Wednesday, March 14, 2012

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That Whiskey You Like May Cause Hog Farms to Explode

I'm as big a fan of American whiskeys as the next guy (depending on the company, quite a bit more so than the next guy), but this morning I learned that those whiskeys upon which I lavish so much attention may cause our nation's hog farms to explode.

The association of hogs and distilleries is a venerable one, predating modern miscreant bacon-bourbons by centuries. In 1809, American distiller Samuel M'Harry promoted the raising of swine as a natural complement to distilleries and a savvy way to boost profits. "The offals of distilleries and mills," he wrote in The Practical Distiller, "cannot be more advantageously appropriated then in raising of the hogs—they are prolific, arrive at maturity in a short period, always in demand."

Yet, unless done properly, he warns that feeding hogs on distillery wastes may be injurious:
Hogs that are fed on potale, ought not to lie out at night, as dew, rain and snow injures them–indeed such is their aversion to bad weather, that when it comes on, or only a heavy shower of rain, away they run, full speed, each endeavoring to be foremost, all continually crying out, until they reach their stye or place of shelter.
Three generations earlier, English brewer, erstwhile exciseman, and farmer William Ellis warned of the dangers in feeding such grainy offal to pigs. He wrote in his 1750 The Country Housewife’s Family Companion:
On the 26th of August 1746, I had a sow just ready to pig, when my silly maid-servant gave her a pail-full of wash, made up with the yeasty grounds of barrels, in the evening; and next morning she was found dead, prodigiously swelled, with much froth, that she had discharged at her mouth.
There's a suggestion afoot that modern day distillery offal (in this case, spent grains from whiskey production) may be at the root of a problem that's been causing hog farms to explode.

Manure foam goes hog-wild. Photo: Charles Clanton for
Writing at, Brandon Keim reports "A strange new growth has emerged from the manure pits of midwestern hog farms...Since 2009, six farms have blown up after methane trapped in an unidentified, pit-topping foam caught a spark."

Modern industrial hog raising is its own special brand of hell, but reports of the thick, matted, santorum-like foam that's been clogging the vents of underground sewage pits set a new standard in revulsion. These foam plugs (Keim describes them as "a gelatinous goop that resembles melted brown Nerf") trap explosive methane, a by-product of hog waste. If they should catch a spark — boomsplat. Last September, he reports, 1,500 hogs died in one such explosion.

The exact cause of the new goop is unknown, and a few hypotheses are offered, but one tentative idea is that a fourfold surge in the agricultural use of spent distillers' grains in the previous decade may be at play.

May be and might be, though, are a long way from is. Spent distillery grains have long been fed to hogs, and successfully, on small farms and in distillery lots, so distillers' grains alone cannot be be problem.

I obsess over pork and whiskey alike — if I weren't freckled, I'd have tattoos of both. You can bet I'll be keeping an eye on this story and, if it turns out there's a connection, we'll revisit it. For now, though, no smoking on the hog lots.

Catch Keim's original article, Mysterious Hog Farm Explosions Stump Scientists, here.


Todd said...

I think your use of the word santorum is perfect. I can't think of a better use in everyday/PG writing.

I am disappointed about the Google problem going away.

Matthew Rowley said...

Todd ~

I was disappointed, too, brother. For those who aren't up to speed on Santorum's "Google problem" going away, here's the back story. Although, when I typed "spreading" into Google's search bar just now, Dan Savage's site "Spreading Santorum" was the very first autosuggestion. — so all is not lost.

randall said...

Holy shit.