Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wrestling hogs and other well-laid plans

After writing about the pig pen yesterday I was reminded of the first year we had hogs and the time came to transfer them from our barn to the butcher. This happened in the spring, and I figured that I could get the job done easily enough if I just had a truck to use. It just so happened that a friend from seminary owned a rather aging S-10 that looked as though it had been used to haul livestock regularly, even if that was not the case. Better yet, my seminary friend grew up on a farm, and I figured she might provide some support if things didn’t go the way I had planned.
Julie came over early in the morning, and I initiated the first of what would be many grand hog hauling schemes. I had refrained from feeding the hogs the night before, so they would be nice and hungry on butchering morning. I backed the truck into our barn, and opened the rear gate. I then poured an ample amount of food into one of the hogs’ feeding dishes, gave them a nice sniff of aromatic corn mash, and set it up in the bed of the truck. It was my expectation that both hogs would walk right up the ramp I had made especially for the occasion, and I would shut them in and drive them to meet the butcher. The hogs however, knew something very well that I did not. Hogs do not simply climb up ramps into the back of small trucks, not if they are a little hungry, and not if they are starved. Contrary to all I have heard, hogs are not so curious as to climb into the back of a truck either.
The next plan was to simply wrestle the hogs into submission, and lift them into the back of the truck. Of course, they weighed more than three hundred pounds apiece, so I accepted the fact that I might need Julie and Jenn’s help. Another thing that I did not know, was that when you try to wrestle hogs, they do not simply submit to practical wrestling holds, but the fight back. Indeed, if you know the hog well enough to have scratched behind its ears every day for the last –say – five months, they think you are playing and wrestle back. So, as soon as I attempted to wrestle one hog into submission – she sat on me, and then rolled around a little bit because she was enjoying the game of balancing herself on my own ample belly. It was like watching a medicine ball balance on another medicine ball. Time for plan C.
Plan C was to try and hog tie the animal, so we drove all the way into town for a rope, and drove back to put it to use. The problem was, neither Julie nor me, nor Jenn , knew anything about hog-tying a hog, or any other kind of livestock. I couldn’t have lassoed a hog if it were laying asleep and I had a net. Time for plan D.
Plan D involved calling Julie’s dad, who was a farmer back in New York, and he said it was pretty easy to lead a hog around if you just placed a five-gallon bucket over the hog’s head. I had plenty of five-gallon buckets around the farm, and we immediately retrieved one in hopes of guiding a blinded hog up a ramp into the back of a truck. The problem was that Julie’s dad must have either raised some very small hogs, or pulled ten-gallon hats down over their eyes, not five-gallon buckets. The buckets did not come anywhere close to sliding down over our hog’s head. Time for plan D.2.
We called a local hog farmer and asked how he loaded his hogs into the livestock truck. He told us to use a ramp, and I said we did. He said chase it up the ramp. I explained that the hog refused this opportunity. He asked if our ramp had sides to prevent the hog from turning from side to side. A-ha, I thought, this is the answer. However, we had nothing that could be used for sides to my homemade ramp, but the two graduate students on site decided we could certainly construct something similar to a ramp with sides. We got together and procured some t-posts, some barbed-wire, and an old automotive hood that had been laying around the farm because those are the kinds of things that farmers never throw away. We pulled the truck around to the back gate, and erected a barbed-wire corridor that led from the barn to the back of the truck, with the car hood leaned against the side of the barbed-wire as an additional deterrent to the hog’s desire for freedom. Believe it or not, the plan worked. At least, it initially worked. But as soon as we got close enough to the truck, the hog turned, forced its way through the barbed-wire, over the top of the car hood, and back into the pig pen where, once it was safe again, began to smile again as though she wanted to play more. Bruised and bloodied from the barbed-wire experience, Julie and I sat and muttered about how much we hated these hogs. Rosa was having a great time watching all the work, however, and she remained optimistic by singing “we’re having bacon tonight.” Since we could not come up with a plan E, Julie and I drove back into town to ask people at the grain co-op if they had any ideas.
Of course, the people at the grain co-op thought we were crazy. Why in the world didn’t we use the proper equipment like everyone else in the county. We tried to explain that we didn’t have the proper equipment, which naturally left them to wonder why in the world we had three hundred pound hogs, then. I felt stuck. I was at the point where I just wanted to shoot the hogs out of spite, but the butcher could only work with them if they were brought in under their own steam. Back to the drawing board.
While Julie and I were gone, Jenn had the bright idea of going next door to the vet to ask how he moved hogs from one point to another. They explained that they did it with a hog catcher. We wondered if this was Preble County’s cousin to a dog catcher, but as it turns out, there is a special tool designed to grab a hog by the snout so that it is more easily managed. Jenn borrowed the hog catcher, handed it over to me, and I commenced to catching the hog.
Funny thing about hogs is, once they are caught, and being moved to a place that is not where they would choose to go on their own, they intend to dig into the spring muck and howl. Now, there is no way to describe a hog scream, or howl, or whatever that noise is that is made by pigs in danger of being turned into pork, but I assure you that it is intense and deafening. And while I pulled at the hog’s snout, which was looped tight with the hog catcher apparatus, Jenn and Julie pushed it from behind. We moved that hog about fifty yards - an inch at a time - up the homemade ramp and into the back end of the S-10, which has just enough room for one three-hundred pound hog. Unfortunately, I was in the back of the truck with her, and she was not happy with me at all.
Of course, hogs don’t know that you should never corner a seminarian, because we can be vicious on our knees. Even Quaker’s pray, and when I started to pray that the Almighty would get me past the hog, the hog started fussing to get the hog catching apparatus off of her snout (it was still stuck there), and cleared a path to let me by and out of the truck, where Jenn and Julie promptly shut the hatch. The hog was ready for transport, and just as Julie had predicted, it tasted all that much better because of the epic battle that we fought to get it to the butcher. As for the other hog, we were too tired to move that one for another two months, and it loved us all the same – until butchering day number two came along, and plans F through K.3 were employed.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, my! What a story! My father once told me that he raised hogs just one time, over a winter in the early 1950s. The hogs were raised on the lower level of a 3-story barn, with the idea that, come Spring, they'd be herded up a ramp and right into a truck, destined for the butcher shop. Unfortunately the hogs went wild when they saw the light of day! Dad said it took a tremendous effort to move them all into the truck, and he swore he'd never raise hogs again. By the time I came along Dad was content to be a "gentleman farmer" with a large garden, 2 ponies and a dog.