Loading Hogs

This is me, holding a hog panel, which is used to help guide the pigs where we want them to go. The coveralls are to keep me from spreading any disease to the pigs, and the hankerchief is to keep the "aroma" of the pigs out of my hair.

One of my least favorite jobs on the farm is loading fat hogs.  I’m just not as much of a fan of pigs as I am of cattle.  Never have been. I’d be lying if I said I looked forward to it, but really, once it’s happening it’s not so bad.

Looking down the alleyway, which leads out of the building and onto a ramp that goes up to the semi trailer.

Here’s a run down of how it goes.

All this week we will be loading out hogs.  Two semi truck loads at a time.  The alarm will go off at 4:30 AM.  I will cuss and whine the entire time I am getting ready, on the ride to the hog buildings, and as I am putting on the coveralls and changing my shoes (for biosecurity, don’t want to get the piggies sick).  Basically because it is early in the morning and I just want to go back to bed.  Once I’m inside the building, I get to wait with my hubby, brother-in-law, and father-in-law while the semi backs up to the load-out ramp.  Usually the conversation involves what the neighbors are doing in the field or what we need to do once we’re done loading.

A blue mark spray painted on this pig means he's big enough to become brats.

The pigs are still snoozing, but every time there is a bang of a door or something drops, they all jump up and voice their opinions.  Pigs are like that.  Very opinionated.  They grunt, bark, screech, chomp, and snort to voice their approval or disapproval of an event.  They are also very curious animals, and will swarm around you if you stand still near them.  They have it pretty good in our barns… lounging around in the pens with food, water, and shelter all readily available and closely monitored for them.

The trucker gets backed up, changes his shoes and clothes, and enters the building through a different door to keep the risk of carrying disease into the building at a minimum.  His job is to stand inside the semi trailer and put the pigs into the different pens on the trailer.

Lounging pigs enjoying the sunshine.

The rest of us enter the first pen to sort out all the pigs that have been marked a day or two before loading.  Marking the pigs (with a non-toxic spray paint) that are ready for market speeds up the loading process and lowers the stress on the pigs.  Each pen contains approximately 35 hogs.  Usually there are about 10-12 hogs in each pen to be sorted out.  It is my job to stand at the gate of the pen and only allow the marked pigs out.  My father-in-law, Ralph, works in the back of the pen to bring the marked hogs up to me. My hubby and brother-in -law get the hard job of bringing the pigs up the alleyway, onto the ramp, and into the trailer.  It’s the hardest job because they have to contend with pigs coming up the alleyway that they are trying to walk down, which means they have to crawl over the fences and into the pens.  The fences are about waist high on me, but Justin and Kevin are taller and make it look like they are stepping over a baby gate.

Demonstrating how the gates on the pens open up into the alleyway.

Sorting and moving hogs is a lesson from the school of hard knocks in animal psychology.  It is all about anticipating what a pig is going to do and then channeling his energy in the right direction.  I am having a hard time putting it into words, as it is something you just learn from being around hogs.  Where to stand, when to make noise, when to back off,  when to get the heck out of the way… these are all things that can only be learned by trial and error.  There are a few tips that can be applied, such as try to always keep the panel between yourself and the pig, or do everything in your power to not let them get by you.  But for the most part, working with pigs is like trying to solve a puzzle, it takes a lot of thinking and patience, and then once it starts working out, it will seem easy and you’ll develop a strategy.

More lazy lounging pigs.

There are rules we must follow in loading out.  We can take no more than 5 pigs per person down the alley.  A hog cannot be zapped with a stock prod more than 3 times.  The stock prod cannot be used in the pen.  On a side note, I have been shocked by a stock prod before, it certainly does not feel good, but it did not hurt me either.  A stock prod, like all things, has a time and place where it is appropriate and can actually prevent a stressful situation.  There are also times and places where it is inappropriate and can make a situation worse, it is not a tool to be used willy-nilly.  We do not slap, pull on, or drag the pigs; these are all actions that only contribute to a bad situation.

Semi trailer backing up the the ramp.

Here are some of our hog loading stats: It usually takes us about an hour to load one semi load of hogs.  One semi carries approximately 175 hogs.  The ride to the processing plant takes approximately 2.5 hours.  The pigs weigh about 250 lbs each when they are fat and ready for market.  And, nothing tastes better than sausage for breakfast after a morning of loading hogs!

Farewell, piggies!  We appreciated the opportunity to care for you on your journey to become nourishment for us!

Liz

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Liz you do fine job of putting life on the farm into words. Good job with the recipets too! Still can’t Spell!!

  2. Liz,
    I enjoyed your story! Ah yes, I remember loading pigs; I still remember how stubborn (and fast!) they are. We also had a smart German Shepherd helping us round up the fast ones. I agree; calm and assertive is a tactic that keeps it running smoothly; we appreciate good farmers like you who do it right and take such good care of their animals. Thanks Liz!

  3. Ugh. I used to get so mad at my dad whenever he wanted me to help load pigs when I was a teenager. Those pigs would never cooperate.

  4. I did the same thing Fri. and Sat. morning, except with TURKEYS! And we moved all of them, not just some. We “herd” them and I feel your pain and frustration. The turkeys are little enough that they run by you and dodge you and it makes me nuts!!!

  5. So glad I found you! I love reading blogs from my fellow Iowan friends! Enjoy your weekend.

  6. Posted by Matt on October 8, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    You should do a follow up story about winky wieners.

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