Yup, the hogs are in hog heaven now. Soon they’ll return as bacon, ham, ribs and (according to the processor’s rough guess) around 100 pounds of sausage.
The last time we tried to coax the hogs into a trailer was in December. I recounted that colossal failure in a post titled Hogs 2, Humans 0. Here’s part of what I wrote:
In reviewing the colossal failure, we concluded that our biggest mistake was making the chute too wide near the pen – in other words, not sufficiently chute-like. The hogs had too much room to run around us. We’ll have to pull up the t-posts and create a chute that’s just wider than a real pig board – the kind hogs can’t see through. They’re heavy, powerful animals, but I believe if Chareva and I were both pushing the pig board, we could convince a hog to keep moving. That’s the theory, anyway. The reality is yet to be determined.
We took care of the overly-wide chute as part of an extraordinarily busy (even for us) weekend. Sunday was Mother’s Day, and also Alana’s 10th birthday. Her party was on Saturday, and she wanted the festivities to include a scavenger hunt around the property. Trouble was, much of the property was overdue for mowing. We didn’t want the kiddies running around in shin-deep grass and getting chewed up by chiggers and ticks.
So on Friday, I left work early and cut the entire back of the property, which includes these areas:
I also cut this area in the front:
That was nearly six hours behind a mower on a hot, humid day. I granted myself permission to drink a couple of cold beers afterwards and chill in front of the TV.
Saturday was the birthday party. One of the items on the scavenger-hunt list was a worm. Alana’s gal-pals guessed (correctly) that the creek was the ideal place to look.
Sunday was Mother’s Day …
… and besides receiving a custom-made t-shirt, what’s every mom’s dream on Mother’s Day? Why, building a hog chute down to a trailer, of course. So that’s what Chareva and I did.
Actually, we didn’t have much of a choice. Our appointment with the processor was set for Wednesday. Given our experience last time, we figured we’d best try to get the hogs into the trailer on Tuesday. Sunday was our last wide-open day to build the chute.
A small jungle had grown in our previous (too wide) chute, so I had to get out the weed-whacker with the brush attachment and clear it. The stuff below was knee-high before whacking.
Then we pounded in t-posts for a new fence – and yes, I was very, very careful about high I raised that t-post hammer. Before each whack, I made sure the top of the post was inside the hammer’s tube.
Then we installed more fencing to create a chute just wider than our pig board – as best we could, anyway. In some spots, the trees and the existing fence determined the width. We ran out of fence ties before the job was done, so we positioned the cattle panels and saved securing them for later.
On Monday, we actually took a breather. I did programming work, and Chareva spent much of the day at a Middle Tennessee 4-H event, where Alana gave a demonstration on how to raise chicks. It must have gone well, because she won first place among fourth-graders in her category. That’s my girl.
On Tuesday afternoon, I secured the cattle panels to the t-posts with aluminum ties. I don’t like working with steel ties, which are a beast to bend, so I convinced myself that the aluminum ties were strong enough to resist hog power. I also convinced myself that the hogs would be so intimidated by the pig board, they’d dutifully march into the trailer. I also convinced myself that if we stopped feeding them on Monday and put feed in the trailer, they’d wander in there looking for it. I’m easily convinced when I want to be.
Here’s how that all worked out:
If you watched the video above, you know that the raging-battle portion of the day wasn’t recorded because Sara had to set down the camera and join the fight. So here’s the expanded story:
First off, whoever told me a hog won’t charge a pig board because it looks like a solid object never met our hogs. My assessment from the Hogs 2, Humans 0 post was correct:
Apparently while hogs have no qualms about pushing their way through a person’s legs, they’re scared @#$%less of large, flat objects and will run the other way. That’s the theory, anyway.
The reality (as I found out early the next morning) is that a hog will shove its way past any damned thing it wants to if it believes there’s sausage factory somewhere in the other direction.
As you may have surmised from the video, once the female hog realized I was bumping her towards the trailer, she just stuck her snout into a cattle panel and gave it a toss, snapping my easy-to-use aluminum ties like toothpicks. So we pounded in another t-post for the panel nearest the trailer, then reinforced all the panels with steel ties at the bottom.
Great, no more breaking through the panels … which means their only escape route was through me. When I tried to pig-board them close to the trailer again, they banged me around like a rag doll and ran back to their pen. We waited a bit, and they moseyed back out to explore the yummy bits of whatever it is they liked in the chute.
So I walked behind them with the pig board, pretending I was actually moving them along instead of just following them. Once they got halfway down the chute, I told Chareva we should create a barrier to limit their next escape. She took care of that job:
To my surprise, it worked. After smacking me aside and running back up the chute, both hogs tried butting the thing with their heads. When that didn’t work, they gave up and wandered down the chute again. So once again, I followed behind them with the pig board. They got this close to the trailer without any pushing from me:
As you can see, I had the bottom of the pig board braced against a rock. I convinced myself the rock would serve as an anchor and prevent them from barreling past me. I’m easily convinced when I want to be … did I mention that?
That’s when the raging battle that didn’t make it into the video began. A mere minute or so into the battle, I ended up trying a new sport called Hog Surfing. If you’ve never gone Hog Surfing, here’s what you need:
- A narrow chute
- A pig board
- Two hogs who really, really, really don’t want to be herded into a trailer
If you’re on a budget, sorry … you need two hogs. See, if one hog charges the pig board while you’re holding it, you merely get spun around. But if two hogs who are shoulder-to-shoulder in a narrow chute charge the pig board at almost the exact same moment and use their snouts to do that flip-up motion that hogs have down to a science, you end up riding atop the pig board — with hogs beneath substituting for ocean waves.
