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Book of the Week: Dirt Hog

By Kelly Klober

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. book, Dirt Hog, written by Kelly Klober. Copyright 2007, softcover, 320 pages. Regular price: $25.00.

Hogs are actually very social animals and are quite safe and easy to handle, as long as you avoid situations that are too forced or overly rushed. Most farmers, for example, will feed the animals over a fence not because of any perceived ferociousness, but because hogs have a tendency to function as a group and curiously crowd around any source of activity near them.

Dirt Hog by Kelly Klober

Dirt Hog, by Kelly Klober

Make the animals in a lot or pasture aware of your approach by whistling, humming, or talking to them softly. One of my first jobs on the farm was as the officially designated hog caller. I thought it was a sign I was growing up, but my high, youthful voice uttering “whoa, sow” simply carried farther. I was a bipedal “hog whistle” of sorts.

The hog on the range in many ways functions as a free agent. It isn’t a wild or uncontrolled animal, but in some respects the hogs do get closer to nature and their animal origins.

Domestication and breed development were guided by economic and environmental needs. The hog was thus advanced as a very practical working animal that could produce meat for a broad spectrum of farm types and farming methods. To be sure, it was seen as an ideal consumer of cropping wastes and coarse grains, but it was also a prime range feeder, able to forage and feed on a wide array of feedstuffs.

The other truly great swine myth is that if left to its own devices, the hog is a garbage receptor and a filthy animal. Their hard, sharp hooves can quickly tear up the ground where they congregate, and mud can quickly develop in most areas. This hoof action actually does more lot and pasture damage than any actual rooting activity.

Rooting is part of a hog’s natural feeding activity as it forages for roots and grubs just below the soil’s surface. This activity can be controlled or even eliminated with a number of different humane devices. Hogs wallow to cool themselves through a process known as evaporative cooling. All such practices are key to maintaining their health and well-being.

In most cases, frequent lot rotation, placing feeders and waterers on simple platforms, and changing feeding sites often effectively counters the problem of mud building up in a particular lot or pasture site. Overstocking a site is also something that should be avoided.

Wallows are also typical of hog habitats. Since these animals also lack the ability to offset the effects of high temperature stress by perspiring, the only ways for them to reduce temperature stress is with panting and evaporative cooling; that is, they cool down as the water evaporates from their hides (made longer with mud). So hogs get wet and will instinctively create and/or expand muddy wallows for this purpose. The choice for them is simple: be wet and muddy or hot and dead. If provided with good sources of shade, however, mud development is kept in check.

Through these kinds of management practices, hogs can be kept very clean and pleasant animals to work with. In times past, hogs were set to feed on garbage and little else. In fact, many textbooks can still be found with pictures of lank and spindly hogs rooting through the open sewers of Colonial American towns. Garbage feeding has all but disappeared from the American scene, and the modern hog on range is a grazing and gleaning animal and not a garbage processor.

… The hog is also still struggling with a misbegotten image as a fat and wasteful creature. There are still a few hogs out there carrying some excessive cover, but I can truthfully say that I have seen Number 3 and 4 butchers only a handful of times in my 35-plus years with hogs.

Kelly Klober was raised on a small, mixed-livestock farm in Middletown, Missouri, where he began a lifetime of experience with various livestock species. Klober notes that he has been “kicked, bitten, and/or stomped (on)” by every major livestock species, and that he has been active in poultry and livestock breed preservation for many years. He has a State Farmer Degree from the Missouri FFA, and he and his wife, Phyllis, have been involved in 4-H Club leadership. Klober has written on agriculture, especially the small farm field, for 20 years. He has more than 35 years’ experience as a breeder of purebred Duroc swine.

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