“Dawn sure comes early when a promise is made to meet someone at the break of day” I thought as I waited at the house for James the next morning. It was cold too so I decided we would just ride over together in the truck with the trailer to get the cows and pigs. James could come back with me in the truck to get the RTV for the rest of the morning chores after we loaded everything. I was pretty sure I would need to change my clothes and it would be warmer for him. Pig poop stinks like nothing else.
The pigs were all sleeping on three circles of bedding from old round bales left for that purpose as we drove by on the way to load the cows first. The trailer has two compartments and cattle go in the front when taking mixed breeds since they weigh more.
“Guess what?” asked James as he realized the hydraulic trailer was in the pig paddock and the tractor we needed to pull it was still back at the house where we started. The pigs were still in la la land as we passed them with the cows on the way back to the house for the tractor. It seemed even colder as I drove the truck back to the pigs once again. James, of course, had said, “You’re the boss” as he volunteered to drive the tractor.
Pigs think a lot. They think for a long time before they do anything. Everyone has been awake in the morning but laid in bed without moving when someone looked in on them. We are not there if we are still enough. Well pigs do that too. Pigs are smart also as well as deliberate thinkers. They also talk a lot. Pigs have a tremendous repertoire of oinks, grunts, grumbles, growls, squeals, eeeks and putters all of which make up a language that has exact meanings to other pigs but is all Pig Latin to me.
They knew we were there as soon as we stopped but did not move. Perhaps one eye opened and a grunt or two came from the middle of the one of the pig piles. James hooked the tractor to the pig hauler as I begin waking the pigs. A few began to stir and sat up on their haunches. Our Large Black breed of pigs have large ears which protect their eyes from briars but also prevent them from seeing much unless they tilt their heads back enough for the ears to fall away a bit. Some actually looked at me by raising their heads but most merely opened one eye and peered intently at me while not twitching another muscle in their whole body.
I called, “Suey, suey, suey Pig”. But to no avail. They were thinking and knew something was up and they were not going anywhere until they knew what it was. I circled behind them and got close enough for some to stand and stretch. They start moving but first must stop and empty their bladder which takes concentration and more thinking. A few start walking toward the feed area which is fenced in and is where the pig hauler is strategically parked. Pigs are omnivores like us and not ruminants like cattle. So cattle burp and pigs toot. Each step jars them just enough to release a small toot. Lots of steps and lots of toots. Each step twists their body enough to pass a little puff of gas. Pretty soon the pigs were walking toward the feed area with one sounding a little like a popcorn kettle in motion.
James covered their flank as I slowly kept entering their comfort zone to push them forward. We had a group of about 100 pigs from8 weeks to 8 months old that were walking slowly to the pen. Too slowly it turned out as one turned right and another turned back to the left and the herd tried to follow in both directions. We rounded them back up and maybe they were getting hungry or maybe we just pushed them faster. Soon one found the food inside the pen and grunted something and then they were all in the pen with the gate closed.
I needed to pick the 10 largest for the market which is no easy task. I wanted them to be at least 250 pounds and hopefully over 300. Our pigs are naturally fat and we like them on the big side. Pigs always weigh heavy so if one looks big enough then it probably is. I heard of old-timers who would nail a couple boards the exact distance apart though which a 250 pound pig could squeeze to get out of the pen. The pig went to market when it could not longer pass though.
It always seems to rain the night before we load pigs which makes it a messier than a normal job. We use solid panels that are about 3’ high and 5’ wide to move and sort pigs. They will go through high tensile electric wire fences if pressured as though they were strings but somehow think the panels are impenetrable and don’t even push against them as long as they are kept on the ground and in front of their peripheral vision. It seems 3 small one follow every big one onto the hauler. So 3 times as much time is spent getting small ones off as spent keeping the big ones on. Finally we have the 10 we need, lock the hauler gate and move it with the tractor until its back gate is against the back gate of the trailer and the transfer can be made.
An hour or so later I am at the processing plant or abattoir and the whole procedure is reversed. The pigs get off first and then I open the center door and they are followed by the cattle. Yeah, sure. In reality, I open the back door of the trailer and swing it completely out of the way and the pigs all turn and crowd into the furthest corner of the trailer. They didn’t want on the trailer a couple of hours earlier and now it is their home then never want to leave. They all ten squeeze with all their strength into the corner as if they can’t see me, then I can’t see them. I have waited an hour for them to turn and look out the back of the trailer. I have taken and hour and a half to unload them. I finally squeeze behind them and somehow push them forward until all 10 noses are sniffing over the open end of the trailer. One will lean a little too far and a quick push with the knee will shove it onto the concrete. The pig that has moved in slow motion up until then will do a flying 180 back onto the trailer and all 10 are again pushing for the nearest nose position to the corner.
Then for some unconceivable reason one of the pigs with look up, see the open rear gate and walk off the trailer with dignity. And then if you are lucky, the others will follow like they intended to do it all the time. Cows are easier. You slid open the dividing gate and stand back. If you are lucky they will run right past you, off the trailer and into the chute and scale. If you are not lucky, you will get back up, wipe the mud off you and check for footprints on your body. You still have to clean the trailer out when you get home. And, oh, pigs are clean and hardly mess at all in the trailer while cows poop more in the hour drive than seems possible and it is always liquid.
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