Grit Blogs > A Farm Boy Remembers

Smartest Farm Animal

Larry ScheckelToday, we will rank five barnyard residents, starting at the bottom, and work our way to the top.

You just cannot find a dumber barnyard creature than a sheep. Yes, they supply us with wool for clothing, but so does a cotton plant. Yes, some people do enjoy mutton, but steak, veal, ham, bacon, chicken and turkey make for some really good eating.

My wife and I watched sheep being herded by Border Collies in New Zealand. Those sheep would just cower at the sight of a dog that was one-tenth their size. It is in their genetic makeup to band together for protection against any predators. But if those sheep were smart, they would turn on that dog and chase it over the next hill.

When one sheep moves, the others tend to follow. Recently a sheep in Turkey tried to jump across a 15-foot ravine. More than 400 sheep followed, all falling to their deaths.

We had a ram on our Oak Grove Ridge farm in the hill country of Crawford County, Wisconsin. His sole job was to impregnate 25 ewes each year. Not a bad gig for a male sheep! My brothers and I would tease Sheepbuck by holding out a handful of grain, succulent morsels of ground corn. Sheepbuck would slowly approach and take a few nibbles. Then we would push back on Sheepbuck’s forehead, making him madder than Hades. Off we would run for the safety of the barnyard feeding bunks. You would think Sheepbuck would learn. But no, he didn’t, and that is why sheep are the stupidest animal on the farm.

My final example: The first animal to die in George Orwell’s "Animal Farm" was a sheep, in the Battle of Cowshed.

Chickens have the IQ of a 2-year-old, maybe a 3-year-old, but that would be pushing it. Chicken lovers will brag that chickens, like dogs and cats, have distinct personalities, some being a bit shy and others out-going and gregarious. But who can love an animal that scratches the ground, picks out seeds, ticks, worms, and is prone to carrying lice?

We all find cows irresistible. They have the most beautiful eyes, especially Brown Swiss and Jerseys. Cows have a social pecking order, and Charlotte was the prima donna on the Scheckel farm. Woe be it to any cow that tried to cut in line to get into the barn before Charlotte.

Cows form friendships, graze together in herds, and are generally non-complaining servants. Cows are prone to bloating if allowed in a really luscious field of green alfalfa or clover. It’s a shame to see a dead cow, prone with all four legs straight out. We’ll put them right in the middle of our hierarchy of barnyard animal intelligence.

We’re moving up the ranking of the smartest farm animals. In second place is the horse. Horses are hard workers, easy to train, and loyal to a fault. They can remember and respond to dozens of words or commands. Roy Rogers had Trigger, Gene Autry rode Champion, the Lone Ranger owned Silver, and Hopalong Cassidy went after the bad guys astride Topper. Each displayed an impressive array of tricks, stunts and movements.

Sow with piglet
Who doesn't love a piglet, the cuddliest of all farm animals?

Now we come to the smartest of all farm animals, and that highest honor is reserved for the pig. You heard me, the pig! Piglets are the cuddliest of all barnyard creatures, what with their soft pink noses and delicate ears. Pigs can be housebroken, same as a dog. Ever try to housebreak a calf or lamb? And pigs can be trained to walk on a leash.

Pigs can figure out how to open gates, and have been taught to use a joystick to play video games and move a cursor on a video screen.

Pigs have been called mud-wallowers. That’s because they have no sweat glands, and like to wallow in mud to stay cool. Their skin is prone to sunburn, so mud is their sunblock.

Sadly for the pig, we humans harvest its eye corneas for transplant. A pig’s heart valve is identical to the human heart valve; pigs have given up, without a squeal, their own heart valve to replace failing human hearts. Pig glands have been used to make insulin. Pig skin has been collected for burn patients. As a point of information, footballs are made of cowhide, not pigskin, and all the pigs out there have just given a big collective sigh of relief!

So there you have it. The smartest farm animals, in order, from top to bottom, goes like this: pig, horse, cow, chicken and sheep. That’s my line up, and I’m sticking to it.