Pigs Load Themselves

We are making plans to ship a couple of pigs next week. Plans include getting the animals loaded up as gently as possible. I suppose if I had a few thousand pigs to load in a single day I couldn’t do it the way I do. I would have to pay more attention to Temple Grandin. But I don’t have a few thousand pigs. I currently have four and they are working for me in the barn, cleaning up behind the cows and mixing old straw and hay into bedding that I will compost.

When it is time to move we take the feeder out of the pig pen, put a little fresh bedding in the trailer, back the trailer up to the pen and open the door. The pigs climb in and out, exploring the new space. It really is just that simple as they are naturally curious creatures.

We gave them access to the trailer for a few hours, feed them inside the trailer then close the door behind them. No sweat. We have done this with electric fencing on pasture too. If you’re not forcing the animals to do something they are unsure of they won’t push through the electric. Instead, they approach at their own time, sniff, put a foot or two up and go in. The pigs are on high alert when they first enter the trailer. By giving them a little time they settle down and the trailer becomes a comfortable and familiar space.

The trailer was a positive experience for the piggies. None so much as squealed. I didn’t cuss. Nobody carried a big stick. Nobody got bit. We just stood back, let them explore the space, offered a little feed and closed the door. No big whoop.

Sometimes it helps to build a little ramp behind the trailer so they can climb in more easily. We usually use a straw bale or just pile up some bedding.

At the other end we opened the gate again and stood back as the pigs unloaded themselves. There are no unhappy memories associated with the livestock trailer. Hop in, find food. Positive reinforcement. When their final date arrives they will be trained to hop in the trailer and will arrive at the locker without stress. I think that is important.

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18 thoughts on “Pigs Load Themselves

  1. Pretty much exactly how I did it last year with my first pigs. Both the trailer owner (a neighbouring farmer) and I were completely sold on this method, and plan to do it this way in the fall with the current pair of pigs.

    • I meant to add also that another step to making this less stressful for the pigs would be if we could do the actual kill on the farm and then have the butcher haul away the carcass – don’t know about Illinois, but it’s certainly not possible here.

      • That would be far better. But it really isn’t bad to let the pigs settle into the trailer the night before then unload them shortly after sunrise. I try to give them a little drink in the morning. We are only 10 miles from the locker we use so I don’t think the transportation is too stressful for them.

        • Nearest slaughter facility to here is about an hour, which isn’t bad, the problem for me lies in the fact that the animals have to wait there 24 -48 hrs before slaughter. I’ve phone around – this is pretty typical for most facilities on the Island, and I gather it’s to ensure the gut is cleaned out before slaughter. I don’t get why I couldn’t just do that part of it here, but I guess they need to guarantee it.

          • I usually hear the bolt gun before I drive away from the locker.

            I’m amazed that there are plural facilities on the island. I know it’s not small but I thought it was mostly forest. When I was there folks had to ferry their garbage to Vancouver so they were limited to one can per household. Does the offal get rendered or composted on the island?

          • It goes into sealed dumpsters that get taken the rendering plants on the mainland. Don’t get me started. We had/have a chicken processing outfit on the south Island that are set up on a trailer. They hook up to your outside garden hose for water and leave it to you to figure out waste handling. The two people I know who use this rig compost it all. Perfect. Too bad this whole set up is illegal.

            There are probably upwards of a dozen places on the Island that are inspected for hog, lamb and beef. They vary in size. They are virtually all up-Island from me – there is a small place in Metchosin (not far from me) that is really only set up for lamb, but will do the occasional pig. There is a cluster of places around Duncan (my next nearest), a few more around Nanaimo (there is a surprisingly large farming community between Nanaimo and Port Alberni), and the rest are up around Courtenay/Comox for the Black Creek/Comox crowd. We’ve had a big upheaval in the meat processing licensing area here in the past decade, and many of these places have become licensed only in the last 5 years – 10 years ago, when the new rules came into place, there were I think only 3 legal places to get your animals processed.
            Saltspring Island just finally got their own abattoir set up – built out of Atco trailers, a community fundraising effort, which took about 4 years. This is a huge boon to all the lamb farmers over there who have had to truck over to the mainland since those new rules back in 2004.

    • We have done worse. Running, chasing, yelling in the pasture while late for the locker. Near to tears with frustration. Broken fences. No fun. The pigs trained us. We get out of the way and they load right up.

      We have also had to learn to get lined up right with the chute when unloading at the packer. We have had to chase two pigs in town. That’s awesome.

      • I think there’s a story like that in Forrest Pritchard’s book too, about chasing pigs through town. You’ve done this way more times than me (I’ve only done it once so far), so I’ve got lots of room to make those kinds of mistakes, for sure.

          • I borrowed it from the library (actually I got them to purchase it). It’s ok. Good in parts. It’s uneven is my main problem, like he wrote it as magazine articles but didn’t tie them together properly. There’s a lot of back and forth on the time line, which gets confusing, and he skips whole chunks of info that I wanted to know. He does go into a lot of depth on his experiences with markets, though and the amount of work he’s put into his enterprise shines through.

          • No. The sweet spot between having too few layers to get bulk pricing and too many layers to handle in a reasonable amount of time and pasture. Here is the article I was thinking of.

  2. Thanks for the link. Great article. Totally on topic round here too – we have a completely different margin of profit from you with eggs, but the whole “time vampire” thing is absolutely true, as is the need to get eggs year round to keep the customer base happy.

    • I don’t think that was really the article I was thinking of. I think there is another post where he puts in a detailed comment calling layers a labor of love and discussing the need to brood chicks every 6 months.

      For us, the fertility gain makes it all worthwhile…but we’re only running 150 birds.

  3. I’ve been lurking on your blog for a week or so after I found it on a search for something else in the early planning stages for our leap. I just wanted to say that your respect for the animals really shines through here, and it strikes me that this would be almost impossible with a large scale operation. One of the reasons I love the small holding movement and am working to join it.

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