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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James W. (Jim) Connor, December 19, 1999. Interview K-0818. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Thoughts on hog growing

Connor describes his automated hog houses and defends his method of growing hogs as the cleanest and most efficient. He describes the hog lagoon waste disposal system in a lengthy discussion at the end of the passage. In addition to discussing the technical aspects of his job, he defends its morality, offering his viewpoint on abortion as he does so.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James W. (Jim) Connor, December 19, 1999. Interview K-0818. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Let's get back to the hog houses. Can you just describe what the life of a hog is in that house? There's so many people who don't know, who hear what they hear in the news and so forth. You go in, you're feedingߞ.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Everything is pretty much automated. It's climate controlled. You've got fans in there to circulate the air all the time. You've got kit fans to pull the ammonia out so they won't stay in there with the animals. Curtain drawn thermostats. You've got foggers around the side if the temperature gets up over eighty-eight degrees it puts a mist of water on two minutes out of eight. The buildings are designed where there's like either twenty or twenty-two pigs in each pen. That's allowing each one of them seven and a half square feet for optimum growth. They'll make the first pull at thirteen weeks. Animals are like humans. Some of them are going to grow faster than others. So at thirteen weeks, they'll come in and take the big ones out and go ahead and market them. They'll be up to around two forty, in that area. That gives more space for what's left in there. You try to keep them comfortable or they won't perform.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
So the pigs are comfortable?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Oh yeah.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
They're happy.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Oh yeah. You saw how they're jumping around when you went in to take pictures. That's their whole thing in life is for the consumer. You keep them comfortable. You can't just be cruel to animals. You've got to like them. You go in there and giving them shots. They'll get to know you. They'll talk to you when you come in there and run up to the gate. When a strange person goes in there, they're kind of lay back until they see everything's all right and then they'll come out.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
A pig's pretty smart.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Oh they're the smartest animal there is. They say that's the only animal that's ever been able to figure out a three-way latch. Horse can't do it; cow can't do it; a dog, a cat, a monkey. But a pig can. That's pretty neat.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
So you feel like you have a relationship with these pigs somewhat like you do those cats out there.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
I look after them like I look after that lab. You got to worry about their health. Keep them happy; keep them comfortable.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
What would you say to a person who says, 'I just don't understand how you can care for animals and then go and know they're going to be killed?' What would you say?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
That's why they're grown. That's what one of these abortionist rights people was telling me one time. I think you're the least caring of theߞand this just happened in our family. My son that's a pilot, his wife was four month along and they went to do the scan to see if it's a boy or a girl. When they did it and looked at it, the doctor said, 'This is not good.' The liver and lungs were on the outside. They said she could go full term but it'll live five minutes. They went to Wake Forest two weeks ago and took it.
ROB AMBERG:
That's really hard.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
But anyway, the story I was going to tell you is this abortion person was telling me, that's wrong, that's wrong that's wrong. You should never do that to anything. I don't care.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Do what?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Kill or abort a baby or something like that. I said, 'You eat eggs?' They said, 'Yeah. I said, 'You're eating an unborn chicken. What's the damned difference?' And my youngest son, the one that's managing the two thousand unitߞmy mom about twelve years ago had to have heart surgery. The valve on top of her heart was bad. They couldn't put a synthetic valve in; so they put a pig valve in. It comes from a special Russian hog. They had to put a pig valve in there, and he was doing a paper his senior year in college. He did it on that pig saving his grandmother's life. He said the first time that professor read that thing and cried.
