Monday, May 04, 2009

Annals of mechanization

On porcine reproduction and other automated practices in pork farming from Harpers. Note: Meat lovers are instructed to proceed with caution if one plans on reading the full report.

The boars were as big and as furry as bears. Each had its own pen—but in the last stall, in place of a pig, was what looked like a blue plastic saddle standing a few feet off the ground. Watje opened this gate and led a white boar into the corral.
“I’ve been training this one,” Watje said. “We’ll see how he does.”
The boar walked straight to the dummy and mounted without hesitation. Now, to be fair, this is a position few mammals are able to maintain with grace. But this boar, no doubt due to his lack of experience, made the pose look particularly awkward. One foreleg bent under his body. His back arched and his head lolled on the saddle.
Watje reached under the pig’s belly with one latex-gloved hand and squeezed a stream of clear liquid onto the ground.
“You want to get all the urine out of there,” he said. “Then you just hold on to the penis, which can be difficult because it’s slimy.”
He saw the look on my face and laughed. “Sometimes it’s so slippery I have to take the glove off to hold on.”
The tip of a boar’s penis is shaped like a corkscrew, which gives the semen harvester something to grip. The hog doesn’t need friction, just pressure.
The boar, meanwhile, was shifting, working his way around the dummy. Perhaps he had realized that things were not quite going according to plan and had hit on the idea that he had picked the wrong side. Watje rolled his eyes and hung on. When the moment came, he signaled me and I handed him the cup—an insulated coffee mug lined with a plastic bag and covered in cheesecloth. Watje pulled the penis—two feet long and pencil-thin—to the cup’s mouth and held it for three long minutes as the boar ejaculated. Then Watje took the cup inside. It held about half a pint.
“Usually I’d dilute it, but I’m out of distilled water,” he said, breaking what had become an uncomfortable silence.
“Do you ever stop in the middle of that and think, ‘I’m holding a boar’s penis’?” I blurted.
Watje laughed. “Sometimes my friends give me a hard time about it. But no, I’ve been doing this since I was a kid.”
He poured some of the liquid into a squeeze bottle and affixed the bottle to a long straw with a sponge on the end. The remaining semen went in a refrigerator—he sends it overnight to buyers at fifty dollars a dose. Depending on the boar, each ejaculate contains enough sperm to fertilize between ten and forty sows.
The sow was easy. Housed close to the boars, she needed no foreplay, none of the haunch and belly rubbing that Becky had described. Watje just sat on her back, facing her tail, and slid the semen straw inside. The sow leaned her heavy head against my shin while he slowly squeezed the bottle empty. Then it was over.

Close up of a Leon Kossoff painting from his recent exhibition at Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery

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