If You Wanna Work With Pigs

Marshal Rabedeau was a plain-living man who lived his days along the Chazy River near the tiny town of Champlain, New York. His icy-blue eyes and instant smile belied the price that sixty years of farming does to the human body. Some teach and meter out wisdom around a podium or in an office where the fee is measured by the minute. Then there’s the Marshal Rabedeau’s of the world who come in coveralls,  in work boots and weather-tattered shirts, who could signal with one callused finger and say, “Boys, the work’s over here.”

One day the chore at hand was to move a dozen or so gilts (young female pigs) from their holding pen topig photo (1 of 1), If you wanna work with pigs another barn down the road. The boys were ready. Lean and strong and swift like the four-footed critters before them. Old Marshal said, “Now look’ie here, I’ll show ya’ how to do this easy….” but the Boys, having quickly sized up the task, boastfully interrupted the slow-talking Marshall and said, “We can do this. You wait in the truck and we’ll run these buggers up the ramp in no time.”

Marshall paused, reached for his tobacco pouch and loaded up his pipe. Time seemed to freeze whenever Marshall did this, because, like each time before, the seventy-something year-old farmer then, without saying a word, pulled out a tin holding his wooden matches, struck and lit one alongside the gate and in one long silent motion moved the burning match atop his pipe, drew, puffed and then, as if as an afterthought, completed his sentence. The imagery was not lost either on bystanders as swirls of smoke wafted upward as a tiny flame danced in and out of the pipe’s barrel until he got it going proper. Shifting the pipe from one side of his mouth to the other, Marshal looked around, grinned and said. “You do that Boys, you do that.”


Boy One took the mathematical approach. He grabbed a lightweight aluminum crowding gate and began to work one of the smaller pigs systematically between the back fence line and the barn. No sweat. All went smoothly until the pig likewise began to realize where this was leading. Boy One called for reinforcements from teen Two and Three, who arrived in seconds. The squeeze was on. All that head-strong critter had to do was see the opening leading up the ramp into the truck and the rest of the porkers would load easier. Or so they thought.

Now yearling swine don’t look all that big, or strong, or intelligent for that matter. They’re just solid muscle poised on four feet of defiance and determination. And since it was a three to one match up, the Boys figured the odds were in their favor. They crowded up a little more when suddenly the pig, taking one last look at where she was supposed to go, spun around and leaped five-feet into the air with all her might and landed atop the gate the Boys were holding and knocked them flat on their backs against the ground. For a brief moment the pig stood there standing on the gate with the Boys beneath and the pig above, as if deciding what to do next. Then, with one triumphant leap and a squeal she bolted off to rejoin her buddies.

Swears and blaming comments were heard aplenty as the Boys got up and brushed away handfuls of mud and manure and plotted what to do next.

Where was Marshall, anyway?

Boy Two undertook the brute force approach as he made a mad testosterone dash into the pack of the weary eyed hogs. His goal was to just overpower the first five-foot long chunk of flying sausage he landed upon and ‘muckle’ it into submission.

Now when you’re sixteen years old and feel you’re holding the world by the kahunas this approach seems, well, perfectly doable. And Boy Two’s lunge was indeed magnificent, as was his midair form as he descended upon one unsuspecting porker. The finale, however, was victorious…for the juvenile…with four feet, as the gilt bolted away leaving the teenager splayed out on the ground with nary a hog in sight.

Enter Roy Rogers

Boy Three, having missed the last act as he searched for a rope, emerged from the barn looking like Roy Rogers on a roundup. On command, Boy Two and Three worked the elusive porkers up into the narrowest corner of the lot as Roy Boy got the lasso action going with the rope. The first two throws caught nothing but manure on the ground. On the third throw, as if on cue, the frisky five-footers rounded about and came thundering through, Wild West style, just as Boy Three with rope twirling in the air tossed the lasso over the head, the largest head by the way, of one unlucky squealing yearling pig. With no thought whatsoever of how this would all play out, Boy Three wrapped the rope around his waist, planted his feet, flexed his biceps and readied himself for a one-on-one showdown.

It’s a good thing the kid’s boots were firmly laced because when the slack in the rope was gone, so was he. Boy Three went sailing through the air like a barnyard missile, and since sheer bravado was still ruling over common sense, Roy-Boy Three continued to hang on to the rope even after hitting the dirt like a human plow as the pig, clearly in charge, barreled across the bumpy barnyard.

There’s a Zen saying that goes, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. And just as the last fallen hero was picking himself and what was left of his ego up from the ground, gales of belly laughter could be heard from just beyond the fence line. Marshall had been watching it all from a stump in the shade of a nearby tree. When he finally stopped laughing he said: “Had enough yet, Boys?”

Since the Boys weren’t talking, Marshall responded to his own question and headed for the barn. He reappeared carrying a worn metal bucket with a scoop of whole kernel corn inside, shaking it as he walked back into the pig lot. With the familiar sound of corn rattling, ears were up and all eyes were following Marshall. One by one the pigs started walking in Marshall’s direction. The old farmer began dropping kernels in a line, up the ramp and into the back of the waiting truck. Within minutes every pig was loaded.

After latching the truck ramp, Marshall turned to the Boys and reached for his pipe. As he puffed looking over the barrel of his lit tobacco, Marshall smiled, took the pipe in his hand and said in our direction, “Boys, if you wanna work with pigs, you gotta know more than the pigs.”

That was more than forty-five years ago. And while my farming days have long since ended, the lesson still applies.

Kevin Lee (Roy-Boy Three!) All rights reserved.

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Author: Kevin Lee

In a nutshell, Kevin fesses up to the following: He's a retired youth advocate-counselor, a blogger, writer, photographer, rower, Friends Minister, grandpa of six and married to a terrific woman for 43 years and counting!

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