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When the Schedule Takes an Unexpected Turn

Last spring I asked my hog marketing coordinator to schedule some of my hogs for market. Working with her and the same trucking company since 1992, we have pretty well gotten the routine down. It hasn’t varied much in all of those years. The semi shows up between 6:30 and 8:30 in the morning for a trip to Marshalltown, Iowa. However, in my life lately, routines have been hard to come by. Sure enough, a Tuesday delivery would work, but it would be different. The pigs would need to be at the Hormel plant in Austin, MN, at 11:00. That’s a little more than an hour away, so it wouldn’t be any big deal. Key problem. This would be an 11:00 PM arrival, not AM!

To maintain the status quo, the trucker called on Tuesday afternoon to tell me he was running late. His 6:00 arrival would be pushed back to 6:30 or maybe even a bit later.

To load a semi with hogs, we follow a few biosecurity rules to minimize health concerns. The semi parks on the road. We load the hogs onto our gooseneck trailer and then put a portable loading chute up to the semi to transfer the pigs from the trailer to the semi. The trailer holds 35 to 40 head. A semi holds 185 to 190. We would be taking pigs from both farms to fill the load, so the plan was to have the truck park at the other place to load.

Longtime staffer Lorne and I filled the trailer with pigs three times from the outside pens at the home place and then hauled them to the awaiting semi at the other farm. We then backed up to the confinement building at the other place to get the last groups. The loading process at that building gives us a couple of options. The pigs walk out the door of the building onto a level loading dock. In decent weather, we can back the trailer up to the dock and have the pigs walk straight onto it. In wet or snowy weather, we can back in at a 90-degree angle and have the pigs make a left at the end of the dock to get into the trailer. That allows us to avoid backing up the slight slope to the dock. It also allows us to get in more easily when the adjoining round bale lot is full. This was sloppy weather, so we went with the 90-degree, hang-a-left option.

The first draft of pigs went out quite smoothly. Too smoothly, as a matter of fact. I can't always hear my cell phone ring or feel it vibrate in those situations, but I think it did as we were taking the pigs down the alley to the dock. I looked around the corner and discovered why they were moving so smoothly. It's still a mystery as to why, but SOMEONE apparently wasn't thinking and switched the gate at the end of the dock from the "take-a-left" option to the "move-straight-ahead" option. Like a herd of lemmings, the pigs were all jumping off the end of the dock and going for a stroll in the yard!

I did some play-by-play for the captive audience inside the building as I hopped over the top of the pigs and got the gate switched back to where it should have been in the first place. One audience member (who shall remain nameless) didn't really have an explanation as to why the gate had been switched. This anonymous person has a lot of experience with pigs and knows that they herd like cats, so he knew what we were in for with the free-ranging escapees.

We got the rest of the trailer loaded and backed up to the semi. The truck driver said he had tried to call me when he saw the first pig leap off the end of the dock, but it was too far for him to run over and do anything. He said he saw me show up seconds later and correct the equipment problem. No excuses were offered by Mr. Anonymous as to why things went the way they did, but I took some pictures for posterity.

Guess what? If you are a pig who has spent your entire life inside a building at a very reasonable temperature with food and water provided buffet-style, the one thing that will totally blow your mind is the opportunity to walk around in some snow. A little mud makes it even better. But why keep this enjoyment to yourself? Bring along a couple of friends to share in the fun!

As we unloaded the trailer, I suggested to Mr. Anonymous that we'd better get the free-rangers captured before we got the balance of the truck loaded. It wasn't going to be easy, but it would only be worse in the dark if we waited until the very end of the job to get them.

A newly free-ranging pig does not move well. I take that back. A newly free-ranging pig moves around quite well, but does not move cooperatively. Big difference. Six of them don't move cooperatively on a much grander scale, though.

Let's just say that it was about 9:00 when we finally finished and had the last pig on the semi. It wasn’t even the end to a long day at that point. My schedule being what it is, I had to be at the hospital in Des Moines (200 miles away) at 5:30 the next morning for some routine brain surgery to work on my bionic equipment!

This is why you don’t see my name as the author on a lot of “Patient Pre-Operative Recommendations” lists.

Guy No. 2

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