The Farm Report: Hogs In Hog Heaven

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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66 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Hogs In Hog Heaven

  1. Janknitz

    Having absolutely ZERO knowledge or experience about any of this, I’m wondering if the hogs can be trained from the little hoglet stage to walk down a chute and into a trailer?? If they are as smart as everyone claims can they be trained to do this when tiny and maybe reinforced periodically as they grow so it will be a calm and rewarding experience for them?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I have no idea. Early on, we were supposed to train them to walk along while being prodded with spindly little things called pig whips. They were never impressed by those.

      1. Galina L.

        May be training with tasty bits would be more impressive from smart pigs perspective, or experimenting in advance with alcohol affect could be helpful during moving-out day. While reading your post, I was wondering about some ways to make pigs more relaxed. Probably,you would have more relaxants options if you were living in the Colorado state.
        I am very far from being an animals rights advocate, but reading about bleeding snouts made me sad – poor devils were desperate even though they couldn’t read your blog. I am sure some reasonable pig calming solution can be found.

        When I witnessed a pig-harvesting day in Ukraine, an artisan butcher arrived to kill the pig, several relatives came to help with the meat processing. BTW, I am not suggesting you should do the same. I understand now that every country has own ways to do things.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          I didn’t like seeing the male bloody his own snout either. I’d like to keep them calm and have them move voluntarily, but if that’s not possible, I believe the cattle prod would actually be the kindest option. One zap would be less traumatic than a raging battle full of head-butting and body slams against fences and gates.

  2. Sara B.

    Thanks for the laugh tonight, I needed it. Just today, my husband finished smoking some very tasty bacon out of a pork belly we purchased. We tossed around the idea of raising our own hogs, but after reading your adventures I’m not sure I’m ready for the challenge yet.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      It’s certainly a challenge. I’ll know later if it was all worth it.

  3. Bruce

    Maybe next time get in front of the trailer and try to keep them from going in?

    When they get around you the hogs will be laughing all the way to the processors.

  4. Brooke

    I remember hearing of one farmer who kept the trailer open in the hog enclosure with fresh straw in it and they used it as a place to sleep at night. No problem getting them inside when the time came.
    Your story really makes me appreciate our cattle and how easy they are to move! Glad to hear their were no serious injuries.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Trailer close to the pen would be much better. We’ll find a way to do that next time.

  5. Tammy

    Tom – Your pork will be delicious unlike anything available at the store. I have to share this story with my friends in Southern MD. They’ve been raising hogs on their farm for several years now (each year we get one) and I know they’ve had similar experiences. They raise between 5-7 hogs each year depending on who wants what.

  6. Christopher Lansdown

    For future pigs, have you considered killing them in the field and taking them to a processor who’ll accept them dead? (There have to be game processors around who would process “ferral” pigs.) Or in the worst case, butchering them yourselves? If you arrow them in the lungs, they’ll be dead very quickly, and I have to imagine with a lot less stress to the animal and certainly a heck of a lot less stress to you. (The nice thing about arrows is that you have zero worries about lead toxicity.)

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      We’d like to learn to process them ourselves, but that’s way in the future. I don’t know if the processor would take freshly-killed pigs — probably, because they process deer — but we didn’t have a way to move 300-pound dead hogs from the pen to the trailer.

    2. Wenchypo

      My sister raises one pig at a time, and she has a mobile butcher come out to her property. This guy can do either organic or conventional butchering (apparently there’s a difference), and goes from pig kill to final wrapping of meat cuts right there on site.

  7. Lisa Mc

    I once thought it would be fun to raise a hog for its meat. Never did. I’m so glad you have shared your experience, so I no longer need to regret not doing it myself. I am totally jealous of all your wonderful pork, however. How much freezer space will you need to store it?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      A lot. Fortunately we have a big ol’ deep freezer and two refrigerators with freezer space.

    2. Elenor

      On the other hand, you don’t have to wait till they’re 300-pound (literal!) bruisers! (Do yah?) If yah bump ’em off at 150 pounds, it might cost more per pound for butcherin’, but maybe it won’t result in any hog-surfin’ either!

