Living Off the Land in DeSoto Parish

By Jon G. Donlon and Jocelyn H. Donlon


Many of the long-time rural residents of DeSoto Parish have been "living off the land" for several generations, learning from their elders how to raise livestock, harvest hay, cultivate crops, preserve food, prepare delicious meals—some of which may come from their own slaughtered cattle and lovely home gardens; others which may serve up harvested wild hogs that plague the region. Rooted to the land with a steadfast sense of place, the farmer families of DeSoto Parish seem to glory in their daily labors and to love the life they live, despite the inevitable challenges of living off the land.

Jocelyn Donlon interviews Joey Register. Photo: Jon Donlon.

To gather stories of residents who have lived off the land for several generations, we began our fieldwork in DeSoto Parish by talking with William "Billy" Franklin, a multi-generational farmer of Grand Cane and partner of the family-run LLC "Franklin Farms." In fact, Mr. Franklin was named "Outstanding Tree Farmer" in 2014 by the Louisiana Forestry Association for his exceptional stewardship of the land. We then spoke with Eva Gamble, co-owner of "H & E Farms." The Gamble family received the Agri-Business Award from the DeSoto Parish Chamber of Commerce in 2015 and have been longtime cattle ranchers and farmers. When we discovered that the local Village Salon was a hub of activity in Grand Cane, we talked to its owner Amy McCullin, about her traditional foodways, in particular home gardening that includes the making of elderberry syrup. Finally, Joey Register, who farms land and hunts the pesky feral hogs that trouble the region, provided his story, which includes adventurous tales of hog wrangling, as well as inspirational stories of an annual event on his property called "Feed a Friend." These four individuals, while vastly unique, are quite typical of the strong-willed residents whose families have "lived off the land" for generations in DeSoto Parish.

William "Billy" Franklin: Cattle Rancher and Timber Farmer

Billy Frankin. Photo: Jon Donlon.

Though born in nearby Mansfield, William "Billy" Franklin has lived most of his eighty-plus years in Grand Cane, on the land his parents and grandparents owned. His great-great-great grandfather, he believes, emigrated from Ireland to DeSoto Parish in 1833, and the family has been established there ever since. As a youngster, he "went to school just like everybody else did," but he recalls helping out with the farm during World War II. He says, "I moved from Mother and Daddy's house to my grandparent's house. And I pumped the water out of the well with a pusher pump to feed the mules and the horses, and we raised cotton on the farm. We had a few cattle but not a whole lot. When the war came along, all the labor went to the defense plants, and . . . cotton disappeared from the economy almost overnight. And then it was tough because you had to try to grow your food, but we survived." Indeed, they have thrived.

Entrance to Franklin Farm. Photo: Jon Donlon.

Billy Franklin spent a good part of his adult life living in Arkansas and Washington, serving with the military, before settling back down on his DeSoto Parish farm and ranch, which now extends to about 750 acres. "Franklin Farms," made up of Mr. Franklin and his two sons, exists in two parts—pasture and forests—and is expertly managed for a combination of beef and timber, while also bearing in mind aesthetics and wildlife concerns. The father does most of the day-to-day operations as Mr. Franklin's two sons, John and Cole, are working as schoolteachers. Mr. Franklin holds a bachelor's and master's degree in animal science, and brings years of experience and education to his traditional farming practices. His planting practices are not based on folk sayings as much as on advice from consultants. In fact, Mr. Franklin, himself, worked as an Agricultural Extension agent with the State of Louisiana; he then moved into the private sector, flourishing there for several decades. Even though he is now "retired," he spends hours each day managing the resources on Franklin Farms.

Cattle at Franklin Farm. Photo: Jon Donlon.

Mr. Franklin's livestock, about 100 crossbred Angus and Brahman cattle, is raised on about 250 acres of pastureland. At the time of our interview in January 2016, there were about "ninety-six mama cows." In late December 2015, Franklin Farms had started breeding cattle, so most of the calves at the time of the interview were a little over a year old. Because the pasture cannot support all the calves, Mr. Franklin will evaluate the animal's age and teeth to decide which ones are kept and which go to slaughter. Of course, some of the beef will eventually return to the Franklin family table, perhaps served up in his homemade sausage alongside some of his home-grown vegetables. His home garden is smaller than it used to be, but he still grows tomatoes, bell peppers, green onions, corn, snap beans, cantaloupe, mustard greens, turnip greens, cabbage, and broccoli. He and his wife, Ottie Hazelwood Mercer Franklin, will "put up" many of the products, either through canning or freezing. He says that when they are ready to eat, "it's not like having to cook." You take out your mustard greens, get some hot sauce and cornbread, and "you've got a meal!"

