Saturday, August 9, 2014

Inside Scoop & Swoop on the Farrowing Barn

Should mustard even be allowed as a paint color? It looks like calf poop.

That was the color I painted a red and white Wahoo farrowing pig barn when I was in junior high. Dad picked that color to match the other hog buildings we called the nursery and the finishing house. The building is shown during the painting phase in the picture below. Yep, that's me in front of it.

Childhood friend Debbie Goehring snapped this picture of me by the hogs during my 13th birthday party in 1979.

My dad and brother raised confinement hogs. That means some pigs did not see the light of day until they were loaded up for sale and slaughter.

It also meant I’d see frozen boar semen when I’d get ice cream out of the upright freezer in the entryway of our house.

Artificial insemination meant year-round baby pigs or baby pigs during the times of the year the farmer could handle the work. This process meant more money. And yes, sometimes it is all about the money. But at a cost. Those pigs lived in newer buildings than we did! The farrowing barn housed a full bathroom--newer than the one in our house.

It also contained a little waiting room with an old couch for Dad or my brother Elliott to nap on if they were waiting for a sow to deliver. Sometimes the gilts needed help. For those without an agricultural background, a gilt is a sow who's never given birth before, so sometimes they have trouble delivering.

One time, Dad had me stick my hand in a momma pig's womb because he could not get her to expel the litter. I used an old fish tank strainer without the mesh.

"Get the edges of that thing around the face and pull it out," Dad said. "Feel for the pig's ears. You can do it." It was slippery in there trying to get plastic-covered wire around a snout I could not see.

I tried and tried. "You've gotta get that pig out of her or she will die!"
Now don't get too grossed out. After the initial entrance, it wasn't that bad. Dad had swabbed my arm up to my elbow and in I went. The pig's womb felt clean, safe, and cozy.

Finally, out came part of an ear. Then another ear. Then a head. A body. It was as if I had torn it apart. But Dad assured me they had already been dead, and that I did not dismember a healthy baby pig. Who knows how long those deformed, dead piglets had been inside that critter!

My niece Colleen, ten years younger than I, tells of a time my dad, her grandpa, held her long hair out of her face while she attempted a similar task. See, our girl-hands were small, and that's why us youngsters were often enlisted.

The drama of pig delivery in the farrowing barn was mild compared to the drama on the outside of it--with--the--birds! Yes, I am finally getting to the bird part now.

The eaves of this building housed many nests for the barn swallows. They would swoop out of their nests while I painted the trim. My ladder was not up very high since the building was one story, and boy, did they swoop.

And swoop. And swoop some more.

Usually no screeching--just lots of swooping.


I hated it.

I was still working for that 10-speed bike, so I got through it. Mom would encourage me with common sense. “They are just protecting their nests that you are near,” she said.

Intellectually, I understood it, but these birds diving at my face was another contributor to the fear that other birds had already instilled in me when I was little. Read last week’s post entitled, "The Wash House: Bird Fear Begins" if you missed it.

At the end of the summer, I still had both my eyes and ears. And I don't think I ever fell off that ladder. Never had a bird poop on me either--not ever--I've jinxed myself now, you just watch.

But for my entire life, birds spot me and they just know. They may be just doing a normally fly by, but mostly they dive bomb and swoop.

Always have. Always will.

Now as an adult and in order to enjoy my backyard pavilion, I've learned to not scream every time one darts my way.

Whatever happened to that farrowing barn? See its weathered demise pictured below.

My sister Brenda shot this picture in the summer of 2010.

It's the gray building with the rusty tin roof way in the back of the picture. Not much mustard color left, and it almost burned down one time.

But as of a year or so ago, it no longer stands. My brother, along with his son-in-law, Erik who farms with him now, demolished it. It had seen its better days anyway, but what had lived inside it paid for my college.
Painting wasn't the only farm task Dad employed me to do that caused birds to be upset with me.

Next week I'll blog about birds' nests and weed-pulling and my dad's ever-dreaded holler up to my room, "Melodie, I've got a job for you."


  1. You had a dairy farm too? I think the only anything you didn't raise we're left that to theEcks.

    1. LOL. No dairy, but feed lot cattle--that's what those silos were about. My dad had all kinds of ideas. We had sheep when I was really little, but they were in a long red barn at my brother's place. I don't remember much of them except that they stunk! Yes, worse than pigs!