ArkV Adventures, Part 1: Transporting Livestock in Winter

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage and North Star Homestead Farms
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Kara and Ann in the cargo van, with the pig kennels behind and a stall for the cows. Photo by Kara Berlage

Some folks prepare for a long road trip by packing up an RV — they’ve got a place to sleep, a kitchen, even their own bathroom and shower. It’s like a mini house on wheels. But when you’re heading across country to pick up livestock in wintry weather, what kinds of accommodations might they need?

Food, water, a comfortable place to lie down, shelter from the wind, and bedding for what Joel Salatin calls the “carbacious diaper” of the barn-like setting. Pretty much an RV for livestock. This could be provided by a stock trailer, but we had already ruled out our old farm’s trucks capabilities for the cross-country trip, and finding another truck to borrow we could trick out with the extra brake abilities and hookup for the lights was looking pretty unlikely.

Besides, the cows we were picking up were supposed to be about the size of sheep, and the two pigs were still just teenagers. It was actually the owner of the cows in New Hampshire who recommended the cargo van idea — besides, folks from Massachusetts had picked up some of his animals that way without a problem. (He just didn’t mention to us that he hadn’t sent cows that way further afield, so we got to be the experiment.)

So we packed up two large dog kennels for the pigs, totes of feed, pails for water, a bag full of a bale of hay, and built a plywood stall in the back for the cows, supported by tie straps and bracing. The back panel came off and would be screwed in place once the cows were inside. A heavy-duty tarp plus a canvas drop-cloth was securely tacked in place along the bottom of the stall to protect the bottom of the van and hold the bedding and backend-of-the-cow goodies in place.

Bedding was spread (with the plan to get some more along the way), and all the needed tools were squirreled away. In another bin went snacks for the people, as well as extra clothes.  The mobile animal transport was ready to go!  With two gals, two pigs, and two cows by the end of the trip, we joked that this was our mobile ark. Wait, instead of it being an RV, it was an ArkV! With the vehicle newly dubbed, Steve and I waved as Mom and Kara pulled away from the Creamery, heading off on their 3,000-plus-mile adventure.

Folks stopping in at Farmstead Creamery had been asking us all kinds of questions as we were preparing for the trip: “What will you do at night? Where will the animals stay?”

“Will you have to take them out and walk them around sometimes?”

Moving cows and pigs is a bit different than taking your dog on a road trip — once they’re in the vehicle, they’re in! And too much change all at once can be very stressful for livestock, so getting settled into their kennel or stall offers a feeling of safety, which should be maintained until the animals are ready to move into their official new home. Dogs are up for the adventure — but cows? Well, we’d have to see how that went.

A snowy storm had just plowed through the area ahead of them, but fortunately the roads stayed cleared as the two intrepid travelers headed south into Illinois before turning east into Pennsylvania, where they were to meet the owner of the two Kunekune pigs (who was from Virginia). Meeting at a truck stop, the two ginger-and-black Kunes made the transfer from one dog kennel to the next, grunting.

Clara, the girl Kunekune pig of the road trip adventure snuffles in the bedding on her snuggly dog kennel.  Photo by Kara Berlage

But pigs are smart, and it didn’t take them long to learn the routines of food and water appearing when the vehicle stops (which means that any stop is ample opportunity for food, right? Like every stop light? Every toll station?). Some of the phone calls included squealy or grunty pigs in the background making their presence known. Clara, the girl whose kennel was place just behind the driver’s seat, also took a particular interest when the bin of people food was opened.

“Mmmm…that smells good. Can I have some?” was the message in her big-eyed gaze and snuffly grunts. Favorite of all was salty pretzels. Kara even took a short video of Clara making short work of a pretzel fed through the sides of the kennel.

So far, the road trip was no sweat for the pigs. And thankfully, Kunekune manure is much more like equine “horse apples” than standard hog breeds with their amazingly fragrant excrement that, no matter how little you get on yourself, it follows you everywhere and refuses to easily wash off!

With the pigs in tow, the ladies headed north through the mountains to Vermont, where our intern Sam (who helped Kara watch the farm while we took our New England trip in October) was waiting at Green Mountain College to join the crew in loading the cows. The adventure was well on its way, the weather was holding, the pigs were happy, and the ladies sounded in good spirits. The ArkV was holding steady, though the real bovine celebrities were still waiting to enter the scene.

Despite all these careful preparations of supplies, the secured stall, and planned routs, the ladies were still not expecting the hiccups and hangups of the next leg of the adventure. Hold onto the steering wheel and read on next week! See you down on the farm sometime.

Read Part 2 of the ArkV Adventureshere.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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