Franklin Farms includes timber land with pine, oak and beech. Photo: Jon Donlon.

If food must be stored for humans, it must also be stored for cattle. Mr. Franklin devotes some of the acreage to hay meadows, which will be cut, dried, and stored for the winter. In warm weather, his cattle thrive on the carpet of emerald-greed turf, their diet supplemented by prepared feed from time to time. When the grass isn't available, he'll put out hay, which nowadays is rolled rather than baled into square, brick-like bales, in order to better accommodate the available "machine power" of tractors. Asked about his cattle being grass or grain fed, Franklin describes the process as a little of both. "We will grain feed them for three or four months to get their fat from yellow to white. Then we will take them to the slaughter. So grass got them to 800 pounds, but then grain finishes them off."

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Billy Franklin talks about managing timberland. Field recording by Jocelyn Donlon.

Meanwhile, about 350 acres of the family's land is devoted to managing timber—pine, oak, and beech. Although timber is a long-time proposition, it does call for a great deal of attention if the trees are expected to produce at their best. Franklin's timber farms sustain a range of growth, from seedlings to mature trees ready for harvest. The seedlings are planted "ten foot apart, six foot in a row." Mr. Franklin works with a consultant forester to make his planting decisions and thinning decisions. He says, "If you can't see the sun shine up there, it's time to thin again." If you "grow trees" a good bit of that space goes to roads, Franklin explained. He spends about four hours a day riding through his tree farms. In terms of land management, "One of the most important things we did," he says, "we built road bumps in the roads." "He built many of the road bumps himself to prevent erosion, "with the lil' old Ford ® tractor." He explains that there is a lot of clay in the soil, and he needs to "kick the water aside" to prevent it from running straight down hill. In addition, he is careful to remember the needs of wildlife on his land. He has reserved about 20 acres of his land as a wildlife refuge, and manages water access for the deer.

One source of wildlife, feral hogs, is much harder to control than the deer. Billy Franklin explains why the feral hogs are such a nuisance even when they don't eat the crops. The hogs root up a field, making the smooth meadow gouged and rough. "The grass still grows well, and the pigs have not ruined the pasture," he says, "but you can't clean out the weeds because you can't run a tractor through there, to spray weed killer or distribute fertilizer. "And you can't make hay on that," with the ground made too difficult for harvesting. To try to control the feral hogs, Mr. Franklin has an automated trap, which he can operate from his cell phone, to capture the hogs. He has caught about 40 hogs with the trap. He then allows local persons, such as Joey Register, to come get them to sell them. Mr. Franklin does not want to eat them, himself, saying that the state veterinarian has advised against it.

Billy Franklin was enormously helpful in providing contacts in the region and functioning as a "cultural broker." He sent us to several locals, including Eva Gamble, a life long teacher, farmer, and rancher.

Eva Lois Gamble: Cattle Rancher and Hay Farmer

Eva Lois Gamble at her farm. Photo: Jon Donlon.

Ms. Eva Lois Gamble was raised on the land she now manages as "H & E Farms," named for her parents, Herman and Eva Gamble. Indeed, the local residents distinguish between the mother, who is now in her nineties, by calling her "Miss Eva" and the daughter "Eva Lois." She, her sister, and her brother were raised on the farm. She says, "All the time we were in school, high school and junior high, we worked on the farm. We helped dad—it just kind of grew on us." Once she and her sister—All American athlete Lin Gamble—had to go off to college, they sold their own cattle stock to help pay for their education, and for decades they both worked at teaching and coaching. When their father became ill in the late 1990s, they returned to DeSoto Parish and got back into raising cattle, growing hay, and accumulating more land. Ms. Eva Lois brings a profound understanding of the sciences to her work. She was educated in "composite sciences," and she taught anatomy and physiology to pre-med type students. She also coached basketball throughout her teaching career.

Black Angus cattle on H & E Farms. Photo: Jon Donlon.

