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Like a lamb to slaughter: Part 2

THE STORY SO FAR...Mark has put the accident in Ontario behind him and delivered a load of snowmobile parts to Vancouver. Bud gives him a load of livestock from B.C. to Quebec, and a return load back to B.C., to be driven in a convoy with two...


THE STORY SO FAR…
Mark has put the accident in Ontario behind him and delivered a load of snowmobile parts to Vancouver. Bud gives him a load of livestock from B.C. to Quebec, and a return load back to B.C., to be driven in a convoy with two other drivers…

The farm Bud sent Mark to was about two-and-a-half hours northeast of Vancouver. It was a large operation in the heart of a long valley where it was surrounded by farms growing all manner of fruits and vegetables, and raising everything from goats to horses, hogs to cattle. The sign for Fraser Farms was a simple wooden one, the letters roughly carved into four horizontal planks set up on a pair of 4×4 posts. Mark couldn’t see the farm from the road because the entrance road seemed to wend its way around a large hill, behind which the farm was no doubt situated.

Mark slowed Mother Load, then gently eased her off the highway onto the wide and level gravel driveway. After a couple of minutes he was around the hill and the farm suddenly stretched out before him, a large modern farmhouse set in the middle of a valley with pastures on hillsides all around.

Although he was city-bred, Mark was able to make out pastures populated by cattle and horses, as well as a complex of large pens that probably housed hundreds, if not thousands of hogs.

As he neared the farmhouse, Mark slowed to a crawl. The roadway forked before him and Mark knew that if there were two choices he could make about which way to go, it was almost certain he’d pick the wrong one.

Thankfully, a farmhand came out to greet him and ran up to the truck as if there was no time to lose.

Mark rolled down his window.

“Hi there,” the man said.

“Hello,” Mark said. “My name’s Mark.”

“Mark who?”

Mark was caught off-guard a moment, then said, “Did Bud tell you to say that?”

“What? No. We’ve got two drivers named Mark coming in. I need to know which one you are so I can send you to the right place.”

 “Oh.” Of course, thought Mark. Sometimes people just need to know who you are. “Dalton. Mark Dalton.”

“You’re going that way,” he said, pointing to the fork that went off to the left. “And you’re just in time. They’re loading right now and they want to get going within the hour.”

“Right,” Mark said, rolling up his window and putting Mother Load into gear. If they were in a hurry to get underway, he wasn’t going to be the one to hold them back.

He followed the road a short ways and came upon a big barn with a large loading dock made of timbers that was connected to a series of pens by a long wooden ramp. Three trailers were backed up to the loading dock, two of them already hooked up to tractors. Mark pulled up in front of the last trailer and backed Mother Load into place.

“You Mark Dalton?” a man asked as he got out of his truck to hook the trailer.

“Yes sir,” Mark said.

“I’m Karl Gibson and I’ll be lead driver.” They shook hands. “Get yourself hooked up, then we’ll talk.”

Mark nodded and got to work. He made a quick inspection of the trailer and was pleased to see that all the hoses looked new and the rubber on the gladhands had recently been replaced. Even the landing gear cranked up smoothly. Inside, the trailer looked clean, with walls that appeared to have been scrubbed and the straw on the floor smelled as if it had been harvested that morning.

“Nice,” he said under his breath.

Minutes later he joined Karl, and another driver who had a nametag on his shirt that read “Jerome.” They were standing off to the side, watching the trailers being loaded.

“You ever drive livestock before?” Karl asked. Mark thought about saying something smart, or lying about his experience, but he knew it wouldn’t be long before he was found out. Honesty would be the best way to go. “No, not at all.”

“But you’ve been driving a long time, right?”

“Practically all my life.”

Karl nodded, seemingly satisfied, but said nothing more.

“So, how does this work?” Mark asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it doesn’t make sense to drive these animals all the way to Quebec when there are already plenty of livestock farms in Quebec. Ontario, too, for that matter. Why do they need beef from B.C. in Quebec?”

Karl shook his head. “You’re confusing these animals with animals for slaughter.”

“Ah,” Mark said. “That must be it.”

“The trip from feed to slaughterhouse is a trip that’s only six or so hours,” Karl continued. “Sometimes it’s even shorter, like within Ontario an animal can go from the farm to the slaughterhouse is less than two hours. You can even go from Ontario to Pennsylvania in less than eight hours.”

“Right.”

“And if we were moving beef, we would be transporting 500-lb calves in the fall, or 800-lb yearlings in the spring that would be fattened up over the summer to be slaughtered later in the year.”

“I see,” Mark nodded. “So these cows are going to Quebec to live on a farm.”

“For a little while at least,” Karl nodded.

Then Jerome said, “I know you’re new, but these are sheep. Not beef.”

Mark hadn’t been paying all that much attention and only now realized that the animals being loaded weren’t cattle. “Ah, so they are.”

“We’ll be driving about 36 hours from here to Thunder Bay. When we get there the animals will be off-loaded on a farm there for a 12-hour break, then loaded again for the rest of the way into Quebec.”

“Thirty-six hours is a long time.”

“They’re allowed to be on the truck for up to 48 hours, but we need a margin of safety in case something goes wrong.”

That made sense, Mark thought, realizing that this drive might be harder on him than the animals.

As the loading continued, Mark found himself getting cold. While it wasn’t all that cold in B.C. at this time of year, it was still near freezing and it was hard to stay warm just standing around. Which made Mark wonder. “How are the animals going to stay warm?”

“It’s not too bad now, but it will probably get colder as we go east. It would be nice if it stayed close to zero the whole trip, but in Saskatchewan and Manitoba it can get as cold as -20 C.”

“There are heaters in the trailers, right?” Jerome laughed, but Karl didn’t react at all. “If it gets cold we’ll close all the panels on the truck, but there are 30 bales of straw in each trailer and there’s a lot of heat generated by the animals. And they’re all air-rides, so the animals should be comfortable enough.”

“Sounds good,” Mark said, unconvinced. He had the benefit of a coat, boots, hat and gloves and he was still feeling the bite of the cold. He hard a hard time believing the animals wouldn’t freeze to death along the way…but that’s why he was relying on the experience of Karl and Jerome to show him the way. “Anything else I need to know?”

“Don’t drink too much coffee, because we won’t be stopping unless we have to.”

“Okay.”

“And get as much sleep as you can whenever you can because our stops are only as long as they need to be.”

“Got it. When do we leave?”

Just as Mark asked the question, the door closed on the final trailer.

“Right now!”

– Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 3 of Like a Lamb to Slaughter.


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