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More information about a ‘pigsty’ than you likely ever would want to know

About the only time I ever use the term “pig sty” or “pigsty” is when it’s the right answer in a crossword puzzle.

We Southerners tend to say “pig pen” or “hog lot” when speaking of swine rearing facilities on family farms of the past. Granted, we still occasionally hear reference to an unkempt bedroom or entire apartment as being a pigsty. Typically it’s only a few male youths who “live in a pigsty.” But maturity and mommas tend to correct such things.

The word “pigsty” is Old English, put together from several terms within other European languages.

The “sty” part referred to livestock housing and “pig” merely indicated the species. Because a pigsty was crowded, dirty and smelly, the word morphed into a derogatory term widely used for human facilities way overdue for a cleaning.

Unlike humans and dogs and most land mammals, pigs do not have sweat glands. Evaporation of sweat on the skin is how we keep from overheating in hot weather. But pigs, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses have to find another way to cool their skin, thus the need to wallow in mud or dirt or even their own manure.

In modern swine facilities, sprinkler systems and concrete floors keep hogs cool enough without the mess.

I don’t keep up with swine farming anymore since that industry left this area some years back, but I recall visiting a farm that used snout air-conditioning. For the nursing period, sows stayed in metal enclosures called “crates” to prevent them from laying down on and smothering the tiny newborns.

At the front of each crate was full-time feed, water and a four-inch plastic pipe dropped from overhead. Cold air flowed from the pipe and each sow could stick her snout into the pipe at any time. Along with fans and controlled air exchange, the cooled-off snout helped regulate sow body temperature during the hot months.

Cleanliness and humane treatment are incorporated into swine production nowadays, but for many centuries mankind took advantage of hogs’ versatility and ability to adapt.

In the late 1960s, I had a college textbook written just a few years earlier that provided the steer-pig ratio for Midwestern corn and hog farmers.

Whole kernel corn was fed to steer calves in small feedlots on family farms of Iowa, Illinois and the other “cornbelt” states.

The corn was put in feed troughs that the calves could reach but were too high for the 50-pound feeder pigs stocked in each pen to reach. The steer-pig ratio was the correct number of pigs to put in with “X” number of steers. Only the steers ate corn from the troughs. The pigs ate only any undigested corn kernels that passed through the steers and into the “cow piles” on the ground.

Even grosser was a rural practice the Chinese government was still trying to eradicate just a few years ago. In a few remote areas, some people stuck with a tradition of building the outhouse toilet for humans directly over a pigsty. 

Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.