A Socratic Rancher 6-28-10 | TheFencePost.com

A Socratic Rancher 6-28-10

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

Back in the late ’60s, I had a neighbor named Annie who was a Have-More-Plan enthusiast. If I recall correctly, the Plan was actually put out by the federal government after World War II to provide returning vets with an economical approach to rural living. The Plan involved a commensal, and symbiotic, collection of species in a designed shed system. Chickens could peck through the grain particles slipped by the goats or milk cow or feeder steers. Hogs ate all the feed wasted by the others, and a nearby garden received all the manure. The pamphlet for the Plan offered a very appealing layout of sheds and creatures living in harmony.

Annie owned 40 acres, and after reading the plan cover to cover, she gathered a colorful menagerie that could survive a Colorado winter, including horses, exotic chickens, registered Nubian goats, and several feeder pigs. One day she called to tell me she had been given a runt pig, which she was feeding with an eyedropper.

“This piglet,” she said wistfully, “is too cute.”

Anyone who has seen “Babe” knows how lovable young pigs can be.

Annie fed the gift runt like a baby and named him Bart. When he was big enough to be placed with his own species, he stood, hunched in a corner, shaking. Annie couldn’t bear to see him suffer, so she coddled him, and let him run with her three dogs, Peter, Paul and Mary. Whenever I came to visit, the dogs came running up the driveway barking, with Bart taking up the rear, doing his best to bark, but instead going, “Nueff, nueff, nueff.”

Bart ate dog food with the pack, even enjoyed an occasional gnaw on a bone, though as Bart grew, his manners became less and less accommodating until he had to be fed in a separate trough. When the dogs went out to terrorize the local rabbits and gophers, Bart bounced along in the oddly metronomic way a maturing hog locomotes, and though it’s impossible to know what goes on, exactly, in the minds of other species, it was clear to any observer that the rabbits and gophers weren’t much concerned about Bart’s predatory capabilities. I recall an afternoon when Annie and I watched Bart charge at a jackrabbit who simply continued munching on tender grass shoots, somehow knowing Bart would stop well short of him and stare, which Bart did, wondering what he was supposed to do next.

Recommended Stories For You

As time rose on, the cost of feeding a 300-pound pet pig became prohibitive, even for a Have-More-Plan. “He’s making less of my plan every week,” Annie lamented. And the fact of the matter: Bart was no longer cute. Not even close. His hide became bristly, he rooted things up all over the yard, and broke into feed sacks, etc.

I helped load Bart, enticing him into Annie’s stock trailer with a gallon of Neapolitan ice cream (Bart’s favorite) and took him to the sale barn.

When Bart entered the ring, he promptly sat on his hams, pointed his snout to the ceiling to produce the sound of a strangled howl. Then he looked at us with the dolorous eyes of an abandoned child. I had to prevent Annie from bidding on him.

She wanted to see him safely loaded and on his way to a new home, even though I warned her this was not Bart’s probable fate. When we reached the loading docks, we caught the yard boss laughing.

“Look at that hog, man! The dang thing herds!”

Sure enough. Bart was running side by side with the sale yard dog, pushing a set of heifers up the alley. “Nueff, nueff, nueff!”