Among the livestock on the farm, Dad raised hogs. Specifically, Yorkshires and Chester Whites. At any one time we’d have half a dozen or so sows and a couple of boars. We kept the two breeds segregated because they were all registered pure-breeds.
A full grown sow could measure six or seven feet long and weigh up to six or seven hundred pounds. Depending on the feed some could weigh more. The boars were larger. Chester Whites were, on average, longer than Yorkshires. Both breeds were white and looked very much alike unless you knew the differences. For instance, a Yorkshire’s back was more curved and the ears stood up. A Chester White was longer and the ears flopped forward as in the picture above.
Hogs cannot be trusted. They are omnivorous and cannibalistic. A sow will eat her young if too many are born. Sometimes just because the sow was hungry and a piglet was close. We built the birthing stalls with the corners boarded with slots to give the piglets a refuge from the sow.
Boars are worse. They will eat you if given half a chance. We always went armed with a club of some kind. Dad usually carried a piece of 2X4 with a handle on one end that he’d carved. I carried a small baseball bat. If a hog looked as if they were thinking of make a snap at your leg, we’d give them a whack across the nose.
Dad and I built the fences around the hog lots out of rail-road ties for the posts and 2X4s for the horizontal rails. The fences were six feet high around the barn and the pens. We still had to be careful because a hog can climb a board fence—not easily, but they can do it.
We had one Chester White boar that liked to get among the Yorkshire sows and have some fun. That messed up the breeding records and registered breed brought more at auction and at the market. We got rid of any mixed breeds quickly. More than one was kept for our table rather than being sold.
One day during the early Spring, I went out to tend the hogs. The weather had thawed and the sows were pregnant. We had four pens. One for Yorkshire sows, one for Chester White sows, one for the boars, and the fourth for neutered feeder pigs (that’s another story.) All four pens had a common central post with pipes to each pen’s water trough.
I had flushed out and filled the water troughs on the two sow pens but I couldn’t get the water to flow for the boars’ trough. The water outlet was clogged. There were no hogs nearby so I climbed the fence into the pen leaving my baseball bat behind. The water pipe had been filled with mud. The hogs liked to use the pipe to scratch themselves. I knelt next to the pipe and ran a welding rod up the pipe to break down the mud.
I’d been there for a few minutes, kneeling in the mud, when I heard “Whooff!” behind me. I looked around and our largest boar, over seven feet long and a thousand pounds, was running towards me. The next thing I know is that I’m in the sows’ pen and the boar had broken two of the 2X4 fence rails and had his head through the fence trying to get at me. I picked up the baseball bat and hit the boar flat across his forehead as hard as I could. He stopped, shook his head a bit and sorta staggered off toward the other end of his pen. I think it took at least a half hour for my heart rate to slow down.
Dad had seen the whole thing from the loft of the barn. He said that I’d jumped the six foot fence flat-footed when the boar charged me. I don’t know. I don’t remember at all how I got back into the sows’ pen. All I remember was picking up the bat and swinging at the boar. I would have killed it given a chance, but it backed off and went away.
I didn’t trust any of our hogs, but most specifically, I didn’t trust that boar. Thereafter, I never went into a pen without that baseball bat in my hand. For insurance, I drilled a 1″ hole six inches into the head of the bat and filled it with lead. If Dad would have let me carry a pistol, I’d have done that too. But, ammo was scare for Dad’s thirty-eight, and he was afraid, rightfully too, that I’d kill the boar if given any reason.
But, I didn’t. Livestock are farm assets and hogs were running about $0.20/lb at that time. I did get a form of revenge the following winter. That boar wandered out on our frozen pond, broke through the ice and drowned. We knew the boar was missing, but didn’t know what happened until the pond thawed. We weighed the carcase before we buried it. The boar weighed a little over 1200lbs.
Dad told the story of me jumping the fence for a number of years. He stopped after a sow knocked him down while he was working on the fence replacing a rail. He hit the sow in the head with his hammer and killed it.
Farming is dangerous. Raising livestock, especially hogs, is more so. We never had much trouble with cattle or horses, but we could never turn our back on a hog.