Eva Lois Gamble recalls that her parents worked "daylight to dark" at other jobs; her mother was a school bus driver, and her father was a carpenter. As several of the farmers will verify, it's difficult to live solely off the land. Most of them work full-time jobs, and farm after hours. As Eva Lois says, "You can't make it on farming. I mean you just cannot." Therefore, when she was growing up, it fell to the children to help out on the farm while the parents worked outside jobs. She says, "Lin and I were a good bit older than my brother, and it kind of fell on us to take care of the farm and to feed all the animals in the winter. My sister went up before school to our barn and milked the cow, I guess most every morning." She never found being a female and farming anything out of the ordinary. "We just grew up doing it," she says. They had many animals: chickens, rabbits, and goats. She said they even tried sheep. When her father would shear the sheep, the children would have to hold them. She says, "I don't guess we realized girls don't do that." Her father "always just counted on them, and they "loved it." She says she would "much rather be on the tractor than in the kitchen." She recalls, "We were in sports, and we just did everything active, everything that we could, to help out. I guess we just learned how to do everything. We could fix things, we would look out. Now we weren't lazy; we would look out and see a thistle in the pasture, and we'd go out and get us a hoe and cut it! Nobody had to tell you to go do that." She hated having to do housework on Saturday mornings; she preferred being outside.

H & E Farms. Photo: Jon Donlon.

Today, the Gamble sisters manage and run the farm, performing many of the daily chores themselves. When special tasks have to be done, such as having telephone poles brought in and put up for a hay barn, of course they have help. But overall the Gamble sisters run the show; other family members do help. Siblings or relations interact pretty closely: people lend each other use of pasture, they cut hay, and they help with jobs. While growing up, they learned how to do just about everything. She recalls:

We could build a barn. We could build, especially my sister. And my brother was a builder; he built his own house. They helped me build that house on the hill of mine, and helped with the land. We've helped each other a whole lot, but we've built things like that. And we've done fencing. I've dug a many a fence post-hole. . . . I was the oldest, so Dad would make me dig the post holes. He and Lynn would string the wire, and Sonny, my brother, Herman Jr., would have to bring the posts and put them in the ground. He was small, he was young, but he could carry two or three posts, and it was his job to put the posts in the holes after I dug them and packed them. Daddy had him a little stick where he could pack them, and Lin and Daddy would string the wire and brace it and pull it and staple it and all that kind of stuff. So, we knew how to do that, and a lot of times every afternoon when I'd get in I'd just work a little on the fence.

It is clear from this story that the sisters were never limited by traditional gender expectations, and they still aren't.

The Gamble sisters have gotten into breeding "Brangus" cattle, which is a cross between an Angus and a Brahman. Ms. Eva's favorite breed is a "Black Baldie," which is a black Angus with a little white streak in their face. She also likes large breeds, "big-boned cows." They don't keep cattle that are wild or will fight with the others. They sell anything that will be a danger to them or the family. She and Lin do their own herding and penning and separating, so they don't want to be in danger.

Ostrich was previously part of the livestock of the ranch. However, when it became clear that the return would not be as desirable as projected that part of the business was phased out. The ostrich facility was re-purposed smoothly into the regular workings of the ranch. Photo: Jon Donlon.

At one point, Eva Lois branched out into raising ostriches. The venture didn't work out but, as she says, she "had to try it." She says, "It would have been great except, nobody knew how to cook the meat, and it was too expensive. . . . The growers never did get their money from the slaughter houses and tanners, so I didn't stay in the ostrich business but four or five years." What ostriches she had left, she either sold or gave to "that wildlife place just outside Dallas called Toontown. I just gave them to them for the kids to be able to go see."

While Eva Lois and her sister, Lin, have no children of their own, they are quite involved with the young people in the small community. Eva says that Lin is especially "kind of fun-loving when it comes to kids." They have had hayrides for the children in their church. Ms. Eva taught all the children in the church how to swim. They take children camping and have wiener roasts. They also take them fishing. Lin even turned their hay barn into a playground for children. She has created a kind of "hay maze" with the bales of hay in their barn, leaving "little curved trails" between the bales. According to Eva, Lin "scotched them real good with the next row of hay so they won't fall or anything, and she's left them a little narrow tunnel, kind of, like a maze, all through the barn from one end to the other. But in and amongst those bails of hay, . . . she's left them a little area with a ladder so they can climb up to the next row of hay, and eventually get on up to the top row. And she has . . . an old well pulley that she used to draw water with. She set it up at the top of the hay barn and put a rope over it and fixed it so they could hoist their toys and their guns and whatever else they were playing with . . . up to the next level, and that would just keep them busy for hours. She says that they've always catered to the "kids in the community."

