When I was a freshman in high school, I won an essay contest where the prize was a weaner gilt. That was my start in the hog business. My swine enterprise eventually grew to about 10 sows – never very big, but like the milk cows, it was good for cash flow.

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In addition to the cows and sows, we also raised mink. By mink farm standards, we were just a small operation – we harvested about 1,200 pelts a year – but it was another thing to keep us busy.

Except for seasonal help, like when we’d hire a few of the local women to help with the fleshing (removing fat from the mink hides prior to drying and tanning) during pelting season, or when we needed extra help from some of the young high school bucks to get the hay off the meadows, the labor was all provided in-family.

Mink are not pleasant creatures. I’ve never been around a meaner critter than a mink. They’re adorable little beasts for a few days when they are a couple of weeks old.

They are really quite cute and they are as soft as … well, mink. However, the siblings in a litter will often cannibalize each other when they start playing around and draw a little blood on an ear.


Besides their vicious nature, mink stink. Though the odor is not quite as strong as that of a skunk, it’s similar.

I believe the most malodorous thing I’ve ever smelled was my clothes after we’d worked all day in the mink and topped the day off by castrating a litter of pigs. A stroll through a west Kansas feedlot in July is a walk through a rose garden in comparison.

One of my chores during whelping season was to patrol the mink sheds and break up fights between kits (young mink). Our mink sheds were enclosed to prevent escape if a pen was left open and any of the little devils got out of their pens.

It was a cardinal sin to leave a door to a shed open. Sometimes feral cats would sneak in during feeding time. They hung around in an attempt to get bits of mink feed that would sometimes drop to the ground through the wire of the pens.

If a cat ended up locked in a shed overnight, he was usually in for a rough night.

When a cat would jump up on the row of pens and walk along the top scavenging for feed, the mink would grab a leg and jerk it down through the top of the pen.

I remember several mornings when I’d find a yowling cat spread-eagled across the top of two pens with a mink jerking and gnawing at each leg. The only way to persuade a mink to let go was to spray it with the watering hose or poke him with a stick.

One of my earliest memories of the mink operation was of being held captive by one of the soulless little monsters when it grabbed my mitten as I was walking along and dragging my hand along the front of the pens.

Because my mother rightfully didn’t trust me with my mittens, she had fastened them together with a piece of yarn that went from one mitten, up through the sleeves of my coat and connected to the other mitten.

I had to yowl like a cat for 10 minutes before my dad came looking for me. I was lucky it was just my mitten and not my finger that was in the vise grip of the mink’s jaws.

They tend to bite and hang on. I suppose I wasn’t a very bright 6-year old. If I’d been any older, my dad probably would have left me there all night to let the lesson sink in.

Our place became further diversified one winter when a little Banty rooster showed up out of the blue. We didn’t have any chickens, so he took up residence with the pigs.

I named him Brewster, after a rooster in an off-color joke my wayward uncle had told me. Brewster always stayed with the hogs. On cold nights, rather than roost on a fence or in a tree, he’d perch himself on top of a pile of pigs that had crowded together for warmth.

He had a pretty good gig. He’d crow every morning and hang around the sows and clean up the feed they’d drop. Brewster became our mascot, and we got accustomed to having him around.

One -10ºF January morning, I didn’t notice Brewster’s crow. I didn’t think too much about it until, as I was feeding the sows, I noticed one of the old girls with feathers and a drumstick hanging out of her mouth.

I could see further evidence of Brewster’s demise as black and red feathers were scattered all around the pen. For some reason, Brewster’s friends had turned on him. I don’t know what he did to tick them off.

I guess the lesson to learn here is that you should choose your friends wisely and don’t play with fire. You may be able to stick your finger in a mink pen and not have it sliced by razor-sharp teeth, just as you can drive drunk and not crash or get a D.U.I.

Chances are, though, if you sleep with the pigs, sooner or later you’ll end up like Brewster.  FG