Big Willy is a hog, a fine figure of a hog. Among his hog pals in Pen No. 4, Hog House No. 1 on Steve Moseley's farm here, Big Willy prospers.
He has gained weight faster than his peers, and he is meaty, not fat. Big Willy sometimes kicks up his heels in a little leap of hog joy.
For his way of life, Big Willy owes more to a bureaucracy run out of sprawling stone buildings on Independence Avenue in Washington than he -- or just about anyone else outside of the United States Department of Agriculture -- could every imagine.
Federal breeding research dictated who would be Big Willy's parents. He was born and lives in hog houses that were selected and designed with federal help. The food he eats, medicine he takes and even the technique by which he was castrated are based on federal research.
Big Willy will be slaughtered in a packing plant that was bailed out last year by a federal loan. Federal inspectors will preside over his death poke their fingers in his entrails and keep their eyes on Big Willy's remains as he is sawed, graded and ground into pork chops, hams and sausage.
To understand the life, death and dismemberment of Big Willy the hog is to understand, in part, the workings of one of the federal government's massive bureaucracies -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As Edwin W. Goodpaster, the number two man in USDA's office of public affairs, says, "The pig touches practically the whole department."
A close look at the life and death of Big Willy also reveals the growing pains and conflicts withing a 128-year-old, 95,000-member bureaucracy that was first set up to help American farmers but which now calls itself a "food agency" and somehow must serve consumers, food stamp recipients and school children, as well as farmers.
USDA has been the guiding force behind a revolution in the hog industry in the last 50 years, a revolution that has led to bigger hog farms owned by fewer hog farmers, to a radical change in the way hogs are raised, and to startling modifications in the very shape of the hog itself.
Yet, even as the producer-oriented side of USDA has streamlined the hog and helped hog farmers make money, the consumer-oriented side of the department has warned the public about the cancer danger of bacon treated with nutrite, a meat additive that prevents botulism. And, in a move that hog farmers have interpreted as an attack on pork, nutrition experts at USDA are advising consumers to trim fat off meat and buy only lean types of meat.
Here in Iowa -- the nation's leading hog-producing state, where there are eight hogs for every man, woman and child -- hog farmers say that a Washington-based bureaucracy that helps a hog farm to raise hogs and, at the same time, issues warnings about pork doesn't make much sense.
"They are telling people to cut back on meat when they don't even have proof fro their recommendations. Oh, that makes me mad," says Norma Jean Moseley, whose husband Steve runs the hog farm where Big Willy lives. j
Norma Jean's anger, however, is limited. Hog farmers here, unlike many Americans, don't make a habit of denouncing the federal government or Washington, D.C. This year's Iowa Pork Queen won her title, in part, because she told a roomful of hog farmers in Des Moines last month that the best way to keep the pork industry on top in Iowa is to continue working with the federal government.
USDA has played a key role in making hog farmers here prosperous, and hogmen know it. Big Willy is a living testament to that involvement.
Big Willy's crossbred mother, who is referred to generically by USDA as a "pig manufacturing unit," was chosen because her genetic make-up insured that she would be a fertile and loving sow, patiently laying on her side while her piglets (including big Willy) suckled, and refrained from eating her young (as do some pure-bred sows).
Steve Moseley, the 36-year-old hog farmer who owns Big Willy along with eight boars, 150 sows and about 1,000 market hogs, chose Big Willy's parents on the basis of breeding information that has been developed by USDA researchers since the 1920s.
That research, carried on at USDA research centers in Beltsville, Md., and Clay Center, Neb., as well as at land grant colleges across the country, has made the contemporary hog -- as exemplified by Big Willy -- a leaner, longer and meatier animal than its forebears who lived in the 1950s.
"[Big Willy] has got all the makings of a good meat-type" hog, says Mosely, who is pleased with the animal." He's plenty long between the shoulders and the ham. He's got good muscling over the top and sturdy bone structure. He doesn't show much backfat."
At Beltsville, where pioneering steps in swine breeding were made in the 1920s and 1930s, Dr. Ben Bereskin, who is in charge of swine breeding for USDA, says Big Willy and the 67 million other hogs in America can thank the USDA and USDA-sponsored ressearch for their fine bodies.
"In one sense, he [Big Willy] is what our objective has been all along," says Bereskin, who keeps a pink foam-rubber hog on his desk. "Our research is directed at producing lean pork as efficiently as possible."
Hog statistics compiled by researchers in Beltsville show that Big Willy has 50 percent less fat than his forbears who lived in the 1950s. He's also 4 percent longer and will yield about 69 percent more lean pork chops than hogs of the 1950s, who produced very few of the lean chops.
Equipped with his USDA-designed body, Big Willy also lives a radically different life style than did American hogs 20 years ago. He is one of the growing number of hogs whose feet literally never touch dirt.
He was born on cement, he was a playful piglet on cement and on cement he is growing to market weight. In government parlance, Big Willy is now a resident of a "swine confinement finishing home."
