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Slicker than a Greased Pig

By Kim Everson, DVM

Hog Oilers at 2012 Empire Thresheree

Attending the Empire Thresheree near Eden, Wisconsin, has been my family’s last blast of summer fun for the past six years. Each year there are some regular stand-by demonstrations including rows and rows of functioning hit-and-miss motors, horse-drawn wagons and plowing demonstrations, a hand-made rope making duo, a “parking lot” full of vibrantly colored antique tractors and a giant steam-driven engine that powers an old-time thresher. Some years a blacksmith sets up a portable smithy on the grounds, hammering out horseshoes and decorative iron pieces. One year an elaborate Lionel toy train system had been set up on a wagon bed. Last year an exhibitor made spindles using a pedal-powered wood lathe. This year, one gentleman displayed his collection of antique hog oilers, and I finally learned why we say that something is “slicker than a greased pig.”

I grew up on a hog farm. I mucked out pens, helped castrate feeder pigs, farrowed sows (e.g., helped during piglet deliveries) and loaded market hogs onto trucks. I’ll freely admit that a pig can be slippery with or without grease when you’re trying to get it to go somewhere it does not want to go. I never put much thought into why anyone would take the time to grease a pig unless it was a dressed out pig ready for the BBQ. Now I understand that a greased pig is a vermin-free pig.
Turn of the century (that is, the 1900s) hog oilers came in an amazing array of shapes, styles and colors. Taking advantage of a hog’s natural inclination to rub, root and nudge, innovative systems of pumps, rope wicks and spigots were developed to deliver various kinds of oils — crude oil, kerosene, coal-tar, used motor oil and store-bought medicated oils. The grease would spread across the hog’s skin ridding him of lice and mites and other skin parasites. Nowadays skin vermin are treated with inexpensive and effective parasiticides such ivermectin. Improved housing systems and biosecurity measures are also used on modern commercial operations to reduce the risk of such infestations in the first place.
Children “doing laundry” at
2012 Empire Thresheree
In this day of mechanization and efficiency I am grateful for the opportunity to experience early agricultural practices at our local thresheree. The bump and whir of the early gasoline motors, the powerful whistle of the steam engine and the occasional nicker of the patient draft horse stirs the imagination. The juxtaposition between labor-saving and husbandry devices of yesteryear and today is educational. This year while my children spent hours “doing laundry” with an antique washboard and wringer I learned how to de-louse a pig in a pinch.

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