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June 8, 2011

New piglets are all the buzz at the 1900 farm, and with that in mind, I thought I would take a time out to share on the importance of pigs to 1900 farmers, and why we still keep them around.

Hogs could be raised for a variety of different reasons, but generally they are regarded as having a couple of very common and for farmers, profitable, uses. Namely, hogs were used for bacon, sausage, ham, and other varieties of pork. Hogs were also being raised for their lard. In 1900, there was a demand for lard hogs that fatten in eight to ten months. What made and still makes Iowa a great pork producing state is the availability of food for the hogs (the corn that grows really well here!).

In 1900, cross-breeding of hogs was very common. Cross-breeding would be done for various different reasons such as disease resistance and increase of litter size. Just like today, farmers were looking to market hogs as a weight of 250-300 pounds. In 1900, railroads were transporting hogs around the nation. The Union Stockyards in Chicago become synonymous with the meat-packing industry, and remained that way for a long time. So long, in fact, that the Old Stone Gate to the Chicago Stockyard at the corner of W. Exchange Avenue and South Peoria Street, was dedicated a National Historic Landmark in 1981.

Take any American history class that covers the turn of the century and invariably a book called The Jungle written by Upton Sinclair will be mentioned. The book, written in 1906,  sheds light on the meatpacking industry that made Chicago famous.  Some interesting statistics from the Encyclopedia of Chicago (Chicago Historical Society) mention that in 1890, 12 million cattle and hogs were being received at the Union Stockyards and that by 1900, 25,000 of America’s 68,000 packinghouse workers were employed in Chicago, a city with a population of nearly 1.7 million.

The railroad that brought manufactured goods to merchants and consumers west of the Mississippi, headed back to Chicago full of hogs and cattle to feed the ever-increasing populations of big cities. Eventually, trains would be replaced by semi-trucks on the interstate highways, but one fact remains. Pigs raised in places like Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska, wind up on breakfast plates in cities east of here.  Today, Iowa pigs account for over 25% of swine production in the US.

As the World Pork Expo convenes at the Iowa State Fair Grounds this week, it is awesome to think that an industry that supported our ancestors is still going strong in our state. So next time you have bacon and eggs or pancakes and sausage, give thanks to a farmer.

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