December has been a pretty tough month to raise livestock in Iowa. It has been extremely cold, and we've had enough snow to assure us of a white Christmas.
But when I think back to how my family and I raised livestock in years past, I can't complain. Neither can my hogs.
Following a recent snow storm, I stepped inside one of the modern barns I manage and snapped a picture of a pen of pigs. I posted it on my Facebook page, along with an outside picture showing the wind and snow. While the wind chill outside had to be at least 20 below zero, the pigs were warm and cozy. I even received more than one comment suggesting that one of my pigs appeared to be smiling.
It made me think of the criticism today's farmers receive for the way we raise our animals. I have to say I was pretty jealous of my hogs that day! I had to go back outside and move snow!
I think back to how hogs were raised when I was growing up back in the '50s. I can remember going to the Coulter Creamery with my Grandpa Pete Jensen. We'd crawl into his 1954 Ford pickup and drive across town to pick up milk processing by-products for his hogs. The by-products were Grandpa's best choice to get some extra protein for those pigs. The rest of their diet was ear corn! It was a far cry from the balanced rations we feed our hogs today.
Fast forward to the 1970s when I built my first "modern" hog building. I thought it was state-of-the-art! The pigs could get inside, where I had installed a heater in the floor. They could go outside to drink from an automatic waterer and eat at any time from a self-feeder that had feed blended from ground corn and soybean meal, with a pre-mix added to give them everything they needed to grow. With their much improved diets, my hogs grew faster and could make it to market weight in about seven or eight months.
But even my first "modern" barn had problems. The open, south-facing building made it hard to keep things cool in the summer time. And the snow we had! One year I had to rent a jackhammer to break up the ice and snow that were preventing my hogs from getting feed and water.
Yes, I don't have to think too long about the "good old days" before I start feeling very thankful for the "modern" way we take care of our animals. Today, my barns have computer controls that keep the temperature just right. They have fans to keep the air fresh. They have "cup" waterers to keep the water fresh.
There's an automatic curtain drop to give my hogs fresh air if the power goes out. This is Iowa, and the power does go out! I have a generator on standby for when that happens. I even have an alarm system that calls my cell phone when anything goes wrong. It even calls me if the water pressure in the barn gets too low!
And here's the best part - I don't need that jackhammer any more to move snow and ice!
By Larry Sailer. Larry is a crop and livestock farmer from Franklin County, Iowa.
Remembering the "Good Old Days"