Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Drunken Pigs

The pigs went on their first and last trailer ride yesterday.

Loading pigs into a trailer is a famously difficult, dangerous, shit-spattered, squealing ball of stress. Accomplishing this when the pigs roam a half-acre of lightly-fenced pasture generally involves three or more people with sorting boards and electric prods and one or more dogs with teeth. And lots of time. And, apparently traditionally, yelling. Also, it seems to be a prime opportunity for equipment suppliers to sell lots of special fencing and gates and chutes for many thousands of dollars.

Why would an animal walk peacefully into an obvious trap? Especially when being screamed at?

The butcher's schedule this time of year is non-negotiable, and meant that I would be loading the pigs by myself in mid-afternoon.

Our "stock trailer" is just our flatbed utility trailer topped by a repurposed city bicycle locker I bought at Construction Junction and mounted on wooden skids. Two hogs just fit in there. This is good for the actual transport -- they are safer and calmer if they can't thrash around -- but makes it trickier to get them in there.

I took advice from three sources and made it happen.

At the 2013 Mother Earth News Fair, Perfesser Chaos and I sat in on a short class on pasturing pigs, and took away several priceless nuggets of advice from the experienced farmers who taught it.

One tip was to feed the pigs on the stock trailer.

Just roll it into the pasture a few weeks before butcher date, and start feeding them in there.

The instructors also started their little piglets on pasture by first housing them in the same trailer for a couple weeks. That wasn't an option for us, but I was pretty sure we could cut that corner.

We trialled this concept with the meat chickens. Rather than waiting for full dark to round up 50 or 100 birds that would have to be stuffed squawking into the trailer, I now feed them on the trailer for their last week or so.  The evening before butcher day, 85%-90% of the birds load themselves; I close the gate when more are exiting than entering, and we wait until dark to scoop up the stragglers. The stragglers are typically the smallest, fastest, canniest chickens (in a flock of meat chickens, these are not very small, very fast, or very canny at all), but with only 5-10 birds to catch in their sleep, there is minimal work and no drama.

With two pigs, we need to be sure of 100% self-loading, and it needs to work the first time. Screw it up and make them scared, and we're back to a rodeo.

Our friend Janeen had told me about her friends getting pigs drunk on vodka so that they were in a stupor when the on-farm slaughter truck arrived.

We don't have any on-farm slaughter services here, and I didn't have any of the vodka in the plastic bottle that I'd be willing to donate to porcine self-anesthesia.

But I did have about eight cans of cheap undrinkable beer that had been sitting in the basement for several years, against the day I'd need to trap slugs.

I emptied the skunky cans into the bucket about 30' from the pigs' pasture; by the time I opened the third can, they had gotten wind of the treat and were screaming for it. I poured the beer into their trough, and by the time I'd set the bucket down and grabbed my phone for a photo, there was only froth left, and they were fighting over that.

I had to spend a few minutes futzing around securing the bike locker to the trailer (I didn't strap it down earlier because the pigs will chew the straps); by the time I was finished, they were enjoying a mutual stupor in the sunshine.  I had to wake them up with a hard nudge to the butt for phase three.

Kristin Kimball, who handles a much larger herd of free-ranging pigs, including huge sows and a breeding boar, told me "I wish I loved anything as much as pigs love mooshy apples."

So I saved some of the bruised and past-it apples from Cider House Farm Market special for this day.

Showed the drunken pigs the bucket of apples.

Tossed the apples into the trailer.

Waited while the hogs stumbled up the ramp.

Closed and secured the door.


When I got to the butchers after a 40-minute drive, they were snoozing quietly. A couple more mooshy apples and they contentedly stumbled off the trailer into the holding pen.

I don't have a special pig-loading white dress like the one sported by Caroline Owens, and I didn't have anyone to document the non-ordeal with video (Cole was my standby dog for both loading and unloading, but he has trouble holding the iPhone) but I did grab one of PC's retired white dress shirts, which I wore all day, and get the butcher to take a snap when all the loading was done.

 No yelling. No boards. No electric prods. One little dog and one pointy stick on standby, not employed. No squealing, balking, biting or fear.