Farmer drank the tears of binzebo lovers everywhere for a week after we cleaned up the remains of the farrowing house at my family farm, including the thousand-bushel grain bin behind it. We had just finished tearing the farrowing house down, and were anxious to finish cleaning up the mess. He had fun rolling the bin up burrito style, and I was able to chain it to the loader bucket and load it on the scrap trailer pretty easily.
It was fun to watch him work and make the video, which I posted back then, but I got really negative feedback on it. There wasn’t much hope for saving the cap for other uses, other than disassembling it, as you can see when he’s smashing it all down, the cap folds up like an accordion, so I wasn’t too upset about sending it to the scrap yard. Sometimes you can’t please everyone I guess. I’ve re-edited the video and put different music to it.
Some history on the building we tore down, which was our farrowing house…
I spent a good portion of time in the farrowing house when we were kids. It’s where Dad stored ground feed for the sows with pigs, and we had six farrowing huts in the front of the building for the sows to “pig” inside, each with its own cement pen outside, complete with automatic waterers. We phased out of hog production about the time my older sister went off to college and the hog market tanked for the small producers, but when we were in grade school, junior high and high school, we did chores before school and when we got home. The huts and pens had to be cleaned regularly, and anytime we got out of line, all it took was a threat to shovel hog crap to shape up our behavior. There seemed to be nothing worse than shoveling crap by yourself; it was was better to share the chore with my sister.
Any time I smell a warm heat lamp, even now, it takes me back to wintertime in that little farrowing house. Each hut had its own heat lamp in the rear, suspended over the back area that was closed off for the piglets. They could get in and out, but the mama was not able to get under the heat lamp. We would hang plastic at the front of the building for the winter, above the hut and below the roofline, to keep cold air from getting in. When the outer door was shut and the heat lamps were all on, there was a warm glow in there and it was tolerable inside even when dark and bitter cold outside.
Dad and I would go rat hunting out there after dark in the wintertime, taking an ancient pistol loaded with bird shot with us and hunting by flashlight. He would give me the pistol, and when we got close, he would open the door and turn on the big flashlight and flood the feed pile with light, and I would pick off the rats with the pistol.
There was a refrigerator in there just for medicines. Behind the fridge there was a pile of walnut lumber, and although I avoided that pile in the summertime as it was a paradise for brown recluses, I liked to put out a tiny pile of feed out front of the crack between the fridge and the wall to the feed area, and I would sit on a feed bucket, hold very still and read a book and wait for the mice to come out. It was a home for spiders in the summer and mice in the winter. I’ll admit, the mice were excellent target practice for a kid with a Daisy air rifle, but there was a pure-white mouse that would come out, and that one I left alone.
We were very involved in our farm’s daily operations. When the pigs were old enough, a few weeks, we moved them and their mamas out to an open pen where all of the litters of pigs mingled and ate from a large creep feeder as well as from their mamas. Before moving them out, we had to clip their teeth and tails so they wouldn’t eat on one another. We also vaccinated them from disease. We called this “working pigs.”
One time, there was a piglet born that had two sets of hooves on each leg. I looked after him and checked regularly to make sure he didn’t get smashed by his mama. He could get around somewhat, but he wouldn’t have made it had we let him live. I didn’t know it then and had hope for him. The day we worked the pigs and moved them out, Dad left that pig behind and made me kill it. I sure hated him that day. But I did it, held the piglet by the hind legs and swung hard, whacking his head against the wooden support pole at the rear of their hut, as I’d seen him do many times to relieve the suffering of a weak or injured pig. I never let myself get so close to the animals on the farm afterward and also learned to be less obvious about my movements.
Don’t think bad of my dad. He taught us in his own way to be strong, to not take any crap, and to have quiet mercy for animals that didn’t stand a chance.
The farrowing house had a big swinging wooden door, with a large metal bar latch on it. The bar swung way up and set down into a metal piece on the outside wall. I had a dream once that a bear was chasing me across the farm. I was just steps ahead of the bear, and I ran for the safety of the farrowing house. Right before I woke up, I lunged for the bar, reaching for it to swing it up out of the latch and escape to the safety inside. Then I woke up on the floor. When I reached for that bar, I fell out of the bed.
After I moved back from Tennessee and took over farm ops, we pulled the huts out of the farrowing house and sold them, then divided the little building up into three large pens for feeding bucket calves. It worked great, but when we got a heavy rain, we had to pull the calves from the east pen and put them in with the other calves, as the rear of the building wasn’t water tight anymore and the rain flowed in and flooded the back pen. So we made ourselves a permanent place to feed calves in a drier spot, and decided to demolish the building, which we finally did the week before Farmer folded up the grain bin.
It’s weird pulling in the driveway at the farm and not seeing that building there, the little grain bin behind it. Before we stored wood inside the bin, it held seed wheat or seed beans or occasionally, oats. I helped shovel out the contents more than once, and I remember when Dad taught me that you could lose fingers in an auger if you weren’t careful, we were cleaning grain out of that little bin. No one lost any fingers; I just remember the lecture. You don’t forget things like that.
I kept the tin from the roof of the farrowing house and some of the tongue-in-groove siding, and there was a lot of good wood stacked in the rafters, which I have stowed away at my place now.
As the buildings on the farm come down one at a time, it’s a bit sad, as they have been there since long before we began farming it, but I’m lucky to be able to immortalize them in art form. The next one to come down is the machine shed, a low-slung barn with a failing roof that I’ll save the tin from for my art. I plan to use the trusses for my greehouse roof. It has a lot of tasty shiplap in the corn cribs on the north wall, and the 1×12 siding on it is really pretty, perfect for furniture or accent walls or even flooring.
When we take down old barns for others, which we perform as a service free of charge, I’m aware of the history in the old buildings. I’m taking down someone’s memories. I can feel the energy. It’s quite a privilege. Which is why I always offer to build something for the owner: a piece of furniture or art. That way the memory isn’t gone completely. It’s right there on their wall.
What holds our memories of the farrowing house? Mom, Stephanie and I each have a tiny little door from the back of the farrowing house. Perhaps it was a chicken brooder house back in its heyday, as the doors could only reasonably accomodate an animal the size of a chicken. Anyway, we each have one. I mounted a rusty S hook on Stephanie’s, and mine has a rooster coat hook on it. The building is gone, but all those memories from my childhood come up, just by seeing that little door.