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Shower in ... Get me out

I have always heard about hog operations in the upper Midwest, the places where the pinnacle of science and agriculture meet. The pigs are genetically programmed to grow fast and efficiently while being resistant to many diseases.

But the disease resistance doesn't keep these hog farmers from being sticklers for cleanliness; oh no, they are germ nuts. They don't want even one germ to enter the pig facility, as I experienced one day not long ago.

One of my hosts at a veterinary clinic in the upper Midwest 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. During the trip there, he explained the production expectations of the operation: 1,500 sows under one roof producing 2.5 litters per year with targets to wean about 26 pigs per sow per year. Wow, that's making some pork. I was eager to see the inner working of the operation.

As we entered the front door of the farrowing facility, I estimated the building was about the size of a football field. It was quite clean, odorless and well kept. The first person we encountered as we entered the reception area was the owner; she was a kind-looking 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 a "germ-free" counter.

I had heard about this shower thing, but I had never gone through the process. It's a requirement to enter one of these high-tech facilities: You must take off all your clothes, take a shower (including washing your hair), and clothes will be provided for you on the other side while you are with the pigs.

The other veterinarian went through, and a red light switched on to indicate that it was my turn. The first little room was separated from the second little room by a shower. I was supposed to take off all my clothes and take a shower.

"No big deal," I thought. "I'll just hang my clothes up here and hop into the shower." So I did.

The problem came when I entered the next little room on the other side of the shower. There they were: a pile of underwear. Underwear are one of those things people just don't share. I guess never had to pick out a pair of underwear 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 previously worn by a stranger. After a moment of sorting, it became apparent that size was the major issue: big, that's right; the bigger the better. In fact, so big that it actually touches nothing except the waist. And there they were, a pair of argyle boxers big enough for an offensive lineman of the Minnesota Vikings. Inspection of the tag in the band revealed a waist size of 52.

I slid into them 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 to clutch that waist band for as long as possible.

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

As far as I could tell, 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 their one for the rest of the tour.

The moral of the story: If I ever go into another hog facility that requires showering, then I will carry an extra pair of underwear that have been wrapped and autoclaved.

Dr. Bo Brock DVM owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.

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