wind, cold and snow. In the summer, when it's so hot and humid in Iowa, and there's barely a breeze for relief, the barns are also engineered to keep the pigs as cool as possible, with ventilation systems designed to keep a constant breeze, fans to ventilate the manure pits underneath and keep the air clear, and some barns even include a sprinkler system to keep the pigs nice and cool on the hottest days.

In the photo above, we've opened up all the gates between the feeders and the wall to create a wide alley for the pigs to walk down before being counted into their pens. As each pen filled we'd pull the gate closed in front of the next 35 or so pigs to go in the next pen. On the right side of the photo below you can see the narrower center alley that's used for the day-to-day care of each pen of pigs.

If the pigs come in as weaners, straight off their mothers, my family also lays down those black mats you see suspended from the ceiling in this photo into each pen, and the 'brooder heaters' are let down, which you can also see hiked up to the ceiling in the photo, with the black gas lines going to them. In addition to the mats and extra heat to keep the baby pigs nice and warm, they're also hand-fed a special ration every day to make sure they stay healthy and get to going as quickly as possible.

No matter what kind of livestock is being raised, it's always in the best interest of the producer to take as good of care as he possibly can of his animals. That's why we also leave four empty 'sick pens' in each barn as we're filling them. As the pigs grow, some naturally fall behind, or pick up some sort of sickness, so they're pulled out of the pens of big, healthy pigs and put by themselves so they have a better chance of getting well. Without this individual attention in day-to-day management they would be jostled and picked on by the bigger pigs.

It was so bitterly cold the morning we loaded in those new pigs, and I know I was sure grateful for the modern technology that means those barns were toasty warm inside, both for the new pigs and my own personal comfort! At one point during the morning I had to leave to get a different pickup, and when I got back to the site one of the trucks was backed up unloading and one little guy had escaped. After being in the warm truck, you can imagine his shock at the cold, snow and ice. He just stood there while I picked him up and put him back in the warm barn with his fellow piggies.

Each barn has two feed bins with augers feeding a ground corn ration into the feeders down the length of the building. They're on an automatic sensor, so whenever the feeders start to run low the motor kicks on and fills the feeders back up. There are no hungry hogs where I come from.

So there's a little bit of a crash course on part of what it takes to raise hogs traditionally in Iowa. Because bacon is so good and in such high demand, as well as barbecue pork, sausage and pork loin, raising hogs in barns like these is the best, most efficient way to supply the world with pork, and at the lowest cost, while at the same time being the best, most comfortable and protective environment for the hogs.


  1. Your dad says "Boy, does she do a good job explaining modern livestock practices."

  2. Really great post! We raise hogs - farrow to finish, corn and soybeans in Indiana!