Karen Schwaller

The truth is, there are more pigs in Iowa than there are people.

For some of us, there are times when we have a hard time discerning who are pigs and who are people. But that’s a conversation we’ll have another day.

My dad was a pork producer. It used to amaze me as a kid when I would see him clean out the hog waterers — scooping out green scum, hay remnants, straw, weeds or whatever else landed in there — with his bare hands. And after the pigs had been drinking out of it.


Being all grown up now, I know that wasn’t the worst thing Dad probably ever had to do while raising pigs. I have laughed at my husband over the years about his near-inability to change a dirty diaper. But on the other hand, as a pork producer who ran a farrow-to-finish operation, he was able to be up to his elbow in the back end of his sows and gilts, pulling pigs.

I would have been passed out on the floor if had to do that.

We all have our gifts and talents, and I quickly learned my own limitations after witnessing that birthing strategy out in the farrowing house.

There had been a lot of stinky and uncomfortable jobs for us over nearly three decades of raising hogs back in the 1980s, ‘90s and early 2000s — during the early years of our marriage and while our children were growing up.

There were hog loading days when the dust created a fog in the lean-to. There were hot, humid days when we had to go out and spray the sows down several times a day. And days when we had to power-wash the farrowing house after the farrowing cycle.

It was a day when singing opera while you worked was a very bad tasting idea.

There were days of grinding hog feed when the sub-zero weather made it such a miserable job; and days when the hogs escaped their confines — creating an all-out family emergency. (When we got some four-wheelers around, that job became considerably easier; but nonetheless, we hoofed it for many years behind hogs that were on the loose.)

There was cleaning out the barn with a shovel or skid loader; cleaning out the flooded barn after someone left the hydrant running (disclaimer: this example may or may not blatantly expose my faultiness). There was going head-to-head with territorial sows and boars and having the wisdom to know they really did run the show — although you couldn’t let them know it. There were fences and pens to fix, water lines to repair, and in one instance at our farm, when an entire nursery full of young pigs had to be hauled out one at a time and left for the rendering truck because of some mysterious overheating malfunction that happened overnight.

It was gut-wrenching to see, let alone think about the cash flow issue that was coming.

One day, as my husband and I were talking about our farm story, he said he couldn’t remember when we stopped raising pigs. One of our sons chimed right in. He said, “We (he and his brother) were freshmen. I remember it well.”

Well of course he remembered. What kid wouldn’t mark that as a national holiday?

And for all the times we’ve had a love/hate relationship going on with our herd, it was a sad day early-on in our marriage when the last of our hogs left the farm during a financially tough time for a beginning farmer in the 1980s — a time when so many were struggling.

That Christmas, Dad and Mom provided the net underneath of us. They let us take home some of their bred sows to farrow, asking only that they got the sows back. We could keep all the piglets. That act of compassion and kindness got us back into the hog business.

It was a Christmas miracle that no amount of bacon-love could equal.

So the truth about pigs is, we can love them or we can hate them. But a world without pigs would mean there would be more people in the world than pigs. And I’m not entirely sure that would mean a nicer world overall. And … there would be no pig swagger to teach us confidence.

And there would be no bacon.

And a world without bacon would just be wrong.

Karen Schwaller brings “Table Talk” to The Land from her home near Milford, Iowa. She can be reached at kschwaller@evertek.net.