He was born last October, the offspring of a purebred Duroc boar and a crossbred Yorkshire-Duroc-Hampshire sow. The boar was chosen to beget Big Willy because the purebred boar's genetic make-up insured that his descendents would be what the USDA calls "efficient performers" -- hogs that grow fast and meaty without getting too fat.
The confinement house where Big Willy lives is typical of the buildings that have become the rage of the hog industry in the past 10 years. A long, low building, its cement floors are slatted at one side over a pit large enough to hold 180 days worth of the manure deposited by Big Willy and his 500 or so compatriots in Moseley's Hog House No. 1.
In Pen No. 4 an 8-by-30-foot enclosure that he shares with 32 other hogs, Big Willy has all the water and corn-soybean-antibiotic swine ration he can eat. In a personal space of just 7.27 square feet, Big Willy is gaining weight at the USDA-recommended rate of two-and-a-half pounds a day.
Big Willy, despite his charming brown spots and general good humor, is nothing more than a functioning component in Steve Moseley's farm-based pork factory -- a highly efficient pork factory that could not exist were it not for dramatic recent progress in hog disease research.
USDA has paid for more than two-thirds of this research and USDA scientists are responsible for many of the breakthroughs that make Moseley's pork factory possible.
Besides playing a major role in controlling the diseases that could wipe out hogs raised in confinement. USDA has done seminal research on the type of cement slats where Big Willy defecats (to insure that walking on them won't hurt his feet and legs), on the development of a high-gain swine ration from the corn and soybeans that Moseley raises on his farm, and on the ventilation system that pumps hog odors out of Big Willy's $50,000 house. t
Jim Meno, an extension livestock production specialist who works for USDA and Iowa State University, gave Big Willy's owner technical advice on the type of hog buildings to buy and on how to design the farm's arrowing (or maternity) house so the newborn piglets wouldn't catch cold.
Meno's advice was free, a service of USDA and the state of Iowa. At the turn of the century, agriculture officials in Washington realized that farmers were not getting the opportunity to learn all the latest scientific advances in farm technology, so they created a federal network of extension agents to preach the new technology.
Meno, a former hog farmer himself, is one of 6,200 agents who continue to travel from farm to farm throughout rural America giving free advice.
The gospel of hog raising, as preached by USDA in Washington, is efficieny: The most hogs on the least space at the lowerst cost per hog. What all this means, as USDA publications acknowledge, is that the federal government has directly and indirectly pushed for larger and larger hog farms that can use new technology such as disease medicine, confinement houses and hog nurseries most efficiently.
In pursuing this policy USDA has facilitated a surprising concentration of ownership of hog farms.
In 1950, 2.1 million farms in the country raised and sold hogs. This year, fewer than 400,000 farms have hog operations. In 1964, only a little more than 7 percent of total hog sales came from farms selling more than 1,000 head a year; now such farms account for more than 40 percent of the nation's hog supply.
The 350-acre farm here in Iowa where Big Willy was bred demonstrates that when a hog farmer decides to take advantage of the USDA-wrought revolution in hog farming, he must be prepared to spend more money.
Steve Moseley, like many second-generation Iowa hog farmers, had a tremendous advantage in getting into what USDA calls the capital intensive technologies in hog production."
He owns about as much farm-rich, black, extremely fertile farmland that sells for between $3,000 and $4,000 an acre and is productive enough to grow all the corn and soybeans he needs to feed his hogs.
Moseley, like many other Iowa hog farmers, received what is considered the best scientific hog-raising education available in the country at Iowa State Univeristy, a land grand unversity that receives about 37 percent of its money for its agriculture experiment station from the federal government.
With land as collateral and a firm [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] technology. Moseley began buying hog equipment. He bought Hog House No. 1 in 1978 for $50,000, Hog House No. 2 in 1978 for $60,000, a special sealed corn storage [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] in 1978 for $24,000 [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] hog farrowing house in 1978 for $28,000.
The federal bureaucracy in Washington is good to farmers who borrow money to raise hogs the scientific way. Moseley borrowed $15,000 from USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation at only 7 percent interest to help build his corn silo.
The Internal Revenue Service allows him an investment credit that in 1978 knocked off $13,000 off his tax bill. And, of course, the IRS allowed Moseley to deduct interest on his loans as a business expense.
"Last year, the tax breaks really helped us a lot," said Moseley, whose hog operation earned him about $40,000 in 1978 after expenses.
So while his owner takes advantage of the new efficient USDA-sponsored way to make money off hogs, Big Willy has no choice but to grow up in the confined environment that the federal government helped create for him.
But Willy, like many hogs in similar circumstances, doesn't have much to divert his curious mind. Attentive to this problem, USDA is funding research into the irritability of the contemporary confined hog.
But Big Willy will not be bored for long. Soon he reaches 200 pounds -- sometime next month -- he will die.