Train your pigs early on to walk up a ramp for meals and they'll be happy to do the same up to the truck on market days.
PHOTO: JERRY GENESIO
Is there really an easy way to load pigs into a truck for market days? You bet, and it's the easiest way of all: raise your pigs to be self-loading. That's right, "self-loading pigs"—you read it correctly! Believe it or not, swine that waltz right into a pickup truck really do exist. I should know: I've been raising self-loaders for several years now on my farm in Maine. Of course, I have to admit that it took me a while to realize that it's possible to rear such a well-mannered strain of porkers. Like many pig-raising homesteaders, I used to spend at least one entire day every fall running through—and wallowing in—deep, dark, rich ("eau de pig") mud, all because I was attempting to force my wild, stubborn, cantankerous, and infuriating squealers into the back of my truck, so that I could get them to market!
In those unenlightened years, I tried backing (using the "bushel-basket over the head" routine), pulling (grabbing an animal by its tail or even its ears), lifting (futilely), waiting (endlessly), and pleading (desperately). In short, I tried every method I could think of to make those exasperating critters obey me! Then, finally, at the end of one particularly harrowing loading day during my third year as a pig farmer, I suddenly remembered what my wise ol’ pork-lovin' father used to do.
Teaching Pigs to Climb a Loading Ramp
Dad owned and operated a large hog farm (over 500 head) in Milford, Massachusetts back in the ’40's. And—although most of his spread now lies under Interstate 495—I can still visualize what it used to look like. I can see the way those animal yards were laid out, and how my father would just back up his truck to one of them, load up 25 to 50 pigs, and be off to Brighton Stockyards in a matter of minutes. His secret, as I recall, was Pavlovian conditioning. He simply trained his stock (as he reared them) to do exactly what he wanted them to do, which was to climb a loading ramp and "hop" into his truck!
You see, as soon as the piglets were weaned, they were put in a fenced acre lot. Their food was placed on a raised, railing-enclosed platform. In order to reach their slop, then, the youngsters were required to scale the created ramp that led up from the mud lot to the "mess hall." (Needless to say, the upper level was constructed to resemble—and fit snugly against—the back of my father's truck.) The rest is obvious. Dad's porkers learned at a very early age that at mealtime they had to ascend a plank to a simulated truck bed, or they didn't eat. Market day was just like any other day to the pigs, except that this time supper was placed on the back of a real vehicle, so the full-grown hogs had to take five or ten more steps than usual to get to their feed.
If this is your first season as a pig-rearer, you may not realize that swine spook easily, and, once excited, they can become frantic, irrational beasts. Just take my word for it: If your pigs have never had to climb up a ramp before, they're sure not likely to scamper up one on market day just to please you. No sir, they must be conditioned (or, more accurately, outsmarted) to want to do this.
It seems that, as human beings, we certainly should be capable of guiding a few domesticated animals from one point to another, no matter how crafty they are or how much weight they can throw around, without our having to resort to the use of brute force. Nevertheless, every market day, as I watch my gentle porkers amiably ambling up their ramp and on into my truck, I once again marvel that self-loading pigs really do exist!