2018 0324 Farm Pig Stories
Farm Update –
Last Sunday Beth & I delivered the pigs to the processor. For the trip, Beth brought along her new copy of Mother Earth News. Included was a story by Joel Salatin about pigs! With 40+ years experience he is such a good "story teller". His article inspired me to pen a few of my experiences.Hope you enjoy!
First, let me start with a few observations about pigs. Pigs are very intelligent, far ahead of a cow or chicken, and their survival instinct is very strong. You gain their trust by being around them in a non-threatening manner. Once you have their trust they become as close to pets as farm animals can get - they enjoy rubs, lots of attention, and plenty of treats. Oh, and food is a major motivator for pigs!
Moving farm animals is critical for hygiene and ecological reasons. Loading is critical for harvest. Folks new to farming often overlook the nuances of animal psychology - and thus the three "short" stories I wish to share here.
We started with pigs in 2012 when we bought 3-breed sows. They gave us 22 babies that we raised and sold. When it came time to harvest we moved them to the pasture where our stationary corral is located and started feeding them in one of the holding pins. I had heard you needed to "introduce" new things to pigs so I backed the stock trailer up to the loading shoot about a week before the scheduled departure. I then started feeding them inside the holding pin always leaving gates open so they could come and go - getting use to the new surroundings.
Then came the time to load. I went about my task as before and all was good. I closed the gate and went to load them - the pigs quickly scooted out "on their belly" under the lower bar on the corral, went a short distance, turned around as to say "we are smarter than that"!
Did I mention pigs vision, unless looking up, is only about knee high. So, I rescheduled the processor appointment and gathered some old tin, self-tapping screws, and tools to build a barrier along the bottom of the holding pin and up to the trailer. This simple adjustment made the next loading a snap.
Having learned from our experiences, when it came time for the next trip I again set up the trailer a week ahead - in the pasture where they were already located. I used temporary panels to build a corral up to the rear of the trailer with used tin secured to the lower portion. I first moved the feed troughs inside the corral and fed them there for 3-4 days gradually moving toward the trailer. By load day they were eating inside the trailer. So, after giving them their feed I simply closed the door. Very low stress for everyone!
This last batch for some reason I never could gain their full trust. I new I was going to have to "outsmart" them or else have scheduling issues. I did all the things I had learned and was successful with in the past 4-5 load-outs. This time, I added a rope to the gate that stretched over to the feed tote (that I could hide behind) because anytime I went inside their area several pigs would dart out of the holding pin.
Load out day came. Routines were followed. All 10 pigs went into the corral to eat. I was hid behind the feed tote ready to pull the gate closed - when one of the pigs decided something did not seem just right and came out to investigate. He walked around - grunted - raised his head looking to see if everything was okay. He did this for 5-6 minutes - I was starting to get nervous thinking he was going to blow it. Then, not sensing any danger AND knowing his buddies were getting all the food, quickly made his way back inside to eat. I pulled the gate closed behind him and they loaded without any stress.
A few lessons learned:
1) Movement is easier if the pigs want to go where you want them to go. Trust me, you cannot push, pull or otherwise move an adult pig if he does not want to move!
2) The easiest and smartest way to incentivize a pig is with food. Consistent schedules and preplanning by introducing "new" ahead of time makes life easier for all
3) Remember their low center of gravity and sight line - you can't imagine the leverage and power and agility of a pig in a confined situation when it want to get through you (see #1)
4) Pigs are smart - must build trust (#2). They can size up your intentions and generally don't assume you have their best interest at heart (see 1-3 above)
As with all farm animals, an unexciting experience is a good thing.
Quote Worth Re-Quoting – "You know, in our culture today, our Western, reductionist, Roman, linear, fragmented... culture, we don't ask how to make a pig happy. We as how to grow it faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper, and that's not a noble goal." --Joel Salatin
As always, thank you for supporting our regenerative, local farm.
Ben & Beth