"Old dogs can learn new tricks, but things are a whole lot easier if you grow up doing them." - MeTwo days before the 4H Regional Swine Show, and two things were apparent: 1) Not having our own livestock trailer, we weren't entirely sure how we were going to transport the hogs, and 2) Chris wasn't going to be able to help me.
Our neighbor had a livestock trailer, but it was big enough to hold a small herd of cattle- far too big for me to handle. He did, however, have a pen fashioned from livestock panel that he had used to transport goats in the back of a truck. This sounded fantastic. I wouldn't have to deal with a trailer. But how were the kids and I supposed to coax two 200 pound pigs up a ramp into the bed of a truck? After soliciting advice from our other neighbor, I realized that would probably take a
Tuesday afternoon, the day before check-in, we strapped the livestock cage into the trailer Chris used for his mower, threw down a sheet of OSB, and wrapped the cage with a tarp for a wind break. That finished, Zivah, Joe, and I decided we should do a trial run loading the pigs so we knew what we were in for the next morning.
Now, if we had listened to our 4H agent, and if I had pushed to get the transportation figured out sooner, we would have had the trailer ready days in advance and would have been feeding the hogs on the trailer so they would be used to loading and unloading. But no. Funny Farmers have to learn the hard way.
The pigs weren't having it. More interested in digging up the dirt along the wall in the stable, it took a lot to steer them toward the ramp. Once there, one step on the ramp, and they would push their way elsewhere. It was exhausting. After a half hour or more of frustration, Joe managed to trick the pigs onto the trailer by slowly scooting the feed pans up the ramp while they ate. Letting them back into the stable that night and reloading them in the morning didn't seem like a good idea. We made them sleep on the trailer.
The next morning, we were off. Not having dealt with a trailer much before I was a little nervous about the drive, but we were in it this far. I wasn't going to back out now.
First stop was the vet for health papers. As we waited for the vet to come out, I sat on the tongue of the trailer drinking my coffee. I couldn't believe things were (finally) going so smoothly. We had manged to pull together supplies for the show, had loaded and strapped everything down, and were right on schedule. The vet came out, I sat my coffee on the bumper, and after a quick check, I was in the office paying the fee and receiving the papers. Back out to the truck, and we were on our way again.
A couple miles down the road, I reached down for my coffee. But it wasn't there. After a few moments of panic, I told myself and the kids that there was a chance it was still on the bumper. There happened to be a house at our next turn with a driveway that cut the corner, so I pulled in, and Joe jumped out to check. Sure enough, there it was.
We made the rest of the hour-long drive without incident, and pulled up to the agricultural center barns at MTSU. There was a line of trailers in front of us, waiting for check-in. A small army of people were waiting to help unload and direct the pigs to their pens, and by the time I had parked the truck and trailer, the kids and pigs were already settling in.
The other pens in our row were designated for other Marshall County exhibitors. Our "next door" neighbor was a high-schooler I hadn't met before named Jayme. We started peppering him with questions, trying to figure out what we were supposed to be doing. He answered our questions and let us follow him around, watching as he washed and fed his hogs. Since one of the other exhibitors hadn't shown up, there was a spare pen, and Jayme made a point to share it with us so we would have a place to store our supplies. He was scheduled to show his hogs in the pure-bred show later in the afternoon, so we finally left him alone and went to grab a bite to eat before the show started.
Now, I knew that it was customary to shave the pigs before showing them, but by Tuesday night, I was so stressed and exhausted, I figured if we just made it there and managed to show the pigs- hairy as they were- that would be a win for us. But the success of the day so far made me feel a little braver, and before leaving for the evening, the kids and I decided we would get up early the next morning to wash and clip the pigs before things got hectic in the barn.
At 5:30 the next morning, with soap and clippers in hand, we were out the door and on our way back to Murfreesboro.
Showmanship was first, starting with the older kids. We asked Jayme how we would know when our turn was up, and he showed us where the sheets were posted with the heats listed. When our time came we got the pigs to the show ring and managed to get them back. Next up was the "skillathon"- a testing of the kids' knowledge about all things hog related. By this point, I was so exhausted, I managed to convince the kids that we would skip the state show the next day and try to get the pigs home that night. Besides, snow and ice was forecast for the next day, and that was nothing I wanted to deal with on top of it all. All that was left, then, was to show the hogs in their cross-breed classes, load them up, and get home.
Surviving that round, I actively started worrying about how we were going to get the pigs loaded back up in the trailer. Thankfully, Jayme was nearby.
Now, I must admit, I was a little embarrassed by our trailer. Ours was the only one in the lot NOT an actual livestock trailer. I was expecting Jayme to at least snicker or give me a horrified look when I pulled up and he saw our trailer. But, bless him, he didn't even flinch. I was afraid I might back into someone's hog or a post, so asked Jayme to back the trailer up to the barn door for me- which he did with ease. And while Jayme was backing the trailer up, another kid about Joe's age walked up to me. "Is that your trailer?! That's great!" He proceeded to tell how impressed he was and how clever it was that we didn't spend a lot of money on a livestock trailer. And a tiny bit of my embarrassment turned to pride.
I don't know if we would have been able to get the hogs on that trailer without Jayme, but having a big, football-playing guy that knew pigs helping, it didn't take long. He proceeded to help us load up all our gear, then told us he hoped to see us back at it next year. Next I knew, we were on our way home.
I'll tell you what, it still makes me tear up a little bit with gratitude for all the help Jayme was to us. 4H kids are the best.
Back home, I managed to back the trailer up to the stable, ready to unload. Rosie tromped off the trailer fairly quickly and into the pen. But Chip was another story. He was feeling a little motion-sick from the ride, and didn't want to move- much less step onto the metal grate of the ramp. I got up in the trailer with the hog-board, got behind him, and started pushing. He grunted a little and set his feet a little firmer on the wood. I managed to get him closer to the edge of the board, but he refused to let himself get pushed onto the grate. The harder I pushed, the more intense his grunts became. I could feel the bruises forming on my knees. Every time I though I had him close, he pushed back and shoved past me. I didn't think we'd ever get him off.
After several minutes of head-scratching, I came up with the idea of scooting the cage off the trailer, so Joe and I unstrapped the cage and slowly yanked it toward the back of the trailer until Chip was finally forced off the board. Seeing that he no longer had solid footing beneath him, it didn't take a lot more effort to coax him down the ramp and into the stable.
It was nearly dark by the time we got the rest of everything unloaded and put away. Finally able to realx, we reveled in our accomplishments for the week, Zivah daydreaming about showing a hog again next year.