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Eva Lois Gamble shares about cutting and raking their own hay. Field recording by Jocelyn Donlon.

According to Ms. Gamble, returning to farming was a long, hard, gradual, process. "We used our job money, so to speak, or the overflow, on the farm. You either had to have new fences or you had to have farm equipment; you have to buy feed and do hay—the expense of a farm is just monumental sometimes." Still, what could best be called enjoyment or fulfillment is clear as she notes, "A lot of our expenses was just to beautify the place: clear the land for pasture and just make it look good, and we always had a lot of pride in it." Ms. Gamble's pride and the lovely vistas created by all that hard work—lush green meadows populated by healthy looking, apparently contented livestock—were both apparent when we rode around the premises with her during our interview.

Amy McCullin: Hair Salon Owner, Home Gardener, Elderberry Practitioner

Amy McCullin was busy giving Joey Register, another of our interviewees, a haircut at her Village Salon, set in the historic district of Grand Cane, amongst a row of charming rehabilitated older architecture buildings, sturdy brick and timber commercial structures representing an earlier epoch in the small town. The historic district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, and indeed the short block and a half has not changed much in the past 100 years. While Amy gave Joey his trim, we looked about her shop, and chatted with a few of the other patrons. The whole place had a pleasant, homey atmosphere. Clearly the Village Salon is a center for socializing with patrons lingering to chat and making over their or anyone else's dog which happened to be on the pet friendly premises. When we talked with Amy, part-time farmer, part-time businesswoman, and part-time raconteur, she explained her connection to the people of the town and the products from her farm.

Amy McMullin. Photo: Jon Donlon.

Amy McCullin has been cutting hair for seventeen years, and has learned much about the community in her role as stylist in a small town salon. She says, "If you want to find out about folklore and old traditions, the neighborhood beauty shop like this where we're old school hairdressers—where we still have our crowd that comes in once a week to have their hair done every week for Sunday church—they're the ones with our folklore and our tradition. They're in their eighties and nineties now." She says, "I plant my garden by what they've taught me." For example, "It thundered February 13th, so I can't plant my plants until after April 13th. Because if it thunders in February, it will frost on that day in April. That's . . . how they've always done it. They were pretty good at doing this, so I'm going to follow their rules."

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Amy McCullin talks about getting started with elderberries. Field recording by Jocelyn Donlon.

It was from her clients that Amy McCullin learned about elderberry. "You know, we have pokeberry and elderberry and all kinds of berries that grow around here. And I've been told that they're deadly poisonous. Never eat them." Amy notes that she has been involved in canning and cooking pretty much all her life, so she knows her way abound the kitchen. But this foraging was a little bit new to her.

Despite the accusations of being poisonous, elderberry is believed to have strong health benefits, especially when fighting the flu. "So," Amy said recalling, "I looked into it and there's not that many things that are deadly poisonous." Being cautious, however, she ordered her first elderberry bush from a nursery "to make sure that I knew that I was doing. And once I knew . . . they're there! They're growing around my barn! They're growing along my fence! They were everywhere!" Now she harvests them right off the local vines.

Elderberry is one of those things that is powerfully touted by some because it seems to have almost magical healthful benefits, while others are totally sold on its full, hearty flavor which is nothing like the subtle bouquet of blueberry. Still, people tend to mention its weird odor. Amy says, "Elderberries tend to have a skunky smell," not even bothering to call it musky. "Once you taste them you are shocked that they don't taste like a skunk!" This is helped by the fact that Amy uses a lot of sugar to make her product shelf-stable. The fruit off the vine is not edible, according to Amy. She processes it in jams and syrups, exchanging it with neighbors, and offering it for sale at her salon.

Amy McMullin's orange figs. Photo: Jon Donlon.

The elderberry plant bears fruit in August. At that time, Amy handpicks the fruit by cutting off clusters. She says that she and Joey Register brainstorm about ways to efficiently harvest the fruit. The "berries are about the size of sewing pins that have the plastic head on them," and it's very difficult to remove the stems. To do so, she puts the whole umbrella in the freezer, and the stems more easily break off. She says that Joey Register "soaks his in water, and they pop off." Together, they've been playing with recipes. She shows us a bottle of elderberry syrup that she makes, which is her favorite. She uses it "on everything. Everything. Sometimes you just want to go ahead and get a spoonful. I have a lady that lives up the road and she puts it in her water. She just drinks it." In one alcove a few jars of Ms. McCullin's jams and syrups were for sale, today elderberry.

