Old Man Winter tempted us with a few days of nice weather before coming back with a vengeance, favoring us with another blizzard and another spell of far-below normal temperatures. This late winter weather got me to thinking about what raising pigs was like BS and HB (Before Slats and Heated Barns). 

One of the regular Saturday chores in the winter was cleaning the hog barns. After finishing the morning feeding chores, the manure spreader was hooked up and parked by one of the hog barns for loading. One of the early memories is of Dad harnessing the team of Belgians to the spreader. Later, a tractor became the power source, thankfully before I was old enough to harness draft horses.

The hogs in the barn would be locked outside while any available manpower got busy with pitchforks or silage forks to load the spreader with the manure. After the manure was removed, any straw bedding left was scattered over the area where the manure had been removed. If the temperature had been extremely cold there would be manure frozen to the floor that would have to be left until it thawed out.  Then new straw would be spread in the sleeping area and the pigs let back in. There would be a wild few minutes while the pigs cavorted in the fresh straw and tore it up while getting ready to lie down in the new bedding. 

While someone finished putting in fresh bedding, another person would be taking the spreader to the field for unloading. The spreading mechanism on early spreaders was ground-driven by the spreader wheels that drove both the beaters on the back and the chain on the spreader floor. Later spreader mechanisms were driven by the tractor power takeoff. One of the first things after hooking up the spreader in the winter was to make sure the chain was not frozen to the floor of the spreader.

The spreader was always parked outside and the sun and changing temperatures would often cause some of the snow to melt causing the chain to freeze to the floor. If the chain was frozen down and not loosened before filling, one of two things would happen. If it was a ground-driven spreader and the ground was snowy or slightly icy, the wheels would slide and no manure would be unloaded. The other possibility was that the chain would break. Either way, the spreader would have to be unloaded by hand to get the chain freed up or the broken chain links repaired. Usually it only took one time of unloading by hand to remember to check the chain when hooking up the spreader in the winter. Experience was a real good and quick teacher.   

Editor’s Note: In Linden’s next article, he’ll tell you about another difficult chore farmers had to do “back in the day.” It will make you appreciate modern agriculture that much more.