Hauling Farm Animals


Loading farm animals on trucks is something that requires the patience of Job and often ends up with a person sitting on a heap of dung too. This experience seems to be both the destiny and the downfall of every beginner in farming and quite a few oldtimers too. I had thought by now everyone knew this but only yesterday, I received an amusing letter from a friend detailing the agony her family had gone through trying to move a couple of hogs by truck  to their new farm. At least they did use a truck. Some brave souls have used cars.

I guess that until you have, in utter frustration, tried to carry a 100 pound pig onto a truck because there was no other way the stubborn glob of wriggling pork was going to get there, you are not a true homesteader. If you have, in anger or desperation, tried to use brute force to load any animal bigger than that onto a truck, I doubt that you are still among us or if so, you have at least one hernia. (I have two.)

The only reason many of us are still among the living is because of the livestock trailer, one of the few technological advances that really does benefit mankind— and animalkind too. The bed of a livestock trailer can be lowered almost to ground level so that the hog or cow or sheep can walk into it with only the slightest step upward. Makes all the difference in the world. Truck beds are several feet above ground level which looks like half a mile to a cow going up a ramp. I bet that cattle ramps have killed or injured more cows and humans than all the foot and mouth disease outbreaks in history. Animals will not walk up a steep ramp unless forced to and forcing them often involves the kind of actions that gives the farmer involved, not to mention the Humane Society, heart failure.

But just because you have the benefit of a livestock trailer, you are not home free. How often I have seen a new farmer back his trusty trailer up to the door of the barn so tightly that anything going out of the door must go into the trailer. The beginner thinks that all he has to do next is “urge” the cattle or sheep or whatever up to the door and the animals will walk right on board.

Would you place a bathtub full of water right next to your farm pond and expect the fish to jump into it just because you urged them to do so?

You must make use of some kind of chute leading to the trailer door if you want to persuade the animals to walk on. Funnelled into a gradually narrowing chute, the animals soon realize that there is no where else to go but straight ahead into the trailer. Once one of them gets the idea, the others will generally follow. Without the chute, they just scatter in all directions when you try to drive them on the trailer.

You can buy very nice chutes which also come in very handy for worming and other handling chores.  I never thought I could afford one so I’ve just used board gates or wire panels to form a chute, wider at the end away from the door, narrowing gradually to the width of the door.  Often you still must prod the animals along when they are jammed into the chute. Many a wise husbandman will park the trailer at the barn or pen door the night before and put some choice hay in it. The animals get used to the trailer, may even walk on of their own accord. We once parked a trailer out in the pasture and put some yummy grain and molasses in it. It took a few days but finally our steer walked right on.

For garden farmers who raise just a few animals for meat, there is an alternative to hauling them to the slaughterhouse. In most rural areas, there are country butcher shops that for a nominal price (even if it is not  nominal, it is well worth it) will come to your farm, slaughter, skin and gut your animal(s), and haul them to their butcher shop for further processing. In the case of a 1500 pound steer, it is at least 1500 times easier to load a dead carcass than a live animal.
Crossposted to OrganicToBe.org



Loved your story, Gene! I’ve lived on a farm all of my life, so I’ve seen plenty of animal hauling chaos. But my own personal worst experience came on the day I traveled to a farm 50 miles away in my mini-van to bring home a flock of laying hens. I was prepared with several dog crates of various sizes and a few extra cardboard boxes. The seller was wonderful: all the chickens were caught and in containers when I arrived. All we had to do was transfer a few from her crates to mine. Then I was off!

Within two minutes I became aware of a strong chicken poop odor beginning to fill the van. After a few miles of cheerfully denying the intensity of the vapors, I decided to roll down my window and brave the voluminous dust of the gravel road I was traveling. By the time I reached the paved four-lane HWY #2 I could no longer breath. Although HWY #2 passes through several small towns that require vehicles to decelerate to 50 mph, I was seeking oxygen in too great a quantity to slow down. In fact, I was flying down the highway at 80 mph with my head straining out of the driver’s side window like a retriever. My usual concern for highway patrols and courtesy had been melted away by the caustic fumes of my fellow passengers. Besides, I was sure that if a patroller could actually force me to pull over, he would have been on my side anyway. Once I hit the network of county roads that eventually lead to my farm, my speed and reckless abandon increased. After careening down our mile-long two-rut driveway at breakneck speed, the chickens and I came to a skidding halt in my back yard. At which point I bailed from the vehicle and stumbled toward my bewildered husband gasping for breath. Thankfully, my husband agreed to unload the chickens while I tried to scrub the stink of them off in the shower.

Perhaps I was successful in my bathing efforts. However, the noxious fumes must have scalded my nasal passages beyond repair. No matter how many times I showered and changed my clothes; no matter how many days and nights the van windows were left open, all I could smell for weeks was the overpowering and lingering scent of fresh chicken poop!

That fish analogy made me grin. I remember having a dog when I was a kid that made the mistake of being at the bottom of the ramp curiously staring at the critters getting ready to be released. After he got trampled by ten or so sheep I think he was the only 160 lb black lab in history to have a fear of sheep.

Oh, my… now that I’ve stopped laughing… what an appropriate post! My husband just called to tell me of his travails in loading two 90-100 pound pigs into the wire mesh trailer, pulled by a 4 wheeler, that we usually use for firewood. Since the pigs were just up the road a mile or so it wasn’t worth putting the racks on the pickup; it was easier to throw a piece of plywood over the open trailer and just boogie on down the road. He’s hauled plenty of pigs, cows, horses and chickens in one sort of conveyance or another (I favor either the stock trailer or a horse trailer with a ramp, myself), and nearly always has something picturesque to say about it afterwards. We do have a butcher who will come and do an on-farm kill, but there’s been plenty of times we’ve done it all ourselves. After my dining room table aquired a sizable gouge from the skill saw my dearly beloved was using to cut the larger bones of the elk he was butchering in the kitchen–much easier than a boning saw, in his opinion–I laid down a few rules about what and where we would butcher!

Now my friends raising pastured hogs use a trick to load; get a pail on the head of the pig and back him up the ramp into the trailer. The pigs wants to get the pail off he just moves where you want him to. I haven’t tried yet, have you Gene?
As for loading steers, my farmer friend said, just put the trailer in the paddock or corral, put some grain in there, don’t feed much or anywhere else, and after two days that steer will be in the trailer waiting for you to take him to market. It worked just like that for me.
Ian in Dundas ON

Teresa Sue Hoke-House April 14, 2010 at 5:53 am

Boy Gene, I get anxious just reading your article, lol. It always begins the night before, because we don’t get any sleep worrying how well the hogs or whatever livestock will load in the morning! It is amazing how just a few feet can make life grand, such as, the hogs walking into a horse trailer instead of all but being lifted into a pick up bed, lol. If we had a butcher that would come this far out I would use that service for sure! But then, I would be deprived at the looks of amazement when my fellow interstate drivers realize there is HOG, not a pig, but a huge hog right beside them tootlin’ down the road. Yes, Virginia, bacon really does come from hog *grin*.

You haven’t lived ’till you’ve taken six people and two goats in a 1980 diesel Vanagon (48 horsepower on a good day, at sea-level) over a two-lane mountain pass. I’m not sure what was worse, the horns or the bleating, or people displaying their IQ using digital technology as they blasted past in the short passing zones.

Next time, I’ll borrow a pick up.

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