Eighty years ago this month the lights went on in rural America. May 2015 is the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration, and the REA made it possible for rural folk to work more efficiently, more productively and more comfortably.
That got me to thinking about modern-day hog production, and how many who have never set foot in a barn are trying to change the way we raise our livestock in 2015. Activists want hogs to be raised the same way American hog producers used to raise pigs, with the freedom of the open spaces and lots, and the freezing winds whipping through the hogs’ climate-thickened hair.
Tim Chancellor, finishing supervisor for Thomas Livestock Co. in Broken Bow, Neb., and I were discussing this very thing as we were traveling through the wind-swept hills of Nebraska as I was interviewing him for an upcoming issue of National Hog Farmer.
He was touting the good care and comfort in which TLC hogs are kept. We both questioned why we as humans are able to improve our living conditions, but we are not allowed to improve the living conditions for our livestock.
I remember raising hogs in the ’70s and ’80s in buildings and lots that did have running water and electricity for lights, but had very little more. We deep-bedded the pigs in straw for their warmth, and we had to haul boiling water from the house to thaw frozen water pipes and lines on frozen Minnesota days. Kerosene heaters under tank waterers kept the water supply in a liquid state for the hogs, but getting the water to those tanks was another issue.
In the early 1980s we built a curtain-sided hog barn, and we could definitely tell the difference in our hog production in that barn compared to the other old barns once that first chill of winter hit. The hogs in the, God forbid, confinement barn were much more comfortable and appeared happier than their counterparts in the other barns.
If some people want us to raise our hogs the way our grandparents used to, then I propose that they forgo the modern conveniences that they live with today. Shut off the lights, throw some more corn cobs in the stove to warm your buns, and enjoy.
While they’re thawing their buns out, I’ll celebrate 80 years of rural electrification.