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Quaife, Elvin Lee

Published onJul 30, 2021
Quaife, Elvin Lee

(November 29, 1887 - May 12, 1972)

Quick Facts

Iowa State student (BS 1911, Animal Husbandry), first Iowa State Extension Swine Specialist, Extension Associate Professor, Associate Professor of Animal Husbandry and inventor of the hog farrowing pen. 

Portrait of Elvin L. Quaife (1887 - 1972, Swine extension specialist in 1917-1958), 1955-1956 by Herman Krause deJori. Oil on canvas. Gift of Friends of Elvin Quaife. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2000.102

Elvin Lee Quaife was born on November 29, 1887 near Ionia, Chickasaw County, Iowa, the sixth child of Charles Alfred Quaife and Alice Elizabeth Day Quaife.  He grew up on the family farm south of town where he spent much time around farm animals.  He came to Iowa State College (now University) in the fall of 1907 to major in Science of Agriculture and the following year switched to Animal Husbandry.  He roomed with an older brother, Arthur, for the first two years, and acquired the nickname “Brer.”  Quaife was a very active student on campus.  He was a member of the Junior Animal Husbandry Club, the Dairy Judging Team, and the cabinet of the Y.M.C.A.  He joined the Philomathean Literary Society and served as its vice president during his senior year.   He was also very interested in public speaking.  He was a member of the Colonials, Delta Sigma Rho (honor society in public speaking), the Oratorical Council, the Normal Debate team, and the State Triangular Debate team.  The debate topic in his senior year (1910-1911) was, “Resolved, That Congress Should Enact a Federal Income Tax—Constitutionally Granted.”  He graduated in the spring of 1911 with a BS in Animal Husbandry.

Quaife started his career at the Massachusetts Agricultural College in Amherst where he taught Animal Science and also served as secretary of the Massachusetts Swine Breeders' Association.  At the meeting of the Association in 1916, he spoke on issues of farm management and on self-feeders for swine.  He lived and taught at Amherst until 1917.  He also met Helen Agnes Marshall at this time. They married in Amherst on August 12, 1913 and had five children; Margaret Alice, Virginia, Elizabeth Lucille, Dorothy Caroline, and Kenneth Marshall Quaife. 

In 1917, Quaife returned to Iowa State and accepted a position as Iowa State's first  Extension Service Swine Specialist with the rank of Extension Associate Professor.  In 1919, he also became Professor of Animal Husbandry.  In 1945 he served for a year as Area Supervisor of Farm Labor.  He remained at Iowa State until 1959 for a total of 42 years. 

As an Extension Service Swine Specialist, Quaife studied, experimented, taught, wrote, and spoke on all conceivable subjects and problems related to raising pigs, mostly to assist Iowa farmers in the raising and care of pigs, to maximize the production of pork, and to enhance profits.  He was especially concerned with the high loss of baby pigs and worked through the years to curtail those losses.  As early as 1920, he was emphasizing the proper location, size, construction, materials, flooring, heating, ventilation, and lighting of hog houses. 

In 1944, he noted the high number of new born baby pigs that were crushed by the sow.  In order to curtail the problem, he recommended constructing farrowing pens that would allow the sow to be comfortable but unable to move around and in turn lay back down on the newborns.  It could be done by a simple technique of placing guard rails on the sides of the pens just 8 inches off the floor.  Some years later, Buford McClurg, a farmer near Ogden and past Assistant Professor of Animal Husbandry with the Extension Service at Iowa State, used a version of Quaife's recommendations that produced astonishing results.  Out of eleven sows and litters that he placed in the farrowing pens, not a single baby pig was lost.  Quaife's summary of the technique was that “Pigs crushed by the sow are a huge waste.  The stalls are easy to build and cost so little, yet they do a wonderful job saving pigs.”  He also estimated that using the technique would save at least one pig per litter.  With 3,000,000 sows in Iowa at that time with an average of 6½ pigs per litter, Quaife estimated that the technique would result in 3,000,000 more pigs per year with higher production but lower costs.

