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I know hobbits must have had pigs and chickens, because Bilbo Baggins served ham, bacon, eggs, and cold chicken to the dwarves when he first met them in An Unexpected Party.

But hobbits are little people, the great majority of which can't ride horses, but only ponies. Did they raise anything like cows, goats, or sheep? An average hobbit wouldn't even reach the height of a cow, I think.

What animals did they raise on their numerous farms/homesteads?

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    You don't need to be tall to milk a cow.
    – Paulie_D
    Jul 13, 2023 at 21:21
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    We can presume their farms had animals and plants just like in England - Tolkien pretty much only highlights differences, not commonalities in his works.
    – Mithoron
    Jul 13, 2023 at 23:37
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    @M.A.Golding. There seems to be little traffic between Bree and the Shire. Also, a pig can be raised on kitchen scraps, and almost certainly all farmers and even many non-farmers would have kept a pig or two.
    – TRiG
    Jul 14, 2023 at 10:23
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    Domesticated farm animals (itrw) have been selectively bred to be large. More cow, more milk, more meat. Larger pig, more ham, etc. In a land populated by relatively small beings, their domesticated animals would be bred smaller. We, in the real world, have plenty of examples of heritage d.a.'s. Shetland ponies, for example, are selectively bred to be ponies, and not "full size". (and not because Shetland Islanders are small, but rather the Islands themselves are small and limited in land area.) (paraphrased from Quora)
    – CGCampbell
    Jul 14, 2023 at 10:39
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    @CGCampbell Also the distinction between "pony" and "horse" is purely a convention based on size. There's no reason why the hobbits could not have had small pigs and small sheep, not to mention small cattle like Dexters which at an average height of 4' appear to me to be eminently "Hobbit sized". Jul 14, 2023 at 14:08

5 Answers 5

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Cows

There is one specific mention of owning cows, which is the fictional innkeeper in the song Frodo sings at Bree, which is a song that it's implied Bilbo would frequently sing in the Shire, implying perhaps that it applies equally well to Hobbit owned inns.

Then in desperation he began a ridiculous song that Bilbo had been rather fond of (and indeed rather proud of, for he had made up the words himself)...

They also keep a hornéd cow as proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail and dance upon the green.
The Lord of the Rings - Book I Chapter 9 - "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony"

There are also mentions of products that can be derived from cows, such as butter, cheese, milk, bones, fat and cream. These can also be derived from other animals though, and so they are given their own category below.

Pigs

There are some references to food products that would specifically only apply to pigs. In one of these cases, the bacon is listed as an example of Hobbit "farmhouse fare", implying that it was raised there, not just imported from out of the Shire.

There was beer in plenty, and a mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon, besides much other solid farmhouse fare. The dogs lay by the fire and gnawed rinds and cracked bones.
The Lord of the Rings - Book I Chapter 4 - "A Shortcut to Mushrooms"

“And pork-pie and salad,” said Bombur.
The Hobbit - Chapter 1 - "An Unexpected Party"

He did not go much further, but sat down on the cold floor and gave himself up to complete miserableness, for a long while. He thought of himself frying bacon and eggs in his own kitchen at home—for he could feel inside that it was high time for some meal or other; but that only made him miserabler.
The Hobbit - Chapter 5 - "Riddles in the Dark"

Chickens (and perhaps other egg-laying fowl)

There is one specific reference to (cold) chicken, and one reference to domesticated fowls being kept in yards, but there are also many references to Hobbits eating eggs (such as the "bacon and eggs" references given elsewhere).

“Put on a few eggs, there’s a good fellow!” Gandalf called after him, as the hobbit stumped off to the pantries. “And just bring out the cold chicken and pickles!”
The Hobbit - Chapter 1 - "An Unexpected Party"

Soon after six o’clock the five hobbits were ready to start. Fatty Bolger was still yawning. They stole quietly out of the house. Merry went in front leading a laden pony, and took his way along a path that went through a spinney behind the house, and then cut across several fields. The leaves of trees were glistening, and every twig was dripping; the grass was grey with cold dew. Everything was still, and far-away noises seemed near and clear: fowls chattering in a yard, someone closing a door of a distant house.
The Lord of the Rings - Book I Chapter 6 - "The Old Forest"

Bilbo and Gollum are also both familiar enough with eggs to have it as an answer to a riddle.

