Onay Icrochipsmay Inyay Igspay (or No Microchips in Pigs)

It’s hard enough as is for farmers to survive tracking red clay into an old farmhouse. Just think about the carnage that will come when farmers leave red Martian mud on the floors of a newly-built geodesic dome. Thus, by developing a spacecraft, Elon Musk was already putting future farmers in peril.

But Musk couldn’t stop there. Secretly, he’s been putting microchips in pig brains (no joke). Maybe I could understand microchips in the brains of guinea fowl–those poor birds need all the extra intelligence they can get–but pigs, no. Make pigs any smarter, and we’re one step from becoming our own bacon. George Orwell already covered what happens when pigs revolt: we get a communist, porcine state. 

So, I’m not sure why Musk chose to enhance pigs when other farm animals need more brain power. Certainly, it doesn’t take long to realize some farm animals are a little slow. To be fair to farm animals, I suspect the feeling is mutual. My cows have a way of staring at me that makes me feel self-conscious, as if they’re calling me a moron. Likely, it’s just paranoia. I doubt my cows would ever do that, even when they lined up along the fence to watch me accidentally back the tractor through a barn wall. 

my staring cows make me paranoid

Of course, intelligence in farm animals depends partly on socioeconomic conditions. Animals raised on upper-class organic farms have more advantages. That said, genius can arise from lowly uncertified organic farmsteads and even conventional farms where animals eat generic hay. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Anybody who has seen my neighbor’s farm, which is littered with dilapidated farm equipment, knows his cows are technologically disadvantaged. And yet, an artistic savant arose from the rust. 

The bull, a massive Hereford, was an expert in abstract art and even dabbled in sculpting. With a few strokes of his head, he could contort a gate or corral panel into something utterly unrecognizable. Many art critics declared his abstractions the work of genius. Buyers at the sale barn disagreed, declaring his work of the devil, just another example of an artist going undervalued in his own lifetime. 

Anyway, I’m all for publicly-funded animal education. In fact, I wish someone would teach my cows not to devour every bit of plastic or metal they find when they have a whole pasture full of grass. Plus, I’d like it if they quit escaping and eating my neighbor’s expensive Japanese maple. But inserting microchips in pig brains seems a step too far. If Musk keeps at it, we’ll all be speaking Pig Latin soon, so onay icrochipmay inyay igspay!

How to Achieve Pet Status on a Hobby Farm

Raising bottle dairy steers is not for the faint of heart. As purchasable animals, they rival only goldfish in price and ability to keel over. I’ve seen healthy day-old Jersey calves sell for less than five dollars at the sale barn. I’ve never seen a day-old Jersey bring more than fifty dollars, which is top of the market and still a reasonable value, considering some goldfish can sell for hundreds of dollars per piece. I guess koi is good eating, probably best fried with hushpuppies.

three bottle calves in a barn stall.

Dairy breeds, however, produce a bony carcass, so most of the bigtime cattlemen don’t want anything to do with a Holstein steer, and they wouldn’t be caught dead with a puny Jersey steer on their farm. “There is more meat on a big deer,” they might say. These days cattlemen just want big beefy angus cows. This may seem rather discriminatory, but it works out in favor of some dairy steers. Many are destined for hobby farms where they live a life of leisure and get a lot of entertainment out of watching people play veterinarian. I think it’s a well-known fact among dairy steers that the way to achieve pet status on a hobby farm is to get as close to death as possible without dying and then let the farmer nurse them back to health.

We’ve raised a lot of bottle calves over the years. The ones we remember the most are the ones we nearly lost and somehow doctored back to the living. Oftentimes, they’re a little stunted afterwards, which works to their advantage cause they last longer on the farm. My philosophy with raising dairy steers is most of the work is upfront, so even if it takes longer to feed them out, it’s still worth it to recoup the time spent bottle-feeding and doctoring. We grow our own grain and run it through the old hammermill, so we don’t really have a shortage of feed.

Eventually, whenever we take the calves to the sale barn, the handlers always comment on how tame the steers are. “They’re just big pets,” I respond.

Then I walk the catwalk one last time. Though the paycheck is nice, I still hate to see them go.

a group of our steers on moving day.