Loading and Moving Pigs

Gain your pigs’ trust so you can relocate them with a trailer.

| April/May 2018

Every animal has unique management requirements. Volumes have been written concerning diet and shelter, but much less has been penned regarding the actual logistics of moving livestock around. Perhaps that’s because too often, even at the backyard scale, farmers don’t move their animals much. Moving animals is critical for hygiene and ecological function. Loading animals for movement is critical for harvest. New critter sitters frequently overlook the nuances of animal psychology, and then have horrible experiences trying to load their animals.

While one of these columns could no doubt be written for every species of domestic livestock, I’ll devote this one to moving pigs because pigs involve the biggest handling nightmares. Anyone who has ever raised them has a pig-loading story. I certainly do, dating way back to our first pigs and our profound ignorance.

When I was about 15 years old and my older brother was 18, my dad had an appointment at the local locker plant (“abattoir”) to process our two hogs. We’d raised them on excess milk from our two Guernsey cows, whey left over from cottage cheese production, weeds from the garden, and some grain.

Two friendlier pigs could not exist. They were in a typical, torn-up, muddy pig yard near the barn. The oversized lot, surrounded by an electric fence, offered plenty of exercise space. A large wooden box (the shipping container for our 1952 Ford) served as a makeshift shelter. The pigs were as close to pets as farm animals can get — they enjoyed belly rubs, lots of attention, and plenty of treats. Every time they saw us, they would come running, expecting some tasty morsel or manifestation of affection.

The appointed morning of their departure, however, was a different story. We had a low trailer backed up to the electric fence. We got the pigs confined within four gates that were a bit larger than pallets. With my dad, my brother, and me manhandling the four gates, we expected to ease the pigs toward, and then into, the trailer. We made a berm so they wouldn’t need to step up at all. We figured it would be a piece of cake to scoot the portable corral over and into the trailer. After all, these pigs were friends!

Yeah, right. Surrounding them with the four-gate square was easy after we tempted them with some fresh Guernsey milk. But as soon as they felt confined, the war commenced (as my grandmother would say). Squealing and pushing, the pigs made the three of us humans feel like we were on a circus ride. Standing on the gates, jostling from side to side, we managed to scoot the pigs about 2 feet in 15 minutes. My brother and I were supposed to catch the school bus. Dad had to get to his town job.

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