As with traditional surfing, the idea of the sport is to see how long you can ride the board. For an impressive score, you need to avoid yelling “WHAT THE @#$%!!!” and grabbing onto a nearby t-post. If you do that, the hogs will pass under the board and out the other side, and you’ll drop to the ground, board and all. Round over.
I’m sorry we couldn’t demonstrate Hog Surfing in the video, although a graphic might do the trick. Chareva’s the artist in the family, but I’ve got her tied up drawing cartoons for my upcoming cruise speech. So here’s my rendition:
Remember that detached, rational fellow who shows up to observe and comment when I’m in severe pain – like, say, after smacking my own skull with a 16-pound t-post hammer? Turns out he shows up when I’m in imminent danger as well. As I was Hog Surfing, he commented, “You know, there’s a very good chance this will end with you requiring another knee surgery.”
But my knees survived intact, and the detached, rational fellow returned to whatever portion of my brain he calls home. I grabbed the pig board and stood up to take a breather. The hogs went up the chute and tried banging their heads against the barrier Chareva had constructed. After failing once again to destroy it, they wandered down the chute a bit, rooting around in the grass and leaves.
As they approached me, Chareva explained that I might be blocking their path, so I should probably walk up the chute and get behind them again with the pig board. I love Chareva very much, so I didn’t explain that I’d just gone Hog Surfing for the first time and didn’t want to try it again, so she should probably shut the hell up.
Both hogs eventually wandered down past me and ended up near my failed rock-anchor spot again. During our multiple attempts (I’d lost count) to get them into the trailer, they had always panicked right around there, close to the trailer. So I figured we should create another barrier while they were distracted with their rooting around. That would limit the remaining chute to a few yards in length.
I knew we had an old gate sitting around near the front yard. I asked Chareva to bring it to me, then grab some metal poles. She did. I placed the gate inside the chute, and Chareva slid the poles through the cattle panel. I continued sliding the poles (one was a piece of rebar) behind the gate and through the other cattle panel to create a backstop. Then I waited for the hogs to notice their escape route was cut off.
Sure enough, the male turned around and saw the gate, with me holding a pig board against it. He squealed and began the portion of the battle that will forever be known as The Last Charge of the Hog Brigade.
For what felt like an hour (but surely wasn’t), he alternated between banging against the gate and trying to slam his way through the cattle panel. Each time he stuck his snout through the cattle panel, Sara kicked at him to force a retreat. For a moment or two, the female joined in the fun, perhaps thinking they’d force me into another round of Hog Surfing.
I wasn’t sure the barrier would hold, so I started kicking the pig board to drive the gate forward as the hogs banged it backwards. The whole time, they were squealing like … well, like stuck pigs. Given their fury, I began to wonder when they’d realize they’re omnivores and attempt to chew off my fingers and toes.
The male finally gave up. The top of his snout was bleeding from the multiple whacks against the gate. He was clearly exhausted and probably hungry and thirsty as well. He faded from furious to docile and walked up the ramp into the trailer.
The female came back around and gave the gate another go, but with less fury than before. I pointed to the trailer and yelled, “Look! Your fat buddy over there is eating all the food!” I don’t believe she understood me, but after one last body-slam against the gate, she walked up the ramp into the trailer and began eating as well.
Chareva climbed into the chute and crept up to the back of the trailer. I began climbing over the gate in case they charged her … although I had no idea what the heck I was going to do to protect her if they did. Wham-bam-slam, she got the trailer gate closed and locked before the hogs knew she was there.
Whew. I would have treated myself to a cold beer or two to celebrate, but I had to drive Sara to dance class an hour later.
On Wednesday, Chareva and I carted the hogs to a processor about an hour’s drive south through the rolling hills and forests of Middle Tennessee. Beautiful country.
“So,” she asked at one point, “did you ever imagine that someday you’d be driving along a country road, pulling a couple of hogs behind you in a trailer?”
“No. I’m still trying to figure out how the hell this all happened. And why I like it.”
At the processing facility, we backed the trailer up to a chute leading into the building. I was hoping against hope nobody would tell me I had to get in there and move the hogs. Someone might observe for a moment and then shoot me for being a Yankee imposter.
But no, my struggles were over. A muscular, athletic-looking guy named Jerome took a pig board into the trailer and proved once again that hogs will, in fact, charge a pig board. After getting knocked around for awhile, Jerome said, “I hate to do this, but …” and went to retrieve a cattle prod.
I understood his concern. The theory is that you want the animals to calmly move along so they’re not squirting adrenaline into their veins before processing. But I figure when a hog body-slams a pig board over and over, the adrenaline is already squirting. One quick zap from the prod each, and the hogs skedaddled out of the trailer. If I’d had one of those on Tuesday, we probably all would have squirted far less adrenaline into our veins.
With the hogs finally out of our hands, it was time to meet with one of the owners and decide how much of the meat should go to ham, ribs, bacon and sausage. Ham steaks or whole hams? We’ll go with ham steaks. Do you want the bones? Yes, we’ll use those for stock. Do you want some ground pork, or should we mix it all into the sausage? Let’s go with all sausage. Should we save the leftover fat for you? Yes, we’ll use that render our own lard.
I had wondered if I’d feel any sentimental twinges when we got home. Oh, geez, the hogs are gone … Nope, not a twinge. All I felt was relief. I’d do it all again someday, but I was more than ready for those hogs to be gone.
And after all the feed, water, fence-building, wrangling, and the final smacking-around they gave me, that pork better taste damned good.
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