This time of year is when we think of taking pigs to market.
First of all, it is about five to six months from the time of starting a spring pig and it is has attained the weight for slaughter. And traditionally, the cooler months were favorable for hanging carcasses in hay mows or sheds prior to processing in the days of limited commercial refrigeration.
I can remember as a kid dreading the day the pigs were loaded for market. Ours were raised in a pen under the horse stable so the litter could be pushed down the scuttle hole and the pigs would root out the unspent grains in the manure. Then we fed discarded milk, garden waste and pig grain mixed with water and slopped into a trough. So it was generally pretty messy by the time they left in the fall.
Market day meant putting the sideboards on the pickup and then driving down around the end of the barn and backing the truck up tight to the outside edge of the pen. We usually used a make-shift door for a ramp and a couple of other old doors on each side to form a chute.
Often a worn-out, metal bushel basket was sacrificed for putting over the pig’s head so two people could maneuver it around to the gate opening and into the truck. Usually the basket was pretty well destroyed and everyone was covered with manure before the pigs were successfully loaded.
With today’s low-set trailers and what we’ve learned about animal behavior, taking the pig to market can be much less of a laborious task. A long, portable loading chute set upon the tailgate of a low trailer creates a gentle incline, which makes it easier to maneuver the pigs than steep ramps.
Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a nationally known expert on humane livestock facility design, spoke in Concord this past spring. In her book, “Humane Livestock Handling,” she gives several practical tips for handling pigs:
Ideally the loading ramp for pigs should be a double-file chute that is solid on the outside and see-through down the middle partition. That way pigs can see each other but not be distracted by other things.
The ramp should have non-slip flooring. This can be constructed using cleats spaced close enough so the animals’ feet fit in between, but not so wide that they slip (approximately a 3-to-4-inch space). For all animals, 1-inch diameter metal rods work well for cleats.
A board or panel can be used to move pigs. A solid panel with a handle on top will allow good control and protection from the pig.
It is important to be patient and slow with maneuvers and try to make things work the first time, because each unsuccessful loading attempt will stir up the animals and make handling more difficult.
Slaughter houses get pretty booked up this time of year, so plan ahead with an advanced appointment, and then be prepared on market day to have the right equipment set up to minimize animal stress and avoid human injury.
John Porter is a University of New Hampshire Extension professor emeritus. The Weekly Market Bulletin is a publication of the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food.