Thursday, June 28, 2007

My Work: To Market, To Market - Part 2

Pigs. If you have just a few you baby them, maybe name them, and get to know them as individuals. When the time comes for slaughter you start to feel kind of sad about it, but after struggling to get them in the truck you’re mad enough to kill them on the spot yourself.

We went on like that for four more years. Some years were better, some were worse, but I dreaded loading pigs. The sheep weren’t so bad, we could just lift them into the truck but one year it took Ray and me the whole morning to load our pigs. I had enough. I did some research and found Dr. Temple Grandin’s website on livestock behaviour and the design of handling facilities. I learned about flight zones, points of balance and common distractions that impede animal movement. For example, pigs won’t cross a change in flooring or texture, step across a gap, or move into areas that are darker or blindingly brighter. They even shy away from a shadow in their path.

Armed with my new information, I backed the pick-up into the barnyard, measured the height of the tailgate, then calculated the length of ramp needed for an incline that wasn’t too steep for pigs. I built a long tunnel with sides three feet high and a wire top, hinged to the door the pigs used to get out into their yard, water and feed. Then I installed a truck jack underneath halfway along. The idea was for the pigs to get used to the tunnel all summer long. Then, at loading time, we could crank it up with the jack so it inclined into the bed of the truck and drive them up the tunnel one last time. This would determine once and for all if I was smarter than a pig.

The tunnel worked well. The pigs scampered through it all summer long to and from their inside sleeping quarters. Just before loading time, however, Ray called me and said he could borrow a stock trailer when I wanted to load my pigs.

The nice part about a stock trailer is that it is low and animals only have to step up six inches or so to get in. We backed the stock trailer up to the main barn door and Susan put a bucket of boiled chicken mash inside. The pigs smelled that warm mash and couldn’t get into the trailer fast enough. Took us about five minutes, once again proving that the right tool makes the job a lot easier.

I looked over at the tunnel we never even used and Conor said, “Dad, looks like the pigs outsmarted you again.”

He was right but I didn’t care. For the first time in five years even loading pigs was fun on the farm.

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