Subscribe for $3 for three months

Tom Croat

Raising swine is not something I would highly recommend, but it comes as a part of life on the farm.

One of my earliest encounters with pigs was during farrowing season when the big sows, some of them as much as 350 pounds in weight were having baby pigs.

Late one night, my father came in to the house looking for one of us boys to help him with a sow that was having trouble birthing her litter. First, he tried to get my older brother to help him, but he was reluctant to do what needed to be done. So I accompanied dad to the pig shed with bucket of soapy water with Lysol. Apparently, a baby pig had gotten caught up and would not slip out of the birth canal.

After soaping up my hand and arm, I reached in only to find that the pig was so slippery that I could not hang on. So I found its snout, put my thumb in its mouth and squeezed down on its teeth. This gave me the grip I needed and out came the pig. All the remainder in the litter were delivered in a hurry after that, so I felt good about being able to help out in this process.

Sometimes, the mother pigs would have their babies out in the field before we realized they were due and before you rounded them up and put them in a shed.

After the babies were born, it is not easy to get near the mother since they can be very vicious. When this happened, we would pull a wooden trough behind the tractor and while someone distracted the sow, the other person would place the pigs into the trough. Then driving back to the barn, the sow would dutifully follow her pigs while we were safely sitting on the tractor.

The only pig I ever called my own was a big Chester White that I bought for a 4-H project. I had specially insulated one of the small hog houses for my special pig and looked forward to the day when her piglets were born. The sow was bred by a boar of high pedigree, so I expected only the best.

When the pigs were born, one of them was a lot smaller and because it was weaker, it often got pushed away from the udder by its stronger siblings, so it remained much smaller. On 4-H tour day when our troop visited different farms to see projects, I removed my runt and hid it. My friends knew about my runt and asked about it, so it proved embarrassing.

A large sow can roll over on her pigs, smothering them instantly, so out of a litter of 13 pigs we often lost half of them. To remedy this, I decided to convert one of our large holding sheds into a farrowing house by installing compartments for each sow with gates situated near the margins that allowed the piglets to crawl under and be warmed by heat lamps. This allowed the babies to nurse, but also dissuaded them from using their mother for warmth.

This greatly improved our success with the ultimate size of the litters, but it took me about three weeks to make this conversion and I had missed a lot of school.

While I was a junior and senior in high school, I drove one of the school bus routes, but I had been returning home. One day, the superintendent caught me before I drove off and asked if I had quit school. I assured him that I would be back. Somehow, I managed to graduate and gain enough skills that I was ultimately able to finally get out of the pig business.

Dr. Thomas B. Croat is a research botantist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, where he has worked for 46 years. He has discovered about 1,000 new species in the Philodendron family. He lives on seven acres near Pacific in a home he designed and built himself. He and his wife, Patricia, have two children and five grandchildren in the St. Louis area.