Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hauling farm animals

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.

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