        1. Daci

          Pot bellied pigs..I think they get around 200 pounds each.
          And yeah,I like the idea of setingt up the trailor as if it’s home. You might want to up the food offering in there on d day,such as mushrooms and carrots instead of boring hog food.

  8. Seth

    Just a thought: after reading how our hogs show a different mentality than most “docile” hogs these other folks talk about I wondered what the difference might be. I don’t recall you mentioning before using commercial pig feed so I imagine it was closer to the diet of a wild hog.

    Could it be that a fairly active routing lifestyle eating a combination of protein and vegetation made them healthy, active, and strong willed while a commercial diet make most hogs fat, sluggish, and lazy (easy to push around)? I decided to go check the “usual” diet (“natural corn, soybean, and wheat-based ingredients”!) v. the “wild” diet (“grass, roots, bulbs and tubers, fruit, nuts and mushrooms…. worms, snails, insects, frogs, lizards and other small creatures”).

    I wonder why this possible connection between diet and behavior sounds familiar… 😀

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      We weren’t set up to let them roam, so we did, in fact, give them pig feed.

  9. Tammy

    Tom – Response from my friends down at Belly Acres:

    “We certainly have. The first time was a complete joke. It was very frustrating. We are much better at it now. It actually seems that the more pigs you have the easier it is to herd them. They are big strong animals, and don’t let anyone tell you they can’t jump either.

    Hopefully your blogger won’t give up. He has most of the right ideas: narrow shoot, pig boards, low trailer. He needs to get a truck and pull his trailer down into the pen, then build a short shoot IN the pen. And have an electric prod on hand for stubborn hogs.

    See, its hard work. We should charge more for the hogs!”

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Spot on. We’ve already decided when we do this again, we’ll find a way to make sure the chute is short. At this point we only have the van to pull a trailer, and the van can’t climb that hill while towing anything heavy. So we’ll either invest in a 4-wheel drive truck or raise pigs in the front pasture.

  10. Walter Bushell

    And this is why your local paleo friendly pork producer deserves a living not to mention upper middle class income. They of course, know more and avoid a lot of the hard knocks, but getting the knowledge cost them.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      We acquired knowledge that will make it easier the next time, that’s for sure.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      That would probably have made it easier, but yeah, we’d need a divider. Otherwise the first hog would jump out as the second was being shooed in.

  11. Firebird

    What is your estimate of how much all that pork would have cost you if you purchased it in a supermarket? In terms of raising them yourself, do you think it was cost effective or is that not an issue with you because they are range fed?

    BTW, your bridge is holding up very nicely.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      No idea. We didn’t bother to add it all up. It’s more about making sure the pork doesn’t come from sick pigs pumped full of drugs.

      1. Boundless

        re: It’s more about making sure the pork doesn’t come from sick pigs pumped full of drugs.

        Not to mention processed meat full of sugars, MSG (or aliases thereof), salt with aluminum residue or flow agent, and other needless chemicals.

        On the local processing front, if the shop accepts deer or any cattle, be sure to inquire what their tool sterilization protocol is. Anything less than autoclaving may not neutralize BSE or CWD prions.

        Putting the animals down in the pasture (or in a barn they’re trained to visit), and processing on the farm is the way to go. There’s a lot to learn and plan for, and it’s a lot of raw work, but it’s the only way to fully control the quality and safety of the meat on your table. A USDA certified processing endorsement generates more concern than comfort with me.

    2. Jim Butler

      I just bought an 80lb pig from a coworker who has a small farm north of Orlando.
      That was dressed weight. I paid Jim’s cost, which included feed and butchering, altho feed cost was VERY little, as they were primarily raised on pasture.
      My cost for finished product was $4.50/lb. all double-wrapped in butcher’s paper.
      The pork is incredible.
      If I had more freezer space, I’d have bought 2.

      At the same time, I purchased a whole pig from Publix. Who knew? a 70lb pig that had been “cleaned” and was ready for marinade/roasting whole was $4.99/lb.

  12. Jana

    That was an excellent report. Thank you for the update.

