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!

Animal Farm, more like Make-Believe Farm.

The following book review first appeared on Goodreads, a social media platform for voracious–and novice–readers alike.

Animal Farm by George Orwell.

TheMisfitFarmer rated this book three out of five stars.

Shelves: agriculture

After an slightly embarrassing incident of misidentifying a sheered sheep for a goat, I took my neighboring farmer’s advice to heart and began a thorough study of animal husbandry, starting with old and forgotten books (#freeonKindle) to gain a solid foundation of practical farm know-how. That’s how I ran across this slim volume with such a direct and promising title.

I had high hopes for this work, but recommend it only for the most novice of farmers as it imparts merely basic farming advice–and relies on a distracting (and silly if you ask me) depiction of talking farm animals to do so. For instance, in the first few pages, the pigs get together and decree, “No animal must ever live in a house, or sleep in a bed, or wear clothes, or drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco, or touch money, or engage in trade.” As you can see, that’s pretty much stating the obvious when it comes to farming advice, though I imagine some oddballs might be tempted to dress chickens in baby clothes when no one’s around. 

The major flaw in Mr. Orwell’s farming guide is obvious, namely that it lacks any instruction on fence building, which is a strange oversight for a book focused entirely on raising livestock.

Still, a few gems of animal husbandry are found scattered in this work, which I might as well tell you so you don’t waste time reading all the extraneous bits: 1) Never let animals hold secret meetings in the barn 2) Never let pigs attain positions of leadership 3) Names of farm animals can be self-fulling, so it’s best to stick to names like Bacon and Porkchop and avoid those of dictators like Napoleon. 

For a more in-depth and nuanced look at livestock management, I highly recommend E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

(If you’re on Goodreads, friend me to follow my agricultural reading progress.)

Window Alert: Fugitive Livestock

The guv’mint agriculture office where I work happens to be a rock’s throw from our local sale barn. This is quite convenient for farmers. After they pick up their check at the sale barn, they can stop by our office to receive treatment for shell shock. Last week, I nearly had to call the paramedics when one dairy farmer about fell-out in the hallway. He realized he actually owed the sale barn money. His little day-old jersey bulls sold for five dollars each, which didn’t cover the minimum sale fee, so he netted a loss for each bull calf sold–talk about giving your calves away. After I helped him compose himself, I gave him some apt advice for his next bull calves: spray-paint them black and pass them off as Angus on Craigslist.

Being so close to the sale barn has perks besides increasing my ability to quickly help dairy farmers in need. During lunch, I like to walk down to the sale barn grill for the purposes of exercise. Dodging trucks with rumbling livestock trailers in tow provides strenuous cardio, and I’m a big proponent of being heart healthy. It’s just happenstance that the destination at the end of my walking route has the best cheeseburger around (insert freshest beef joke here), plus they make a mean batch of onion rings. Also, their fried chicken is quite tasty, especially the skin.  

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Another perk to working so close to the sale barn is I never know what I’m going to see run by my office window. Usually, it’s goats. Apparently, they’re the best escape artists, followed closely in rank by young piglets. Approximately thirty-seven seconds after a fugitive piglet speeds by my window, a posse of sale barn workers will follow in pursuit. If I’m not too bloated from my exertion at lunch, I’ll gladly join in with the posse to help wrangle where needed. Chasing a piglet is even better exercise than dodging livestock trailers.

Usually, I see escaped domesticated livestock out the window, but occasionally I’ll see native wildlife, too. Last week, for instance, I saw the strangest creature. At first glance, I thought it was a skunk and dove under my desk to take cover. I’m a little jumpy when it comes to skunks (read Polecat Prone-Areas). But upon peeking out from under my desk for a second glance, I determined it was no polecat. The creature was too brown and streamline, plus there was no odor involved. And that’s when it hit me–by George, I knew this critter. At church, one frequently stared at me from an old rich lady’s scarf. 

To my knowledge, I had never seen a live mink before in my life–not even in the zoo. But at our yearly conservation field day, our local game warden had a mink pelt and skull he used for show-and-tell with third-graders. Having seen that presentation many times over the years, I felt pretty confident I was observing the rare woodland creature. I even called my coworkers over to the window to observe the mink. It scurried all over the place, giddy with excitement. Then it looked up alertly and made a beeline into the woods. 

“Wow” I thought to myself, “it’s not everyday a person gets to see a mink.”

But no sooner than I thought that, a posse passed by. Apparently, it was no mink at all–just an escaped brown ferret that someone tried offloading at the small animal sale.

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