~ Riceland Meadows ~

You Get in There
by Ralph Rice

One December in the 1980s, when we owned a slaughterhouse, a good customer ordered 1,600 pounds of breakfast link sausage for Christmas gifts. I decided to buy a bunch of sows, since they make nice lean sausage. We were busy at that time of year and I didn't want to spend any more time than necessary deboning pork, so I bought the largest sows I could find. Several of them weighed more than 600 pounds and one weighed more than 800.

We got this load of sows home from the livestock auction and put them in a pen to await slaughter. Almost immediately one of them started to make a nest, obviously soon to have a litter of piglets. Now I had not knowingly purchased her in this condition, but there was no mistaking she was going to have babies.

Most butchers would have been mad at having paid for all that extra weight of piglets, but not me. I was filled with illusions of grandeur. After calculating the money I could make by raising and selling the babies, I loaded the sow into a trailer, trucked her home, and hastily made a pen for her to farrow in. I bedded the pen well with lots of bright straw and put the sow inside.

Next morning eight new piglets were noisily eating their breakfast. I was happy to see they were warm, well fed, and doing just fine. I finished the rest of my feeding chores and headed off to work. I calculated the worth of the piglets~eight head at $20 per head, not bad. The mother could be butchered later and turned into delicious sausage. I was pleased with my good fortune.

We worked hard that day preparing orders for Christmas hams and gift boxes. When we finished work it was well past dark. I drove home thinking about the day's events and those eight 20­dollar bills nursing on their mother.

Back at the barn something seemed amiss. In the pigpen I found only two little piglets nursing. The other six were missing. I looked all around the barn. I couldn't figure out how the new babies could have gotten out. It wasn't until the mother sow got to her feet that I discovered where the six little pigs had gone.

A mother pig lies down gently. The problem is that even when a 600­pound sow lies down gently she's still heavy. There in the straw, under the now standing sow, were six of the flattest piglets I have ever seen. They looked like little pig­shaped paper plates.

The next morning when I did chores I found the other two piglets dead. Thus I learned the importance of a farrowing crate. I also learned why this sow had been in the sausage pen. My $160 worth of piglets had just slipped away. Although I was disappointed, I also realized that nothing ventured, nothing gained.

When I reached into the sow's pen to get her feed trough she ran at me growling and snapping and trying to bite. She probably thought I had flattened her babies and, boy, was she mad. She became 600 pounds of growling, snapping sausage on the hoof. I had to get her to the slaughterhouse, and fast.

Since I had brought the sow home it had snowed about 2'. There being no way I could drive the truck and trailer to the barn to get her, I decided to hitch my draft horses to the trailer and back it to the barn. They could easily get through the snow and help me rid the barn of that terror.

I hitched the horses to my forecart and hooked the forecart to the trailer. Soon I was backed up to the barn. In my haste to rid the barn of its ornery visitor, I laid the lines across the forecart's seat. Even though my horses are well broke, I usually tie my lines to something solid, just in case.

Inside the barn I armed myself with a scoop shovel in one hand and the lid from a 55­gallon drum in the other. There I stood, poised as an ancient gladiator, staring down at my opposing foe. I opened the gate and let the 600­pound snapping snarling beast from the confines of her pen.

We circled each other, two worthy combatants. I kept her from biting me by using the shovel as a shield. The barrel lid helped keep her from wheeling about and biting from the other side. Guiding her with my shovel, I bravely stepped up close and with the barrel lid pushed on her gigantic rear end, inching her toward the trailer. She whirled around and let out a woof that shook me to the core. That bark alone was enough to stand my hair on end, but her teeth sinking into the shovel is what scared me. I couldn't let her know how much she had startled me so, while my kneecaps played a drum roll, I glared at the old witch.

We continued on this way for about 15 minutes. I pushed and maneuvered, she spun and tried to eat me. Thus we went at each other with grit and determination, but both of us, being slightly overweight, soon started to tire.

At last I got her to the rear of the trailer. When she stepped up with one foot I saw a huge opportunity. In my deepest, meanest commanding voice I yelled, "You get in there!"

Now anyone who has ever worked horses knows that "get in there" is a command used to tell them to pull harder‹to put their heart into it~and is often followed by a slap on the rump. My horses had heard this command before. Needing no further encouragement they leaped the length of their bodies and kept right on getting in there.

Back in the barn I was trying to get my foot out of my mouth, the shovel out of the sow's, and the barn door shut, all while slipping in fresh manure. Somehow I got the door shut and the sow confined, and managed a startled "Whoa!" to two scared horses.

Being well broke, when I said "Whoa!" they started to stop. Trouble was, the trailer door swung around and 8' of steel slammed on an empty trailer. My two already scared horses thought someone had shot them and took off across the street, next to a new car sales lot. I, in hot pursuit, ran as fast as my tired hog fighting legs could carry me through 2' of snow. By the time I got across the street the team had made a wide circle and were coming back toward me. I stopped them, talked to them, and calmed them down. Then I drove them across the street and backed them up to the barn. I got off the forecart and tied my lines to a tree.

I entered the barn and glared at my adversary with newfound vengeance. Icicles hung from my sweat soaked hair, steam blew out of my flared nostrils, and a quiet rage shook my body. I stood before the hulking pig like a man possessed. She took one look at this ticked­off reheaded Dutchman, gave one grunt (her sign of contempt for a sore loser?), and ambled into the trailer on her own.

Ralph Rice writes regularly for Rural Heritage. This article appeared in the Holiday 2002 issue.

22 March 2003