Hog farms, exposed


I get down to the (nearly) naked truth at a Midwestern pig farm.

I had always heard about hog operations in the Midwest, those remarkable places where science and agriculture meet, but had never actually been to one. The pigs are genetically programmed to grow fast and efficiently while also resisting many diseases. But disease resistance doesn't keep hog farmers from being sticklers for cleanliness-in fact, they make themselves nuts over germs. That's right, they don't want even one germ to enter their pig facility. That's where this story starts.

One of my hosts at this veterinary clinic was kind enough to arrange a tour of one of the farrowing facilities in his practice. I was looking forward to experiencing high-tech pig production at its finest. On the trip over he explained to me the production expectations of such an operation: 1,500 hundred sows in one building having litters 2.5 times per year and shooting to wean about 26 pigs per sow per year. Wow, that is making some pork! I was anxious to see how all this worked as we pulled into the farm.

As we entered the front door of the farrowing facility I estimated the building to be about the size of a football field. It was quiet, clean, odorless and well-kept. The first person we encountered as we entered the reception area was the owner of the facility. She was a kind woman with a wonderful smile and an extreme Midwestern accent.

“Glad to see ya! You guys grab a shower and come on in,” she said from behind “germ-free” area.

The shower is a requirement before coming into one of these high-tech facilities. I had heard about it but never actually done it. You take off all of your clothes, wash your hair and body, and on the other side of the shower, you're provided with something to wear while you're in with the pigs.

The other vet went through and a red light came on indicating that it was my turn. The first little room was separated from the second little room by a shower. No big deal, I thought, I'll just hang my clothes here and hop into this shower. So I did.

The problem came when I entered the next little room on the other side of the shower. Here I was, totally naked, and there it was: a pile of underwear. Underwear is just one of those things people shouldn't share. I had never been in a situation where I had to pick out a pair of underwear to put on that someone else had been wearing. What do you do? It kinda gave me the willies.

I started considering what qualities I would like in a pair of underwear that had recently covered the fanny of a total stranger. After a moment of sorting it became apparent that size was the major issue: I wanted them big-and, boy, the bigger the better. There they were, a pair of argyle boxers big enough for an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings. Inspection of the tag in the band revealed a waist size of 52.

I slid in and then put on a pair of coveralls. The rest of my trip through the hog facility was spent listening with one ear while trying to keep the size-52 boxers from sliding off. I kept one hand in my pocket clutching that waistband for as long as possible.

Finally a situation arrived that required both of my hands. The boxers immediately fell down to the inseam of the also-oversized coveralls. There is no way to pull up a pair of size-52 boxers once they have fallen down without taking off the coveralls, so I decided to just leave it alone and make the best of my situation.

As far as I know, no one could tell it happened. The only effect it had on me was a great reduction in my stride length. I had to take about two steps to everyone else's one for the rest of the tour.

The moral of the story is: If I ever go into another hog facility that requires showering, I will carry an extra pair of my own underwear, wrapped and autoclaved. You never know!


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