In 1952, an entire issue of The Palimpsest, a historical journal of the State Historical Society  of Iowa, was devoted to articles that Quaife co-authored with Arthur L. Anderson, Professor of Animal Husbandry and head of the Department at Iowa State.  Collectively, the articles were a summary of  Quaife's work of the past thirty years.  The articles included a sizable amount of historical information and perspective on hogs in Iowa.  The six articles were 1) “Hogs in the Colonies,”; 2) “Production and Marketing”; 3) “Breeds and Types”; 4) “Diseases and Parasites”; 5) “Feeding and Management”; and 6) “The Iowa Hog.”  

Quaife also worked with the public in other ways.  He was involved with children in the Boys' and Girls' Pig Club in Iowa.  He encouraged children to form their own clubs.  He also judged  all classes of livestock at county and state fairs and was credited with having judged at more county fairs and shows than any person up to that time.  In 1942, with Herb Plambeck of WHO Radio and others, he founded the Master Pork Awards Program.

Quaife also published articles in The Journal of Animal Science, and articles that featured his activities and advice were published in The Breeder's Gazette, The Duroc Bulletin and Live Stock Farmer, Proceedings of  The American Society of Animal Production, The Berkshire News, and in the Iowa Agricultural and Home Economics Experiment Station Bulletins. 

Quaife retired in 1959 and  was honored by the Washington County Swine Producers and the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce for his 42 years of service to Iowa agriculture. He continued living in Ames with his wife, Helen, and was very busy with many community activities. He was a member of the Congregational Church, Masonic Lodge, Lions Club, Cyclone Club, and the Izaak Walton League.  Starting in 1925, he served continuously as a school, city, state, and general election judge.

Elvin Lee Quaife died on May 12, 1972 and was interred in Ames Municipal Cemetery.  A portrait of him is in the Iowa State University Museums’ permanent collection. 

Selected Sources

Information on Elvin L. Quaife's student days at Iowa State are located in the 1914 issue of The Bomb. 

Iowa State Faculty Directories from 1918-1959 were consulted to determine his job classifications. 

Three of his publications are in the Iowa State University Digital Repository.  They are “The Brood Sow and Litter Feeding and Management,” Bulletin P: Vol. 2: Bulletin P59, Article 1 (1944); “Market Hog Feeding and Management,” Bulletin P, Vol. 3: Bulletin P66, Article 1 (1944); and “Pig Production Feeding and Management of the Brood Sow and Litter,” (with Anderson, Culbertson, and Catron) Bulletin P: Vol. 5 Bulletin P113, Article 1 (1952.) 

Articles from the Journal of Animal Science are “Adjusting Weights of Pigs to a Standard Age of 56 Days,” (with J. A. Whatley) Volume 37, Issue 1, December, 1937, pp. 126-130; and “How We Improve the Iowa Hog Crop,” Volume 1931, Issue 1, January, 1931, pp. 291-293. 

Quaife also authored “Housing and Its Influence on Pig Losses,” The Duroc Bulletin and Live Stock Farmer, Volume 16, Number 15, June 1, 1920; and “Boys' and Girls' Pig Club Work,” Proceedings of the American Society of Animal Production, November, 1921, pp. 62-64.  The series with Arthur L. Anderson in 1952 was in The Palimpsest, Volume 33, Number 7, July, 1952, pp. 193-224.

Articles featuring Quaife include “Massachusetts Swine Breeders Meet,” The Breeder's Gazette, Volume 70, Number 10, September 7, 1916, p. 372;  E. L. Pemberton, “Iowa Studies Swine Type,” Berkshire News, Volume 4, Number 3, January, 1939, p. 11; Glenn Cunningham, “New Way to Save Pigs—Farrowing Stall,” Des Moines Sunday Register, Section H, Iowa Farm and Home Register, April 1, 1951, p. 12H.  An obituary appeared in the Ames Daily Tribune, May 13, 1972, p. 6.

Other general information was found online.  Personal and family information, a delayed birth certificate, the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 U. S. Censuses, the 1925 Iowa Census, a wedding announcement, and family photographs are at 

Interment information is at    

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