I try to time my barn management so that the pigs when they are large have a day or two in the sheep stall. Pigs are pure muscle and will root up up the deep bedding, making it easier for me to muck out later this week. Here they are, gazing at me from their cozy nest. If they’d had another day they would have loosened the bedding all the way down to the gravel floor. But they didn’t have another day.
Yesterday after lunch I ran into town for a box of screws and then began reinforcing the truck’s stake rack.
My $10 stake rack is coming to the end of its natural life. It was old when I picked it up at a garage sale, and now it is slowly rotting. No matter how often I tighten the nuts with wrenches, the soft wood loosens around the bolts and the whole structure wants to sway. The last time Allen worked for me he suggested that I cut wedges and pound them in alongside the uprights to hold it straight. I did so but the slow deterioration continues. I will probably remove the rack this winter and build a new one out of treated lumber in the spring.
In the meantime, for this trip with five boisterous hogs, I screwed on a scrap of 1/2″ plywood for a temporary roof, and lined the interior with scraps of OSB to block the wind. Since the whole thing only needs to work for a morning, I didn’t worry about plumb or square.
I broke open a bale of hay and shook out the flakes to make a fluffy bed. I was just sliding out of the truck on my back when D arrived at 3 PM. He had come early for hunting so he would have time to fix my manure spreader. The new parts had arrived by UPS.
“Pigs ain’t loaded?” he said with a frown. “What’cha been doin’?”
I laughed and pretended to punch him. His father, Allen, was always exactly the same way. (“Ain’t you got that gate up yet?”) My slow pace seems to baffle them.
While D repaired and greased the spreader I assembled the pieces to build an enclosed ramp. Again I used my lamb creep as a base for the ramp, and again I was so busy I forgot to take photos.
This one was taken during disassembly, and shows the basic ramp, without its sides made of pallets. Allen grew up with pigs and when I had told him of my issues with loading last year, he’d suggested, “Nail down some cleats so they don’t slip.” The cleats made all the difference.
Inside the barn I hinged a 10′ gate with baling twine to Katika’s stall on one end. I also screwed long 2x4s between the edge of the tack room and the barn doors, creating a wall to block off her stanchion. The idea was to create a narrow chute leading straight to the ramp and up into the truck. My hope was that once the pigs made their way down the barn aisle, I could swing the big gate closed behind them, trapping them at the foot of the ramp, and then they’d have nowhere else to go but up.
Well, it kinda worked like that. I had not fed the pigs their breakfast, so they would be hungry. I had filled a trough in the truck with a full bucket of restaurant goodies. I had saved Katika’s morning milk and mixed it with pellets to make their daily favorite.
D was standing outside the ramp, watching, when I opened the door and let the pigs out of the sheep stall.
Cassin, the all-black boy who has always been the most intrepid, followed my bucket and walked up the cleated ramp into the truck almost without hesitation. Wow, those cleats were great! This was going to be easy!
As Cassin began wolfing the restaurant scraps, I took the bucket and walked back to lead up the other four pigs. And that’s when it began to get exciting.
The moment I started to close the gate behind them, the remaining pigs became suspicious. They piled backwards, squealing. I was not going to be able to hold the gate against 800 pounds of heaving pig.
“Whoa, whoa, it’s OK,” I tried to murmur soothingly between gasps as I grabbed a lead rope, threaded it through the gate, threw a quick dally around Katika’s stanchion upright, and pulled it tight. The heavy rope was just long enough to reach. The gate was firmly closed. I caught my breath, spoke calmly to the pigs, and started over.
Again I was able to lead a pig up the ramp, enticing him with the bucket. The second pig joined Cassin at the restaurant scraps. OK, we were back in business. I walked back down the ramp.
Unfortunately, the remaining three pigs had no interest in my bucket. In fact, they wanted to blow out of Dodge. They crowded to the back gate, squealing and shoving. I pushed right in with them. The pigs were crushing my thighs in their frenzy. I could barely keep my feet. Then a pig got her snout under the gate. Oh, no! I leaped to hang all my weight on the metal, trying to keep it safely pressed to the ground. Another pig thrust her snout under. Working together, the two pigs heaved both the gate and me flying into the air. All three pigs ground me into the wall as they shoved past to stampede to the back of the barn.
I swore. (I almost never swear.)
I thought I heard a voice say, “Tsk, tsk,” and then D was climbing over the ramp into the barn. “I think you need me in here.”
Less than ten minutes later, all the pigs were loaded. With D luring them with the bucket of milky pellets and me pushing them from behind, it was easy after all.
I was sweating with nerves and stinking of pig manure but I thanked D and gave him a quick hug before he left to go hunting. As usual his words were few. He grunted, “Dumb pigs.” Then he gave me a little smile. “Dumb Farmer.”
I parked the truck in our driveway last night and draped it in a tarp to keep the pigs dry and warm in the rain. I peeked in at them after 9 PM and they were all buried in the hay, snoozing.
I drive them to the slaughterhouse this morning. I will be glad when this sad chore is behind me.