Duroc, he said with conviction, is the best hog breed by far.
The statement was the opening salvo in what became a long-winded argument because Dad countered that Chester Whites were much better. It did not matter that neither verbal jouster believed or even cared much about the topic at hand, what mattered was an argument for argument’s sake.
The topic might just as well involved seed company selections, Holstein versus Guernsey, or tractor make. I watched without saying anything, though it was a certainty that I sided with father.
Mother — when a heated discussion dragged on far too long — often told both parties to stop. When the visitor left, she chided Dad for engaging in it. Dad’s younger brother was his favorite opponent — so much so that during a car ride to his brother’s home she told Dad that there would not be any arguing during the visit. She punctuated her stance by pounding her fist against the windshield.
Perhaps the windshield had been cracked —regardless the blow shattered glass.
In those days, Dad was an in-and-outer when it involved hog production. When market prices were low, the herd was eliminated and rebuilt when a price rebound happened.
Sows and feeder pigs roamed in a woven-wire fence and wallowed in mud. For the most part the hogs ate ear corn shoveled from a wagon, apple and tomato peelings, and occasionally ground feed. In earlier times, when cream was separated from raw milk, they feasted on skim milk and stinky slop kept in a barrel.
There is Poland China, Berkshire, Yorkshire, Poland China, Duroc, Chester White, Hampshire, Landrace, and obscure breeds like Hereford to pick from. In previous generations, hogs were valued for their lard; low-slung animals from past generations have only a passing resemblance to today’s hogs.
Lean hogs would not have yielded the used lard that housewives were urged to save and donate to the war effort. Some argue that the leanness trend has gone too far. I shared an opinion with a hog producer after eating two small and fat-free chops.
“It tastes just like chicken,’’ I said.
It’s not good to share that thought with a hog producer.
It is approaching the season when Dad’s thoughts turned to butchering two or three hogs with assistance from his sons, a cast-iron kettle, rope, and knives sharpened on foot-pedaled stone wheel. Hot air hitting cold created fog while the men scraped hair from the hides.
We would eat well that night because Mother turned kidneys and brains into a stew that once poured over mashed potatoes was worthy of a four-star restaurant.
Regardless of breed, hogs used to grow much slower than their modern counterparts. Patience — a virtue that was more easily available back then — was a necessity not only with hogs but also chickens.
Mother raised straight-run Leghorns, which grew slowly and yielded relatively little meat in comparison to the fast growing and dinosaur-sized breeds of today. When I purchased 100 chicks of the latter, the seller said they would be eating-sized within six weeks. They were, too, but their bones were soft, and the meat did not taste like a Leghorn’s.
A friend said I’m beginning to sound like an old man who is left with little else than to pine for the old days and ways.
“If hogs were raised like the way they were in the old days, pork chops would cost $20 a pound and there would be meat shortages across the country,’’ he said. “You didn’t think so much of it when you froze to death climbing up in the silo and hauling manure.’’
He has a point. However, growing old has its privileges. The thermostat can be set high, aching-bone complaints listened to, and pining for bygone days tolerated.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.