Amy McMullin also cans okra. Photo: Jon Donlon.

Amy and her husband live on a farm near Mansfield largely devoted to growing hay for neighbors to use, but they also maintain gardens and grow small-scale livestock (because they have three daughters, she explained with laughter, the animals often evolve into "pets"). Both she and her husband are familiar with farm life. Indeed, she points out, her husband's stepfather had the first dairy farm in DeSoto Parish. So, they both "just like it. We really do," she said. At the time of the interview, Amy said that her husband was at home building the "Taj Mahal" of chicken houses.

The couple tend to their separate gardens: she and her husband do not garden together because of their different gardening styles. She prefers a very tidy garden with all the grass pulled out and the plants "pretty and staked." She tends her garden every day: "It's like meditative." She gardens with her grandchildren, hoping they'll learn from her. She says that her husband "grows big stuff. Corn, peas, okra, melons. He grows all that." When we asked if her gardening was for health benefits, she replied: "Just because I do elderberry does not mean I'm healthy with my food! I would hate to leave you with that impression. You know, we're Louisiana. That's our culture to eat. We live to eat, we do not eat to live. And I do!" She loves fresh produce, but it's because she loves the flavor.

Amy McMullin owned and operated the Village Salon in Grand Cane. Photo: Jon Donlon.

However, she does pride herself on her organic gardening methods. She was motivated to go organic by a previous customer. She says, "I had a customer who was going through chemotherapy, and it was fresh vegetable season, and she was upset because she loved fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, you know. She couldn't eat anything that she could not peel because of whatever was on it. 'Well, you can eat mine.' She could eat mine. She didn't have to peel it. There is nothing on them that she can't have. There's no pesticides, there's no—it was organic fertilizer that was done last year. Put it in the soil, she didn't have to peel mine. So I stick to that. I like that they can have them." The customer is still going through treatment, and Ms. McCullin "keeps her in pickles and cucumbers . . . and good hair, when it was there." Unfortunately for the residents of Grand Cane, Amy McCullin will be retiring from her Salon soon to spend more time with her family and her garden.

Joey Register: Cattle Rancher and Wild Hog Hunter

Born and raised in DeSoto Parish, Joey Register began life in Logansport, just miles down the road from Grand Cane. We sought him out primarily to talk about his hunting the area's nuisance feral hogs, as well as about his cattle practices, including harvesting hay for his livestock. We didn't expect to find out about his annual get together, which he calls "Feed a Friend," nor about a local legend that gets told in his family.

Joey Register tells the local legend in his own words:

On some property that we own, there's the only survivor of the Alamo. . . . My uncle said what he researched was they drew a line in the sand and said, `We know we're outnumbered, we need a volunteer to go back into the US and get us backup troops.' So Moses Rose said, `I'll go, and I'll take the women and children that want to go, and we'll try and get back to the US, and I'll send troops.' Well, long story short, he got to a plantation, Ferguson Plantation, and that's where he stayed until he passed away. There's actually a cemetery with the headstone with Moses Rose on it, on some property that we own. I guess that's probably what our property is known for, is the Moses Rose Cemetery.

Moses Rose's grave in cemetery on Joey Register's land. Photo: Jon Donlon.

The cemetery is about two miles north of Joey's present-day house. He says, "They knew that he was buried with the family, but his family didn't put him a headstone there; there was a Yucca plant planted. He traveled at night so he would walk through, I guess, the scrubland of Texas, and he'd get those Yucca thorns in him. So where he was buried, a Yucca plant [grew], and it's still there today. It's probably three foot tall, right there. So that's where the Eagle Scouts made him a headstone." The Eagle Scouts put "Moses Rose" on the headstone with the best approximation of dates, where the Yucca plant grows. As Joey says, "That's pretty neat."

When Joey was growing up, his family ran a dairy farm. When the dad sold that, he decided to switch mostly to beef cattle, and he passed traditional practices on to Joey and his brother, Craig. He works closely with his brother "seven days a week." Craig lives near him, and they buy land together and work together. The brothers have been very close ever since they were children and shared a bedroom. As children, they took the extra money earned raking yards and bought a Styrofoam incubator, which they put between their beds, to hatch eggs. When the chickens could fly out of the incubator, his mother would make them put the chickens outside, and they'd start again. They had "chickens, ducks, geese, guineas, quail. You name it, we had it." He also milked his uncle's "nurse cow," and sold eggs and milk to pay for the feed. He and his brother continued to work together and "grew up to where [they] are today."

