National Geographic : 1945 May
The National Geographic Magazine survey of the State. In the months before my visit, an average of 1,200 carloads of meat a week had been shipped out from the 13 packing plants. Omaha had led all the cities in the Nation in production of butter and had maintained its position as one of the major grain markets of the country. In livestock receipts at public stockyards it had been sec ond only to Chicago. Omaha's Meat Story Harry B. Coffee, president of the Union Stock Yards Company, took me to the roof of the Livestock Exchange Building for a bird's eye view of the 4,000. pens which cover an area of 160 acres and have a capacity of 160,000 cattle, hogs, and sheep. These pens, all equipped with running water, are con nected by 20 miles of alleys. "It's hard to think about a meat shortage here," I remarked. "If that looks like a lot of animals to you," Mr. Coffee laughed, "you should have been here when we had our record run of hogs. On January 17, 1944, we received 63,333. The line of trucks bringing them in was 81 city blocks long!" "What was the reason for the big inrush?" I asked. "There were two," he replied. "First, farm ers had increased their production to help the war effort. Second, because of high feed costs they were marketing stock at lighter weights than usual. "High ceiling prices on corn, coupled with comparatively low ceilings on fat cattle, have caused many cattle feeders to curtail or sus pend operations. Before the war, cattle from the range were put into the feeding pens for 90 to 180 days of fattening. Now the period is seldom more than 30 to 90 days. "That is why prime beef is becoming a rarity. A steer from the range puts on weight rapidly during the first month of corn feed ing. After that the increase is slower, though the amount of corn consumed is the same. "The hog raiser who has a good supply of corn on his farm can afford to keep his stock till it reaches a normal market weight. The man who has more pigs than his own crop will feed must sell them early. That accounts for the rush of hogs to the stockyards." * It struck me that a succession of days like January 17 would soon jam the yards, huge as they are. "What do you do," I asked, "when ship ments are too big for your available space?" "That has not happened to us yet," he replied. "By giving stockmen advance warn ings when the situation is getting tight, we have prevented their shipping more than we can accept. They know stock brought in with out notice must be cared for at the shipper's expense until it can be taken into the pens." To get more of the Omaha meat story, I went with Emery Hoenshell from the stock yards to Swift's packing plant. Supt. G. H. Rydman, who has been in the employ of the company for more than 40 years, volunteered to show us around. Lay ing aside our overcoats and donning long ulsterlike coats, we started on a three-hour tramp which took us from the killing depart ment to the railway platform where finished products were being loaded into cars. It was a near-capacity day in the plant. Carcasses of cattle, hogs, and sheep slung by the hind feet on overhead carriers were passing from the killing rooms around the skinning and eviscerating floors in unbroken succession. Skilled workmen stationed along the lines each performed a special task, like mechanics on an automobile assembly line (Plate V). At short intervals Government inspectors examined carcasses for different defects. "The inspectors throw out anything that shows even the faintest indication of disease," Mr. Rydman explained. "You'll see them in every department of the plant." We followed the processes for what seemed miles-along the cutting tables, through spe cial departments, into rooms where cooked meats were being prepared and sausage cas ings filled, through the huge refrigerating chambers. Women Do Men's Work in Packing Plants In some departments all the workers were women. There were some women even among the crews doing the heavier tasks. "Like all other concerns," Mr. Rydman ex plained, "we are handicapped by the man power shortage. These girls are doing a lot of things we never asked them to do before the war. Unexpected Government orders sometimes catch us short of help and material, but we have not slipped on a delivery yet." We watched a middle-aged man pressing steer skulls by hand into a heavy splitting machine and removing the brains intact. "That is the most dangerous machine in the plant," Mr. Rydman told us, "but this man has handled it for 25 years without losing a day because of injury." Remarkable to me was the sanitary cleanli ness of the whole plant. We saw nothing * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Farmers Keep Them Eating," by Frederick Simpich, April, 1943, and "Revolution in Eating," by J. R. Hildebrand, March, 1942.