A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid,

he [Bilbo] asked to gain time, until he could think of a really hard one. This he thought a dreadfully easy chestnut, though he had not asked it in the usual words.

... But suddenly Gollum remembered thieving from nests long ago, and sitting under the river bank teaching his grandmother, teaching his grandmother to suck—“Eggses!” he hissed. “Eggses it is!”
The Hobbit - Chapter 5 - "Riddles in the Dark"

Other evidence of livestock

As discussed above there are multiple references to animal products, such as butter, cheese, milk, bones, fat and cream. Many of these can be derived from several different types of animals, including cows, but also from animals that are not listed above, such goats and sheep.

A big jug of coffee had just been set in the hearth, the seed-cakes were gone, and the dwarves were starting on a round of buttered scones, when there came—a loud knock. ...

“What’s that? Tea! No thank you! A little red wine, I think for me.”
“And for me,” said Thorin.
“And raspberry jam and apple-tart,” said Bifur.
“And mince-pies and cheese,” said Bofur. ...

Cut the cloth and tread on the fat!
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!
Splash the wine on every door!
The Hobbit - Chapter 1 - "An Unexpected Party"

So he sat himself down with his back to a tree, and not for the last time fell to thinking of his far-distant hobbit-hole with its beautiful pantries. He was deep in thoughts of bacon and eggs and toast and butter when he felt something touch him.
The Hobbit - Chapter 8 - "Flies and Spiders"

The fruit was so plentiful that young hobbits very nearly bathed in strawberries and cream; and later they sat on the lawns under the plum-trees and ate, until they had made piles of stones like small pyramids or the heaped skulls of a conqueror, and then they moved on.
The Lord of the Rings - Book VI Chapter 9 - "The Grey Havens"

Non-livestock animals (dogs, cats, and ponies)

While probably not considered livestock, we have a very specific example of a Hobbit owning dogs, which is more direct than can be said about just owning food products (which could perhaps have been traded for).

‘What’s wrong with old Maggot?’ asked Pippin. ‘He’s a good friend to all the Brandybucks. Of course he’s a terror to trespassers, and keeps ferocious dogs – but after all, folk down here are near the border and have to be more on their guard.’
The Lord of the Rings - Book I Chapter 4 - "A Short Cut to Mushrooms"

The inn in Bilbo and Frodo's song has a cat a dog.

The ostler has a tipsy cat that plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he runs his bow, Now squeaking high, now purring low, now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog that is mighty fond of jokes; When there’s good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests and laughs until he chokes.
The Lord of the Rings - Book I Chapter 9 - "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony"

And there are references to Hobbits owning ponies.

When they had finished, the farmer and his sons went out with a lantern and got the waggon ready. It was dark in the yard, when the guests came out. They threw their packs on board and climbed in. The farmer sat in the driving-seat, and whipped up his two stout ponies. His wife stood in the light of the open door.
The Lord of the Rings - Book I Chapter 4 - "A Short Cut to Mushrooms"

‘The answer to the second question,’ said Merry, ‘is that we could get off in an hour. I have prepared practically everything. There are five ponies in a stable across the fields; stores and tackle are all packed, except for a few extra clothes, and the perishable food.’
The Lord of the Rings - Book I Chapter 5 - "A Conspiracy Unmasked"