    I don’t think people quite realize the nature of the pig. Those guys are quite ferocious and you wouldn’t want to be in the same area as them without some sort of protection or distraction. I just watched an excellent bit of a documentary from the BBC called Tudor Monastery Farm. They’re historians demonstrating life in 1500 England before the Reformation. In it they talk about pigs, make a pig enclosure, and make a pig house. They talk a bit about their nature and laws pertaining to the pigs of the time. Moving the pigs involved coaxing them along with bits of bread but going no where near them. 🙂 It’s all pretty interesting and I think you might enjoy watching it with your girls as I’m sure they might find much of it interesting too.

    1. Tom Naughton

      We’re entertained too, although sometimes it doesn’t seem like fun until it’s over.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      We’re entertained too, although sometimes it doesn’t seem like fun until it’s over.

  13. Gilana

    My favorite part is your drawing. Especially the exclamation lines emanating from your head and the wavy tongue.

  14. Gilana

    My favorite part is your drawing. Especially the exclamation lines emanating from your head and the wavy tongue.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Just thought I’d post that to prove Chareva’s the artist in the family.

  15. Stephen Town

    Tom, I think you and some others might be interested in this short talk on Tedx by a diabetic biochemist.

    Her experience with dieticians and their advice is illuminating. I don’t think this lady can be dismissed as a fad dieter. Compelling evidence.


    1. Tom Naughton

      I spoke at an event in D.C. with Dr. Feinman and Dr. Pogo, as her students call her. She’s definitely driven by the research, not fads.

  16. Stephen Town

    Tom, I think you and some others might be interested in this short talk on Tedx by a diabetic biochemist.

    Her experience with dieticians and their advice is illuminating. I don’t think this lady can be dismissed as a fad dieter. Compelling evidence.


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I spoke at an event in D.C. with Dr. Feinman and Dr. Pogo, as her students call her. She’s definitely driven by the research, not fads.

  17. Vic

    Some how I don’t think pig surfing will catch on. Although… if you could wax the board it might enhance the experience. You could even start a new line of casual shirts, instead of Hula dancers and palm trees it would be pigs and pitchforks, or swine and cute retro trailers. Your drawing could be the label and you could promote it as the newest extreme sport! Maybe host a pig surfing contest! The ideas just keep coming….

  18. Vic

    Some how I don’t think pig surfing will catch on. Although… if you could wax the board it might enhance the experience. You could even start a new line of casual shirts, instead of Hula dancers and palm trees it would be pigs and pitchforks, or swine and cute retro trailers. Your drawing could be the label and you could promote it as the newest extreme sport! Maybe host a pig surfing contest! The ideas just keep coming….

  19. Helen

    When we first got pigs, I was very concerned about how to “control” them and move them from one enclosure to another. I concocted a leash affair that was a disaster and nearly choked one to death. In the end we used a little grain (shaked in a bucket) and we could get those pigs to do anything or go any where. We called the grain ” crack” and now use the same principal with all our different farm animals. Addictive foods work as well for animals as humans. Haven’t food companies long known this?

  20. Sandi

    Hi Tom,

    Have you seen the movie Temple Grandin?
    It is a wonderful movie, you can rent it on Netflix,
    and I think after your experience you will enjoy
    the part about the cattle chute redesign.

    Google ‘pig races oreo cookies’
    I was wondering if a bag of those in the trailer mightve helped.
    Interesting too, the white part of the oreo cookies used to be made with lard, vanila and sugar. I imagine with all of the pork fat that you will have you could render some and mix it with vanilla and stevia or monkfruit powder and put it in between some fresh baked low carb chocolate cookies. Yum!
    Will you be adventuring into chittlins and pork kidney pate land as well?

    Warm regards,


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I did see the Temple Grandin film, which was excellent. I’d have to ask someone who’s worked with both, but I suspect cattle are more docile than hogs. Next time we raise hogs, we’ll put them in the front pasture so the trailer can be backed up to the pen when processing time comes around. Then perhaps putting some treats in the trailer is all it will take. But even at the processing facility, they ended up having to resort to the cattle prod. Those hogs were determined.

      I don’t think we’re doing chittlins and kidney pate this time around. We will get the livers, though.

  21. Caroline

    I will never complain about the difficulty of stuffing a cat into a pet carrier ever again.

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