Joey Register. Photo: Jon Donlon.

The Register Brothers are primarily involved in a cow/calf operation, breeding the animals and rearing them part way. Then the livestock is further processed or "finished." As a result, he and his brother work directly with cows, "scattered within DeSoto Parish, on owned property plus leased," he smiled. There is a lot of coordination and planning involved in matching pasture with numbers of head of cattle—and with future feed needs.

According to Mr. Register, they grow and harvest their own hay as a rule. "It's hard to say, acre wise," Joey answered when asked how much was required each year. Both dimensions tend to be slightly flexible—the exact need for hay and the exact production from each acre in any season. "But for our head of cattle we'll run probably a five-foot-by-six-foot bale, which is around 1,300 pounds I guess. Probably 12 to 1,400 bales a year for us." As is typical for the region, they do have some timber. But, according to Joey, most of "the stuff we have is for grazing."

Joey said both his father and grandfather had been truck farmers at one time, so now he just naturally keeps a kitchen garden: "Pretty much basically all your table vegetables that's grown here, we try to grow them in some form." He ticked off some of his crops: potatoes, lettuce, peas, onions, turnip greens, spinach, zipper creams, sweet corn, peppers, squash, tomatoes, and butter beans. His family eats the stuff right away because it's so good, or puts it up, brines it, freezes it, or vacuum seals some. Joey is also associated with commercial poultry production, though at the moment he has leased his houses, which have the capacity for perhaps 100,000 birds, out for other management. This part of the business is strictly for hatcher eggs, not for human consumption.

One important aspect of living off the land is hunting and fishing, and Mr. Register is no exception. When asked, "What do you hunt," he gave a predictable answer: "We love to hunt anything." He says that they have to set limits because "too many hobbies would reduce how much work we get to put into our farms." He particularly loves deer hunting, and uses cameras to gather information about the deer on his land, whether they're too young, or still able to bear fawns. With the cameras, they can target adult deer no longer capable of reproducing. He also mentioned that part of his hunting activity involves helping rid the area of feral hogs, a blight on the landscape many urban dwellers might know little about compared to deer hunting.

Joey tells the following story about how the wild hogs came to DeSoto Parish:

We've always had the wild hogs, little piney wood rooters, in our area, and they weren't a nuisance. But someone, somewhere, years ago, thought it would be neat to put this Russian influence in our wild hogs, and by nature, they're nomadic, they're non-discriminatory. They don't care how rich or how poor or whatever. If you're in their path, they're going to root your place up.

“Wild” or nuisance pigs cause problems for area farmers and ranchers. Joey Register and companions help control the population by “hunting” though only at times with firearms. They track with dogs and also use traps—live capturing the animals and sending them for consumption at restaurants. Photo: Courtesy of Joey Register.

We contacted an LSU AgCenter Representative, Chuck Griffin, and he could not confirm the story of Russian hogs. Billy Franklin speculates that the word Russian is to designate the breed, but Joey says that someone brought them in. He says he's read the stories of how they say this "big ole boar with these gigantic teeth, and said, man, I can really make money off these dudes. People would love to hunt these." The pigs escaped the hunting habitat, and the feral hogs took over the land. He says, "The Russians are the ones that give you a lot of trouble."

No matter how the wild hogs came to DeSoto Parish, the farmers have to deal with them because a hog can root up their pastureland overnight. "For centuries wild pigs caused headaches for landowners in the American South," says Amy Nordrum in Scientific American (10/14/14) "but the foragers' small populations remained stable. In the past 30 years, though, their ranks have swollen until suddenly disease-carrying, crop-devouring swine have spread to 39 states. Now, wild pigs are five million strong and the targets of a $20-million federal initiative to get their numbers under control." The beasts cause millions of dollars in damage to the state each year.

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Joey Register explains by wild hogs must be removed. Field recording by Jocelyn Donlon.