ROB AMBERG:
Yeah. My father has a pig valve.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
It's amazing. The synthetic ones just wouldn't go in there because she had rheumatic fever when she was a child and it damaged the flapper valve on top of the heart. They had to put that pig in there. You look, all your burn tissue comes from pigs, where they graft. Heart valves, shoes, belts, bacon, pork chops. And a pig is the only animal that you've got three shots a day at the consumer. You've got bacon, sausage, and country ham for breakfast. You've got your sandwich meats for lunch. You've got pork chops and ham roasts and stuff like that for dinner. It is the only animals that you've got three shots a day at the consumer. You think about that. People don't eat steak three meals a day. You don't eat chicken three meals a day. You might if you went to Hardee's and get a chicken biscuit or something like that or a steak biscuit. But really, you're wide open, three meals a day at the consumer.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
So do you think that the market is going to be good from now on for hogs.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Yeah. I think it's going to be good. You're going to have to put up with the environmentalists, so called, and the activists and people like that. But as long as you're eating and as long as you keep the pigs tissue for skin grafts and things like that. I don't see any slacking off on it. Unless the whole country goes to vegetarian. That's not going to happen.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
So you've got people out here eating meat and you've got international markets now, like you said, China, Russia. Is this the best way to raise them?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Yeah. I think it's the only way to raise them. If you were to raise these same hogs that I've got on this farm, twenty four hundred eighty of them and you had them out on the range, it's going to take you twice as long to get them to market. They're going to be in the ditches and in the streams and everything else. It's just making one mess.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Is that polluting too?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
That's more pollution that what you doߞthere's no pollution at all here. None.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Where's it all go then?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
It goes in these spray fields out here.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Go back to the time when the manure drops through the slats. Tell what happens to it?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
They've got an automatic flush system on it that flushes it out of the building into a lagoon.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
And the lagoon is about how big?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
It's predicated on how many animals. You have to build the lagoon to accommodate how many animals are going to be on that facility. I don't know the formula on that. The soil and water people calculate it, and then you do it to their specifications.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
To build the lagoon you say you have to put clay in it.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
You don't have to put clay in it but preferably you have a clay base seals it so it won't seep out. They have rubber liners they put in them but they can't say that when they put them in that the equipment doesn't puncture it or something like that. But you can tell whether it's leaking or not. You've got to pump that thing out four or five times a year. Pump it down to keep it in your twenty-four hour one hundred year event. You know it's not leaking.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
So we were up there and it was raining. But I didn't smell the lagoon. I smelled the fans, the hog odor coming out of those. The lagoonߞ.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
You won't smell them.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Why not? Why wouldn't you smell it?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
It's just the aerobic action of the lagoon is like a great big septic tank without a lid on it. It's decomposing all the time. If you get a real foggy heavy morning, you'll smell it. But most of the time you won't. I'd say ninety-nine percent of the time, you'll never know it's there. That's not like turkeys and chickens. That's some strong litter. I guess, it's the amount of ammonia in it or something. I don't know how.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
The ammonia is staying in the hog.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Well, it's going of into the atmosphere, pretty much is the way it works.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Okay, so it's flushed out every so often, every thirty minutes.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Whatever long it takes to fill the tank up.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
And then it goes into this holding unit, and then what do you do with it?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
We've got an irrigation system. We pump off the top eighteen inches because the solids are going to the bottom. You pump off the top eighteen inches and put it on your fields through aߞI use a portable reel, which I can put the reel out and pull my hose out eight hundred and eighty feet. You just calibrated to how much you want to put on the land, which the ideal situation. Well my waste management plan calls for each application to put a half-inch of water to the acre.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Now who gave you that plan?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
The soil and water. Then you calculate it when you have your lagoon analysis done. Now like those over there that got flooded, it's like point two three. This one, because it's got a lot of hogs in it and it's never under water, it's like one point seven eight. One point seven eight pounds of nitrogen to a thousand gallons of water. So that's the way I know my gun puts out a hundred fifteen gallons a minute. I keep track of how many minutes it runs over how much acreage and just divide it. I can tell how much I put and probably a pound to the acre. That acre is probably, depending on the type grass, will be able to take any where from eighty to one hundred twenty pounds of nitrogen a year.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
What does that grass do then? How do you use it?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
I use it for hay. I feel my cows with it and sell it. We do a nitrate check on that before we sell the hay. We plug it; send it off and they come back and tell you if the nitrate level is too high then you don't sell it to people with horses because it'll kill them. If it's two stages higher, you don't feed it to cattle. It'll kill them.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Those are your own cattle.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
That's right. They aren't going to kill them.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Has some of that everߞwhen you've sprayed it on the fieldsߞhas that run off? We hear about agricultural run off.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Not if you use your application rate. Half inch of rain on a field isn't very much. It pretty much absorbs that. You don't pump when it's raining. You don't pump when you've got a whole lot of water on the ground. You've got to have adequate grass cover to absorb what you pump. That's why it changes. In the summertime on Coast Bermuda, you can put about twice as much as I can put this time of year on winter rye. Because the winter rye doesn't use as much nitrogen as the Coast Bermuda does. I got fescue over here I pump on in the wintertime. I've got about twice as many acres as I've got Coastal because I can't put as much on it. And then if you're going to graze where you're pumping, you've got to have more acreage to allow for what the cattle are going to discharge. So that changes your formula all around. So I've got my cows on another place I rent. I don't have any cattle on my property. I just use it all for spray fields.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
You have to have how much property for four hog barns out here in order to have enough land to spray it on?
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Twenty-seven acres. About nine acres to the barn for this six twenty size.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
Six hundred and twenty hogs finishing barn.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Figures about nine acres.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
And then you bale that hay and sell it and that gives you more income.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Yeah. I need twenty-seven acres for these and I've got a hundred and twenty-eight.
ROB AMBERG:
That you're spraying on.
CHARLES THOMPSON:
So you're doing more acreage than your plan recommends.
JAMES (JIM) CONNOR:
Oh yeah and then that cuts down on the nitrate that I'm putting on it because I'm spreading it on more area. Actually I've got more land than I have water that I can pump.