The Mind of Big Willy

As we hear reiterated at many a ranch educational program, fall is a time of harvest. We collect apples from trees, pumpkins from the vine, dig potatoes and carrots, and so forth. On our field programs, students join in for cider pressing. They take turns spinning the crank of the apple-crusher, and all sing the song: “This the way we crush our apples, on an autumn day.” Next we turn the topmost crank, and the press mashes the fruits.. “This is the way we press our apples…” And the sweet cider oozes out.

Meanwhile, a 600-pound beast watches. Big Willy stands right behind the fence at the edge of his pasture. He pants and grunts, and shakes with excitement. Drools streams from his open mouth, with tusks on full display. (Don’t be afraid; Big Willy uses his tusks ONLY for display.)

A singular obsession has entered his mind. The apple-chunks that remain after cider pressing. Sweet and delicious. To be eaten with speed and gusto. Big Willy has apples on his mind.

Long have humans contemplated the mind of the beasts. Biologists, psychologists, philosophers, and lay-people all have their own explanations for what goes on in animal minds. But in the case of Big Willy, animal thoughts are not hard to deduce. His sole preoccupation in life is food. Being a large black pig, his primary diet is grass, supplemented with a bit of grain. But he’ll take any food he can get, especially sugary apples.

Sometimes, people ask if hogs are really as smart as reputed. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that Big Willy can be quite clever, when there is an opportunity for food. If his gate is left open, just enough for a huge hog to slip through, he’ll go out. Not for fresh air or social life, but because our only way to lure him back in is with food. When we move chickens and their pens and fence to new pasture, Big Willy is close behind. He’ll scarf any chicken feed left on the ground, and slurp all grain spills. If we leave a barrel of grain unprotected, Big Willy will knock it over. The resultant pile of culinary goodness is his version of heaven.

Hogs have short lives, but they live a version of the American dream. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  And for Big Willy, happiness is something that you chew.

©2011 Ross Wood Studlar

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