Linden Olson
Linden Olson

Here in southwest Minnesota, spring is trying to get her foot in the door but old man winter keeps slamming the door on her toes, the latest slam being a late winter snow that dropped from 8 to 10 inches across part of Minnesnowta.

One of the recent warmer days reminded me of some of the days of yesteryear when we cleaned the farrowing barn for the spring pig crop. Sixty years ago, if a farmer raised hogs north of what is now I-80, they farrowed sows either twice a year (late winter or early spring and late summer or early fall), or they farrowed once a year in A-frame houses on pasture in the warmer summer months. 

For those who farrowed in the late winter or early spring, the cleaning of the farrowing barn was an important but high labor project. Prior to the cleaning day, the farrowing barn had been cleaned of all the loose manure and all the wooden gates had been removed and stacked so the final cleaning could be done.   Early on the day of the final cleaning, a 55-gallon steel barrel was set over a fire pit and filled with water. The fire was started and an hour or so later lye was added. One lesson learned quite fast was to stand upwind when adding the lye because the fumes were mighty strong.

When the lye water was close to boiling, five-gallon pails were filled one at a time and carried inside to be spread on the concrete floor and the wooden gates. Then bristle brooms were used to scrub the floors and gates to remove any manure that was left from the first cleaning. The hot water and lye also acted as a mild disinfectant. After drying for a few days, the gates were put back in place and the barn was ready for farrowing. The brooms were discarded because after being in hot lye water, there was no stiffness left in the bristles.

Later years brought high pressure power washers to replace the hot lye water for cleaning. Later still, the rotary nozzle made cleaning much faster. Now, even humans are being replaced by robotic pressure washers.  

The whole concept of sanitation has undergone a lot of change over the years also. From the hot lye water, one of the next changes was to close the barn after cleaning and heating formaldehyde in a frying pan to disinfect the barn by fumigation. Formaldehyde was replaced by some of the newer disinfectants that are somewhat specific on the type of pathogen that was most important to be destroyed.    

There was always a nice sense of accomplishment when the farrowing barn was ready to put the sows in their pens for the next crop of pigs. I wonder if there is that same sense when a robot has done the hard work.