Weekly Newsletter

January 2023 vol. 4

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Managing multiple types and ages of livestock requires quite a bit of choreography particularly when it comes to separating and relocating them. It’s often necessary to wean the young’uns or load some up for processing or to move to greener pastures.  Yesterday we did the piggy shuffle: loading 3 pigs to take to the processor, relocating a momma pig and her four 2-week-old piglets, as well as a young sow and boar, and ten 2-month-old piglets. 
Moving livestock can be a dream or a nightmare, depending on the circumstances.  I’ve had both experiences, but the more I learn the easier it becomes.  It’s important to make the transition as stress free as possible which requires building trust with them and having a well thought out plan.  I spend lots of time interacting with the animals to establish trust, but they are quick to sense when something out of the ordinary is happening.  Some animals are more sensitive to stress than others, and when one animal is agitated it can affect the entire group. If a particular animal is high strung, they make transitions like these very difficult and they must go!
Most of the time I can lead the animals across the farm just by calling them – especially the cows as we make routine moves to fresh grass.  With pigs, I find it effective to restrict their food for a few days as hunger can be a powerful motivator for them to follow a bucket of feed to their new pasture. However, there was no way the mother pig was going to march down the driveway and across the field with her young ones in tow, so I had to use the trailer to move her and her brood to the new paddock. Getting her into the trailer required a well-thought-out plan and patience. 
If there’s one constant when dealing with pigs, it’s that they like to eat so a few weeks before making the move, I parked my trailer in the field and begin feeding the pigs inside.  The mother pig was hesitant to enter the trailer at first, waiting until I left the area before she’d consider going inside to eat.  But after a few days, she grew accustomed to the idea and even began jumping into the trailer as I poured the feed into the trough. Once this routine was established it was just a matter of shutting the door behind her when it was time to move pastures.  
 However, I still had to round up the baby pigs. Knowing that their mother was in the trailer, they stayed close by, and I was able to scoop a few up and reunite them. The last one, knowing he was alone, ran off into the high weeds down at the creek bottom.  As the final destination for the mother and her little ones wasn’t too far away, I hoped that he would hear or smell them and make his way over on his own.  Sure enough, that’s what happened.  
Once I offloaded her to a small paddock by the house, I had 5 more adult pigs to move.  This dance also started a few weeks back.  By limiting feed for a few days, I was able to get the pigs to follow me from the woods into a small paddock adjacent to my loading pen.  From there it was just a matter of moving their feed trough into my loading area and feeding them there for a few days. 
Using a method similar to the one I used with the trailer, I just fed them in the pen and shut the gate behind them.  I have a pretty good loading setup so from that point it was just a matter of running them down the chute and into the trailer.  Three of these pigs were destine for freezer camp, and two of them (a sow and a boar) needed to go back out to the woods.  My trailer has a swing gate divider in it, so when loading them, I first loaded the three heading to the processor, shut the swing gate, and then loaded the sow and boar.  I dropped off the sow and boar to their pasture before heading to the processor.
As the 2-month-old piglets were already in the weening pen adjacent to the loading chute, I used the same technique (a bucket of feed) to lure them.  They’re too small to jump up into the trailer, so I just boxed them in and picked them up.  Now they’re in the paddock with the mother pig and her 4 piglets.  
I’d like to say things always go this smoothly, but I’d be lying.  It’s funny looking back on my journey of animal husbandry, I realize how many mistakes I've made along the way.  The archives of my newsletters are a testament to this, with examples such as the "Great Escape" incident in December 2021. Even yesterday’s exercise required a few last-minute changes. Having the right equipment, lots of patience, and a well thought out plan make all the difference.  Farming is all about growth –both for the animals and me personally.  I hope these newsletters lend to your growth as well: providing a better understanding of the journey from farm to table.  

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Be well, 

stay safe,


John & Molly