FLORENCE TWP., Mich. -- Dirty Jobs feature on pig castrators.
Tim Carls always hopes for a rainy day when it’s time to do the dirty work.
Cooler temps make the task of docking tails and castrating young pigs easier. Pigs can’t sweat.
“They have no clue what’s coming up, and that’s probably a good thing,” Carls said as he reached down in the holding pen for another pig. The 40-pound specimen squealed loudly as Carls held one hind leg above the hock.
In seconds, it was over. The pig’s tail was snapped with pair of wire cutters. The male pig had been neutered and was now a barrow. Carls calls the two-step process “outpatient surgery.” The reason for cutting tails is because some pig like to bite tails while they play.
“The only thing they know is they don’t want to be held,” Carls said. “The faster you do it, the better off you are.”
But the job of constantly lifting squirming and squealing pigs, holding them still for a few seconds and then letting them go is hard physical labor.
Once the cuts are made, the pigs are shot with a dose of medicine. They must be watched for signs of infection for the next few days. It can take a couple weeks for the wounds to heal.
Two weeks ago, brothers Tim, Bill and Bruce Carls had 400 newly weaned male pigs in the holding pen. With the help of Matt Wise, 17, a neighbor, they finished their job in time for lunch.
There was a runt in the litter that had a bad leg from a previous injury. Tim Carls watched it limp away.
“Take that little barrow,” he said. “He’ll make it until he gets too beat up. This is no different than being in jail. They (the pigs) weed out the weaker ones among themselves. Something you must remember about pigs: They’re wild animals. By that I mean if you should have a heart attack and you’re in the pen with all these pigs by yourself, you won’t be seen again. First, they’ll nudge you. Then they’ll take a bite. Then they will eat you.”
Carls said he doesn’t look forward to this job, but “it’s what you do.”
Raising pigs is a shorter commitment than beef cattle, he said, but the risks are still high.
“It’s six months from the time they’re born to the time they’re gone,” he said.
This year has been tough.
“We had three days this spring where the temperature never got above freezing. The sows lost a lot of their litters. Now the corn crop is dying up because we need rain. Between pigs and corn we could lose about $100,000 this year,” Carls said.
It’s a challenge for the Carls brothers to keep their centennial farm operation that has been in their family for generations afloat. But they’ll tell you that challenges are what farm life is about and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Tim Carls said. “Next year, we’ll still be doing something.”
Sturgis (Mich.) Journal