Transporting animals can be tricky business. Anyone who has ever loaded a horse in a trailer for the first time probably has an interesting story to tell. I heard a story the other day about a belligerent horse that refused to be loaded. The horse was owned by a women. Men were trying to get the animal into the trailer. It put up quite a fight, hauling back on the rope in a halter stretching maneuver, throwing itself and even lying down. By the time the owner arrived the men were at their wits end having discussed many options including some involving pain. Their last resort before getting rough was to get a piece of plywood and press it against the horse’s backside and push it in. Two men on the board, one man on each front leg and a fifth on the halter rope. The animal braced it’s legs and refused to budge. The owner, seeing the situation was getting out of hand, motioned for the red faced men to stop their futile efforts. They backed off to catch their breath. The owner walked up to the horse and whispered in it’s ear. The animal lifted it’s head and hopped into the trailer. The men were amazed. “How did you get that darn horse to jump into the trailer? one of them asked. The woman replied “Did you ever think of asking her?”
On the farm where I grew up, mom and dad would sell an animal when they needed some cash. It might be an old cow or some pigs. Dad would go to Pohlcamp’s feed store In Pierz. On his way home he would stop to see Johnny Walz, the man with the truck who hauled livestock to South St. Paul. Mr Walz had certain days when he would drive to various farms to pick up a load. He had one of those big trucks with a high stock rack on the back. His was red on the bottom with white slatted boards on the top. When the truck rumbled into the yard us kids would run out to see what he had in the truck. There might be a big menacing looking holstein bull, or a huge old boar pig with its tusks protruding from the sides of his mouth. Mr Walz would back the truck up to the door where the animal was being held. Cows and bulls were loaded out through the milk house door. He’d pull out this huge ramp from the bed of the truck and drop it with a bang to the ground. Then he would go to the side of the truck and hoist down the sides of the chute, dropping the legs into holes on the side of the ramp. Once he had these secured he’d walk up the chute and peer into the rack. He had more than one compartment in there and would often have to secure a gate before he could load the next animal. We held our breath as he’d shout at and poke whatever was in there to move so he could shut the gate.
Usually Dad was home when the truck came. I remember one time when Johnny Walz came early to pick up some old sows. For those unfamiliar with sows, they are female pigs that get bigger and meaner with age. When they get about 500 or 600 pounds they are too big and too mean to raise piglets. There were four sows, a big red one, two black and white ones and a spotted Poland China confined to the pig house that day. “Here comes the truck” I remember Mom saying “Eddie, your going to have to help load those pigs”.
I am sure I swallowed hard. Pigs were never my favorite farm animal. The babies emitted ear splitting squeals when you gave them shots, causing the mothers to roar and snap at you. The feeder pigs were even worse when you caught them to put rings in their noses before turning them out on pasture. Old sows were the worst because they were always in a bad mood and probably didn’t care who they ate.
I ran out to the pig house in time to direct Mr. Walz as he backed his truck up to the door. “What you got today” he asked. “Four old sows” I said. “Where’s your dad?” he asked. About that time mom had arrived at the scene. “Eddie will help you get them loaded” she assured him, sensing that he was looking for some assistance.
While he pulled out the ramp and fastened the side panels to make the chute, I summoned my courage. The old sows, sensing my trepidation, began making a low rumble and stared at me with their beady eyes. Saliva dripped from their gaping jaws. “Are you ready, young fella” ? Mr. Walz hollered at me. I nodded. “Open the gate”. I did and slipped in behind the beasts. Mom handed me a stick. I waved it at them in the menacing way I had seen Dad do it. They were not amused. They made strange pig sounds as if they were talking amongst themselves. I imagined the big red one said she had dibs on my arms. The Poland China was eying my rear. “Come on, git!” I hollered. They all turned to face me. Mr Walz poked Red. She turned to face him and the chute. I seized the moment, ran up and gave her a push. Startled, she jumped and landed about halfway up the chute. “Push”! I did. Red pushed back, and down the chute we came. With an air of smugness, she rejoined her cohorts. It was obvious this was not going to work.
I looked to Mr. Walz for ideas. “Do you have a bushel basket”? He asked. “Yes, in the granary” “Go get it” He said, without offering any explanation. It didn’t take me long to climb out of the pen and retrieve the metal basket we used to haul ear corn from the corn crib. Reluctantly, I climbed back into the pen. By this time those sows were really getting irritated. I waited for his instructions.
“Pigs get confused when they can’t see,” He explained”. “If they can’t see, they will try to back away so they can see. I want you to put the basket over the pig’s head and push. Get her butt lined up with the chute first.”
I swallowed hard. “He must know what he is doing” I thought to myself, “He still has all his fingers.”
I moved. Red followed me with her beady eyes. When her butt lined up with the chute Johnny shouted “Now!” I slammed that basket over that old pig’s head and sent her reeling backwards. Backwards, and right up the chute and into the trailer. Johnny slammed the door shut. “Only three more to go” he smiled.. I repeated the process three more times, staring the beast in the eye, moving into position, pouncing with the bushel basket and pushing with all my might. Up the chute and into the truck. A feeling of relief and a little pride settled over me as the truck disappeared down the driveway.
That night I heard Dad ask Mom how Johnny Walz got those pigs loaded. Mom told the story.
He smiled. “Good job Eddie”.