That is a mobile pig loading ramp. It is one pig wide such that they can’t turn around and the sides are high enough that they can’t go up and over. In the front, on the car end which is near us in the photo, are legs that set the ramp to the right height for our van. The cross beam allows two people to pull the ramp into place and later pull it off the driveway and put it away.
Loading pigs has typically been the most difficult thing in our farming work. When loading the pigs are going into a novel situation and they don’t like that. It is very important to take your time. Don’t rush. Food helps. Loading first thing in the morning when the pigs are hungry helps.
In an ideal situation the loading area would be permanently setup and we could just back the van up the day before so the pigs could explore their chariot at their leisure. This would make loading much easier and they could even self load, sleeping in the bedding hay in the van box the night before. Since pigs are late risers I would just be able to close the door in the morning and off we’d go to market, to market.
But we don’t live in an ideal world, not yet. Currently every time we want to load pigs we setup the system of pallets on the driveway to act as a sorting and loading area. It is about an hours work and goes fairly smoothly but we all look forward to having it permanently arranged.
This photo shows the stack of pallets to be used for building the walk way, the maze, as well as the ramp and the carrying box in the van. We constructed a simple box of 3/4″ plywood with doors and a 661010 welded wire mesh (WWM) roof that slips into the back of our mini-van for taking pigs to market. It’s big enough to carry three market size pigs at a time which is a typical week’s load.
You’ll note that one of the doors is wide and the other is narrow. When loading the wide door is closed. The narrow door opens into the loading ramp. After the pigs are in the van the narrow door is simply swung closed and latched since it fits between the sidewalls of the ramp. Then the van is rolled forward down the driveway and the back of the van is closed to secure everything neatly.
When unloading the pigs at the butcher we lift the hatch and open both doors to let the pigs hop down. This works well because mini-vans are very low riding vehicles, even ours with the extra springs. If we had a pickup truck the height would be more of a challenge for the pigs when unloading as they don’t like jumping down any great distance.
The above photo shows the system we’ve been using for a while. The pallets can be screwed or even just tied together with baling twine. You can also stick 2×4’s through the pallets to help neatly secure them together.
This worked fairly well but that design had some problems with pigs balking at the corner just before the ramp. We solved that with a fortuitously warped piece of plywood I had accidentally left out in the storm as shown below.
Temple Grandin has some excellent articles on this and related topics. Most of it is really focused on large confinement operations but some of it is applicable to small pastured operations like our farmstead.
The warped sheet of plywood fit perfectly in the spot of the turn before the ramp. Now the pigs move smoothly through the curve and up onto the ramp.
To the right and down hill is a sorting pen where we picked out our candidates from the herd by feeding there first thing in the morning. Those who were to stay were sent back out to pasture. Those who were to go were sent into the maze.
Right in front of Holly is a slight gap between two pallets. That’s our ‘man-gate’ where we can step through but pigs don’t venture. Works swell. I think the ‘V’ shape has something to do with why they don’t see it as an avenue but it works for us with our longer legs.
Another view from lower down showing the sorting pen with the gate to the left leading out to the pigs and the gate to the right leading up to the maze and loading ramp. There is a small shelter in the sorting pen as we sometimes use that for holding space for piglets that are on their way out into the world and new homes.
This is Abigail exploring the loading area leading up to the loading ramp. We brought Abigail back down – like a famous witch, she was saved by her pregnancy.
In this turn before the loading ramp notice the curved end of plywood. That helps to guide the pigs into the loading ramp. Previously we had the end there a boxy square corner which tended to bottleneck. Changing it to a curve solved that problem.
Also to note is the piece of plywood on the ground. This makes for fewer transitions at a time. I found it was better to change one thing at a time in their environment when possible because the pigs want to stop and check things out as they go. If there are too many changes at once then they balk. Think: angle, direction, elevation, ground material, wall material, things overhead, smell, texture, etc.
Another trick is to spread some hay both in the vehicle, on the ramp and ground before the ramp. This aids with the pig’s transitioning from space to space as well as making the inside of the vehicle more inviting and ultimately more comfortable during the trip. Additionally, a bit of hay in the van box soaks up any urine or poop.
Speaking of poop and pee, do not feed the pigs for some time before, if possible not that morning and not for 24 hours. The butcher tends to appreciate them arriving with empty bellies and you’ll have less poop in the transport vehicle. I also like to give them p
lenty of time to use the facilities, go poop and pee, before they head out on their trip.
Since the pigs are thus hungry that morning, a bit of treats, what ever their favorite is, will help move them along up the alley and into the vehicle. Pigs will full bellies are less interested in food and exploring new places – one more good reason for a late breakfast.
Abby and another finisher pig demonstrating how nicely the loading ramp works. The solid sides keep them focused and undistracted. The height of the sides keep them from trying to hop over. Later I added another cross bar at the near end along the top for strength similar to the ones at the far end by the van.
At the far end of the ramp you can just see the door of the van box in it’s open position. A person standing there is able to then unclip it and swing it shut behind the loaded pigs, locking the latch.
Originally I had envisioned putting cleats on the deck of the ramp for traction but with the low slope it isn’t necessary. In fact, if I need to push a pig as happened once it is nice that there are no cleats for the pig to get traction on.
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In the photo above next to the near pig is a piece of plywood on the right. That is part of the sandwich board we sometimes use when moving pigs. It is simply two 3’x2′ sheets of plywood with hand holds along the top and hinged in the middle of their short sides. You walk behind the board guiding the pigs and making their space smaller so they gradually move forward in the intended direction. The sandwich board acts as a guide. Just take your time and don’t rush. That’s the mantra.
The pigs are loaded and ready to head off to market on our jacked up, high sprung hot-rod mini-van with 2,400 lb carrying capacity – think covered pickup truck!
With the setup described above loading has become a fairly easy task. I do look forward to the day when we have a permanent space setup for the loading as that will save an hour of setup on market day. Over the course of many weeks that really adds up.
If you don’t have this setup you can mimic it with bales of hay or any other guides that will give the pig an alley way to move from pen to vehicle. Be creative – use found materials. No need to get overly fancy.
It is very important that the incline to the vehicle not be too steep. We did have one boar that willingly climbed stacked hay bales like steps but for most that steep a ramp would have caused them to balk. Generally the pigs prefer a gentle incline and the narrow loading ramp makes a world of difference.
Take your time. Don’t rush. Allow plenty of time for this. It might go smoothly.
PS. Yes, we really do have that much snow left. I got to practice my spring plowing again this morning.
Some Related Reading:
One Day of Rotational Grazing
How Much Land Per Pig
Pasture Post Pig Grazing
InstaPigs and Animal Units
North Home Field Sow and Piglets
Sugar Mountain Farm Pigs: Feeding and Grazing
Vet Visit Field Tour
Painted Probed & Pierced Pigs
Sorting and Driving Pigs
Wild Farrowing – another view of the loading chute.
Outdoors: 44°F/12°F 12″ Snow, Partially Sunny
Farm House: 61°F/51°F two logs
Tiny Cottage: 54°F/40°F made bond beam forms for tank/chimney