Slopping the Hogs

Slopping the Hogs

By Elton Camp


(This is another in the series about life in the South during the early part of the 20th Century.  The stories are real.  If interested, you will find others posted on this site.)

            Rural people raised hogs for consumption rather than for sale. Family size determined the number, but two or three was common. The hog pen ordinarily lay in easy walking and smelling distance of the house.

            “Albert, git out thar ’n’ slop th’ hogs,” Milas commanded after supper each day. It was an assignment the oldest son enjoyed and would’ve performed without constant reminders. He knew that his paw didn’t believe him to have that much initiative. Albert frowned at his father’s lack of confidence in his trustworthiness.

            “I wish, jest one time, he’d wait t’ see ef I take care o’ hit,” he thought, but remained silent. Nobody sassed paw. 

            Hogs didn’t get store-bought feed due to its cost and the fact that they’d eat most anything. When a chicken died of natural causes, it quickly disappeared, feathers and all, when tossed into the hog pen. The bulk of their diet consisted of what was called “slop.”  Slop accumulated in a black, metal container kept alongside the cook stove as a repository of scraps, peels, corncobs and ruined food. Anyone who approached too closely was rewarded with a sour stench.

            Flies rose with a buzz whenever an addition was made to the malodorous mixture, but returned almost immediately to continue their frenzied feeding. Without screens, the only means to control the pesky insects was with a swatter called the “fly flap.” It was a tedious, futile task, so few bothered to try. Flies were a part of daily life.

            Nothing was wasted thanks to this primitive version of recycling. Garbage was turned into pork.

            Albert trudged to the hog pen about a hundred feet from the house. Holding the slop bucket in his right hand, he extended his left arm outward at an angle from his body to balance the weight. The animals both saw and smelled him coming. With excited, hungry grunts they rushed eagerly to the homemade, wooden feeding trough in anticipation of a delicious feast. Partitions divided it into three sections, one for each of the pigs his family raised. He made certain to pour an equal amount into each to minimize fighting. With greedy smacking and slurping, the hogs quickly devoured the foul-smelling fare. Their twisted tails twitched in enjoyment.

            The spotted hog finished his share and attempted to root his neighbor from the trough. Grunts, squeals and bites erupted. “Stop thet,” Albert shouted. He grabbed a stout stick that he kept leaning against the fence for the purpose of enforcing order and struck the miscreant a sharp blow on the end of his snout. “That’ll larn y’u t’ steal,” he said with satisfaction as the hog retreated, slinging its head in pain. A small red trail of blood oozed from its nostrils.

            When the feeding was complete, friction subsided. The hogs, again best buddies, returned to root and coat themselves with the thick, black mud of their enclosure. Bare ground showed how thoroughly they’d consumed every scrap of vegetation in the pen. The hog-wire fence bulged outward all around where they’d shoved against it to reach additional weeds. A strand of barbed wire next to the ground deterred escape. The easy existence of the swine would come to an abrupt end in the late autumn when a hard frost was followed by freezing daytime temperatures announced “hog killin’ weather.” 

            Some months later, a chill was in the air. The time had come. Soon after sunrise, orders to mules, the clattering of wheels, voices of adults and the shouts and laughter of children accompanied the arrival of visitors. Hog killing was not only a necessary work to assure meat for the coming months, but a social occasion. Entire families gathered, although the hardest work fell to the men. The children had a day of fun in store. In another posting, we’ll see what that special, exciting day was like.

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Farm families raised two or three hogs for personal consumption.