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When Pigs Fly

It’s mid-morning as my boys and I arrive at our friends’ farm. We are here to bring home two young female pigs. We need some pork for our freezer, and we’re thinking of starting a bit of a herd.

I back our truck up to the temporary pen in which they’ve been corralled, and together we set up the ramp we’ve brought along. With a piece of plywood on each side it’s time to test out our skills.

There are three adults and four of our boys as staff for this loading. We’re well equipped with pen and ramp, but still, hogs of any kind don’t like to make it easy. Although one goes up the ramp with relatively little fuss, the other races around the pen in desperation. Trying to force a way through the bars and avoid being caught, she looks pretty wild. Eventually we get her up the ramp. Time to go, and our friend kindly invites us to dinner.

In the course of the meal comments are made about how the pigs are looking out over the top of the stock rack (a stock rack, by the way, very similar in dimensions to one in which I have moved hundreds of pigs). From where I sit I can’t see the truck, and by the grins on their faces I know they are pulling my leg.

After lunch we head for home, about 10 miles down the gravel road. As we drive we can hear the gilts moving around in back, checking out their new surroundings. All at once there’s a new sound; scrambling and a thunk. My eyes snap to the mirror, and I see to my horror one of our gilts rolling down the road behind us. She rolls and rolls and rolls. I can’t believe how long it takes her to skid to a stop. I brake and back up to her final resting place. How can any animal walk away from that?

Amazingly, it doesn’t take her long to scramble to her feet. She’s beginning to realize that jumping ship mid-voyage is not a good idea. Not surprisingly she’s a little cranky. Now I’ve loaded a lot of pigs in my life, but I’ve never loaded one in a situation like this. Our assets are rather lean; the ramp, two boards and a short length of rope. Our liabilities seem daunting; one unhappy pig and the wide open Prairies.

Pigs are designed for a lifetime of rooting and digging and have a neck nearly as thick as their head. Not exactly made for a collar and a leash. I make a loop in the end of the rope and approach the gilt. She’s pretty grumpy, “barking” and snapping at me. She doesn’t want to stick her head through the loop for me. I make the noose as big as I can, and with several attempts manage to get it over her head. I cinch it up quickly and, thankfully, it stays on.

So now I’ve got the pig restrained, but I am too far from the truck to get the ramp. The boys can’t reach it either. We have a dilemma. Somebody else needs to hold on to the pig. Jesse’s not volunteering. Saul either. I pull her over as close to the truck as I can get her. My rope is way to short to tie to the bumper so Jesse is pressed into service anyway. I jump up on the bumper, grab the ramp and two boards and quickly take the rope back from a relieved Jesse. Now the boys can set up the ramp and sides. This feels like a game of chess. We can only make one move at a time, and we can’t let this gilt out of check. We sure could use a good knight or a handy bishop with a nice low stock trailer.

A little manoeuvring and the boys get the ramp set up and the boards in place. Now I’ve got to get the gilt to the ramp, and we need to open the gate to the stock rack. We sure hope the other one doesn’t decide to join her friend on the main floor.

With a very nervous seven-year-old holding the board on one side, and a more nervous five-year-old holding up the other saying, “I don’t like this, I don’t like this a bit,” I start her up the ramp. When she’s almost at the top she starts looking for a side exit. If she jumps for it now she’ll flatten one boy or the other. But with one last shove she goes through the gate. Whew!

So what are the lessons here? First, expect the unexpected. Second, put a cover on the stock rack. And third, if you ever have occasion to leap from a moving vehicle at 90 km/h on a gravel road, don’t forget to tuck and roll. Oh yeah, and it’s a good idea to have a better grasp of your friends’ sense of humour.

– Tim Freeman farms with his wife Kathleen and their four boys at Wakopa, near Ninga,

Manitoba. They use draft horses for field work, haying and winter feeding.

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