Fighting the elements for the love of hogs

I had to chuckle as I watched last Sunday’s NFL game where the Seattle Seahawks visited the cold confines of TCF Stadium in Minneapolis to play the Minnesota Vikings. I didn’t laugh because the Vikings once again dash our hopes with a poor kick. Rather, I chuckled because leading up to and during the game, we kept hearing more about the cold temperatures than about the play on the field.

It’s a game played in Minnesota, in an open-air stadium, in January. News flash, it gets cold in Minnesota this time of year. The players are well-compensated for their God-given ability to play this game, regardless of the conditions. Now for the fans who decided to shell out hard-earned money to sit in those conditions while overpaid players battled, well that’s another story all together.

Northern hog producers have no choice but to battle the elements all year long. Regardless how cold it is or how strong the winds are blowing, the hogs still need to be cared for. Same goes for the hog days of summer.

As I sat comfortably on my couch, by the fireplace, watching the third-coldest game in NFL playoff history, I was glad that I didn’t have to head out to tend to a barn of hogs. Care for my dog and the few barn cats we call livestock pales in comparison to what today’s hog producers tend to.

From the warmth of my home, I had a flashback to Jan. 6, 1980, to another football playoff game. This one between Tampa Bay and the L.A. Rams, the first time Tampa Bay (my favorite team next to the Vikings) had made the playoffs. The game was played in Tampa, so there was no talk of low temperatures, but that wasn’t the case back on the frozen tundra of Minnesota where we had a barn full of pigs.

We had yet to convert to a confinement barn, so these hogs were in an old dairy barn with deep straw bedding, and frozen water pipes. Hauling kettles of hot water through the wind gusts of 43 miles per hour and a balmy 12 degrees to hopefully thaw the hydrants was not my idea of fun for the day.

But I did it – because the pigs, and our livelihood, depended on it.

Granted most of today’s producers have the modern, climate-controlled barns so the pigs are comfortable without the aid of deep-bedded straw. Today’s hog producers still need to care for their hogs in all weather conditions, moving snow to make sure the feed truck can get through drifts and so herdsmen can get to the barns.

Hog producers do this for the love of the animals, and for their families’ livelihoods. Some years they make money, while other years … well, some year’s they make money.

Yes, I said for the love of the animals. A lot of people in today’s society, those who don’t have a clue about modern agriculture, think that pigs should not be housed in confinement barns. These people feel pigs should be allowed to run in open lots without a care in the world.

Well, I’d like to see these people’s reaction to seeing Minnesota pigs on an open lot when the wind chill nears -30 degrees and snow is knee deep. Of course, I’d like to see them try to care for pigs in such conditions. I realize that there are some producers who choose to raise pigs in older style barns giving pigs access to the great outdoors, and these producers also offer the best care they possibly can for their pigs in the facilities they have.

I bet if you’d ask a pig raised in a non-confinement setting, if they would prefer to be living in a climate-controlled building rather than having to bury deep into straw to avoid a cold draft, you would get a resounding “OINK!!” Today’s modern facilities are made with the best technology to improve the care of the animal, as well as those tending to the animals.

After all, this is no game, this is real life.

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