Joey Register first explained just how intractable the problem of feral hogs—wild pigs—could be. The animals are brave, hardy, smart and have a fantastic reproduction capacity. They reproduce as fast as mice but can grow to be a hundred or two hundred pounds or more. They knock down fencing, root up smooth fields and pasture, ruin crops, smash ditches and destroy water control dikes. "But they say you have to address more than 70 or 80 of the population just to hold them in check," Register noted. "Predators don't eat that many; there's practically nothing the hogs are afraid of with the teeth they grow out." In short, they can be and are a real pest.

Posing with captured hogs at the Eighth Annual Pretty Creek Hog Hunters. Photo: Courtesy of Joey Register.

Register works indirectly with Ag Extension people and with neighboring farmers in a general effort to keep the feral hogs at bay. He live-catches the hogs, using pit bulls and hog ties to push them off of open pasture, moving them to timber-land where they can't do as much financial damage. The pit bulls bay the hog, and sometimes latch onto the hog's ear until Joey can tie the hog. He puts Kevlar vests on the dogs to try to protect them from harm. He does do gun hunting, but rarely. If they do kill the hog, they try to have a buyer lined up. They don't like to "leave the dead hog laying."

Cooking at the Eighth Annual Pretty Creek Hog Hunters. Photo: Courtesy of Joey Register.

"We found a market for the live hogs," he explained. "There's an outfit out of Texas that actually buys the live hog." As with most meat on the hoof, the prices fluctuate. However, the wild hogs eventually end up at high-end food chains and restaurants that serve "wild boar" on the menu at a hefty price. When Anthony Bourdain, who hosts his "Parts Unknown" television series, wrote in his first successful book, Kitchen Confidential, that "wild boar has been a big money maker for me" (196), he was praising the song Joey Register and his friends have been singing: live trapping and shipping out for sale through brasseries and restaurants the region's nuisance pigs.

Eating at the Eighth Annual Pretty Creek Hog Hunters. Photo: Courtesy of Joey Register.

As Register notes, the pigs are good food. "They are very good eating," he says enthusiastically. Most of the hogs he catches are delivered live to his distributor. Sometimes he will pen them up, castrate, them, feed them out, and put them in an ice chest. He says that the hogs leave him either on a truck or in an ice chest. He doesn't want "the chance of them ever getting back into the wild." Joey hunts the hogs for money, for food, and also for sport. In fact, in January 2016, he entered a Louisiana-Arkansas tournament, the "Eighth Annual Pretty Creek Hog Hunters." He and his team were the tournament champions.

Aside from reducing the destruction from the feral hogs, Joey Register would like to see the meat harvested for homeless shelters. Indeed, Joey, for the past two years, has held an event on his land called "Feed A Friend," where he invites anyone and everyone to come "fill their bellies and their hearts." He invites a preacher-friend of his, from a nearby Cowboy Church, to sing and deliver a message, and he smokes up some meat, and takes contributions for the other food. About 200 people attended both years.

We attended the second annual Feed A Friend event on April 2, 2016, but there were no wild hogs on the menu. He put out "two farm-raised, well-fed pigs" that were smoked. He did, however, tell us that he had a few feral hogs captured in a trailer, waiting to be transported. And so the contest continues between the people who cultivate the land and the hogs that root it up.


As Billy Franklin, Eva Lois Gamble, Amy McCullin, and Joey Register have all shown, living off the land isn't remotely easy. Indeed, one must often make a living somewhere else to support the goal of "living off the land." The land requires much of the people who tend it—investment, husbandry, cultivation, conservation, and indeed, love. It requires a commitment to generations of people who went before. It looks forward to future generations so that they, too, might carry on the devotion to the land.


Bourdain, Anthony. 2000. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. New York: HarperCollins.

Franklin, William. 2016. Personal Interview. January 16. Grand Cane, Louisiana.

Gamble, Eva. 2016. Personal Interview. March 4. Grand Cane, Louisiana.

Griffin, Charles D., Jr. 2016. LSU AgCenter, Bossier Parish. Telephone Interview. April 10.

McCullin, Amy. 2016. Personal Interview. March 19. Grand Cane, Louisiana.

Nordrum, Amy. 2014. "Can Wild Pigs Ravaging the U.S. Be Stopped?" Scientific American. 21 Oct. 2014. Web. April 28.

Register, Joey. 2016. Personal Interview. March 19. Grand Cane, Louisiana.

Folklorist Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon, PhD., and leisure studies researcher Jon Griffin Donlon, PhD., are based in Natchitoches, Louisiana. This article was prepared in 2016 as part of the Neutral Strip Folklife Survey.