Posts Tagged ‘pork production’

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!



Manure…a precious commodity

There is a belief that manure is nothing more than a waste product on the farm. I can tell you that this is not the case on our farm, nor any of my neighbors’ farms from what I can tell. In fact, manure is quite a booming business in our county. Many people make their living handling manure. Half the reason we own livestock is for the cheap fertilizer that manure provides for the crops. We also have plenty of regulations to pay attention to. I prefer to call manure a by-product as opposed to a waste product, it’s just simply too valuable to waste, hence the term “the smell of money.”

Above ground manure containment, called a slurrystore.

Manure comes in two forms: liquid and solid. The solid manure consists of that which can be scooped by a skid loader and loaded into a manure spreader and applied on top of the ground. Liquid manure does not contain bedding and is collected in sealed pits or above-ground containment areas, then it is pumped out through big hoses and applied with a special disk pulled behind a tractor that injects it into the ground. Both forms provide a cheap, organic form of fertilizer for the crops. The manure replaces more expensive, petroleum-based synthetic fertilizers.

For some weird reason, the cattle like to play on the piles of manure... maybe they're playing king of the hill??

Because all the special equipment for handling liquid manure is expensive, most farmers around here (including us) rely on local individuals who have made a business out of it. We will call them up once or twice per year to empty our storage structures and apply the manure on our fields. There is new technology that is gaining popularity that will vary the rate at which the manure is applied according to the needs of the different kinds of soil in the field.

Stockpiling manure

The skid loader filling the manure spreader

We haul our own solid manure. The cattle live in cement lots with bedded barns for shelter. Ideally, we try to scrape every lot once per week. The skid loader is used to pile the manure until conditions are fit in the field to haul it. When conditions are fit, the manure is scooped up and loaded into a manure spreader pulled by a tractor. Gone are the days of pitching manure by hand, well, unless the spreader breaks and has to be unloaded by hand, that is.

Tractor and manure spreader

We must be careful not to apply more manure than the crops will utilize, because it is a source of the plant nutrients nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. We test our manure for nutrient content and work with the DNR as well as the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to stay in compliance with regulations and prevent any run-off into water ways.

To me, manure represents the whole cycle of life on the farm. The cattle eat corn. They turn the corn into meat and fertilizer for next year’s crop. Next year’s crop will be fed to cattle and the cycle starts over again. Definitely not a waste product by any means.

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