Friday, October 10, 2008

Special Delivery

Friendly Suburban-Dwelling friends and co-workers frequently ask me, so what's going on at the farm this time of year?

I know they are expecting to hear wonderful autumn-on-the-farm stories about harvesting corn, tapping maple trees, and selecting the perfect pumpkin from our own little patch.

Well, I respond, this time of year, we get a lot of semen in the mail. Seriously, my husband, who normally can't plan more than twenty minutes into the future, knows that now is the time to breed his pigs so they can be born in December, January, and February. This ensures they will be big enough for 4-H kids to buy in April for the county fair in August.

But back to the semen. In the mail. Actually, it usually ships overnight via UPS. Brings a whole new answer to the question What can Brown do for you?

Here's how it works... My husband has a sow (female pig) that is coming in heat, so he opens his boar catalog, selects her perfect mate, picks up the phone and orders two plastic bottles of his swimmers to be shipped overnight.

Yes, just like you have LL Bean and Lands End in your magazine rack, we have Cain's Super Sires and Swine Genetics International. The boars are selected based on their pedigrees and the goals for the litter, i.e. we need purebred pigs to take to the State Fair or this litter should be crossbred to produce pigs for kids to show at the county fair.

The semen arrives in a Styrofoam cooler (not frozen) inside a box. How does it get in the bottle? Look here.

I just want to make an environmental side note here that we DO reuse the Styrofoam coolers. In fact, when I was breastfeeding I would take the pig semen coolers with me on business trips. They worked GREAT to store and ship breast milk too. (Say ewwwww all you want, but I actually did this.)

Once the bottles arrive, my husband takes a long tube especially designed for this purpose, sticks it in the vulva of the pig and then squeezes the contents of the bottle until, if all goes well, the sow is bred.

You can imagine... no, you probably can't... that between talking on the phone almost daily about semen, keeping boxes of newly arrived semen in the kitchen (it's not on the table, at least), and all the breeding that goes on in the barn, our kids have picked up a few things along the way.

Our oldest has already had a bonding moment with his father when they picked out the "piglet daddy" for his new gilt. And our daughter has very innocently inquired about the equipment other men possess for this important task, asking her father while he was breeding a sow with his special plastic rod, does Uncle (his brother) have a breeder?

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