It is late April as I write this and for the last few days spring has given her promise of staying around awhile. Farmers are starting to spread fertilizer, apply pre-emerge chemicals, plant corn and pump manure storage areas. Sixty years ago there was no corn planted in southwest Minnesota before the first of May and some of the spring work consisted of getting ready to move the January-to-March- farrowed pigs out to pasture. Sometime after spring had arrived and the small grains had been planted, and before it was time to plant corn, the shelters that housed the pigs on pasture were moved to “clean” ground. This usually meant a piece of alfalfa where no pigs had been for three or more years. We also moved the self-feeders and the 50-gallon barrel waterers. After everything had been moved it was time to put the woven fence around the entire area and divide it into separate lots, meaning one lot for each group of 20 to 30 pigs.
For many years, “fencing” meant digging-in wooden corner posts then stretching the woven wire tight between the corner posts and stapling the wire to the corner posts. Then, we drove steel posts by hand every 15 feet or so with a steel post driver. We would set wooden gates to be able to get into and out of the lots to fill the self-feeders.
Later we just set the corner posts and zig-zagged the steel posts to tighten the fence. When battery-operated electric fencers came along it was a much easier and faster way to make the lots. The only drawback was keeping plants away from the electric fence to keep it from shorting out. The barrel waterers were usually placed on a wooden platform in an attempt to keep the pigs from having easy access to sloshing water out and making mud holes and requiring the waterers to be moved to a new location. Water was hauled daily to the pasture lots and unloaded by gravity into the water barrels.
It was a great day when plastic hose was purchased and connected to the water barrels: It eliminated the daily water hauling. The barrel waterers were made from oak barrels that contained semi-solid buttermilk that had been fed to pigs earlier. Oh, the flies that buttermilk drew in the summer! A hole was bored in one of the barrel staves and a 2-hole drinker with a float was fastened in the hole. The barrels would last for a number of years.
It was a great feeling to get the pigs moved to the pasture and see them frolicking in the alfalfa. We always hoped the first few days wouldn’t be so sunny that the pigs would get sun burned. Another problem was that some pigs would root under the shelter, especially after a rain, get stuck and be unable to get out. Hopefully the daily trip to the pasture would find them so we could get them out before they died.
Editor’s Note: In Part 2, Linden will talk about other preparations that needed to be done before pigs were moved outdoors in the spring. You’ll learn how modern production has made producers’ job much easier, at least in terms of physical work.