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    A lot of these (not quite all) are mentioned in Sarjeant's paper ...
    – Ben Bolker
    Jul 14, 2023 at 1:32
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    Very thorough, thanks! I had not remembered all of these. Though I don't count cats and dogs, I'm not sure farmers would agree with me. Jul 14, 2023 at 11:49
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    @chepner - Yes, but like it'd need to be quite a lot of trading I think. And I do think the cow over the moon song implies though that it's a regular thing for hobbits in the Shire to be seeing domesticated cows, not just imported milk.
    – ibid
    Jul 14, 2023 at 13:46
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    Good answer, but as a nitpick, "butter, cheese, milk, bones, fat and cream" can all be produced from other livestock than cows such as goats or sheep. Jul 14, 2023 at 14:42
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    It's easy to forget, in this era of easily accumulated food miles, that the distant transport of fresh, unrefrigerated meat and dairy sixty miles (the shire is 120x150 miles) would be technically and economically challenging, taking a horse two days at a walk. Jul 17, 2023 at 13:21
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CGCampbell's comment on the size of farm animals is very astute. Let's take a look at some real-world species that might be raised by hobbits, who we shall assume to be 63% the height of a human (average hobbit height is 3'6", average human is 5' 6.5").

The Vechur cow is 124cm long, compared to the Friesian's 240cm length, or 51% the length.

Juliana pigs can grow to 10-16" tall, compared to 20”-38” for a standard domestic pig, or less than 50% the height.

Chickens are, I think, sufficiently covered by other, smaller breeds of bird; also I suspect they are small enough that hobbits would be able to rear them as-is, being sufficiently stout-of-heart to face the waist-high dinosaur-kin.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Questions like this should collect answers that have evidence in the writings of Tolkien himself; either directly from the stories or from his latterly published notes and correspondence. If you wish to comment on the question or another answer, you have enough reputation to do that. You might want to take the tour.
    – DavidW
    Jul 14, 2023 at 14:35
  • @DavidW hogwash. This answer shows perfectly how hobbits can raise cows and pigs.
    – RonJohn
    Jul 15, 2023 at 22:58
  • @RonJohn They could have kept falcons and hunted with boomerangs, but if there's no evidence that they did, then it's completely irrelevant.
    – DavidW
    Jul 15, 2023 at 23:28
  • @DavidW then it's certainly appropriate that this answer does not mention falcons and boomerangs. Right??? Right!!!
    – RonJohn
    Jul 15, 2023 at 23:30
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    @RonJohn - The point is, people are looking for answers which are canon, meaning, what's in the book(s), not what might be. Throughout ibid's answer, there are references back to the original writings. What could be is not at issue. It's what's written which is what makes up an answer. We could speculate all day long (as DavidW alludes to). Speculation or guesses don't make an answer. What is needed is canon. Jul 16, 2023 at 14:10
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There is (only?) one indirect reference to animal husbandry, in the Prologue, which states that the Shirriffs were

more concerned with the strayings of beasts than of people.

I assume this refers to livestock of some kind wandering off one farm and onto public lands or other private lands, rather than the movements of wild animals.


Aside from direct evidence, I don't think there is any difficulty inferring that Hobbits might have kept smaller livestock (even cows that were either not bred to be larger, or bred to be smaller, than typical cattle today) to account for various foods eaten by Hobbits. (See the other answers for more details; I don't encroach on what they've already covered.)

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    If you look a little bit earlier in the prologue, there's another reference to trespassing beasts, where I think it makes more sense to read it as wild animals. "If any Hobbit stooped for a stone, it was well to get quickly under cover, as all trespassing beasts knew very well."
    – ibid
    Jul 14, 2023 at 0:52
  • I interpreted this to mean wild animals, but I can see how it could also apply to simply straying animals. Jul 14, 2023 at 11:41
  • @ibid Good point. Straying still sounds more "lazy" and "domesticated" to my ear, though; wild beasts would invade or encroach (or, indeed, trespass). (Also, I also read that passage to apply to nothing larger than birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.)
    – chepner
    Jul 14, 2023 at 11:44
  • @chepner - hmm, yeah. And I guess those sized animals don't really make sense for the Shirriffs to be concerned over.
    – ibid
    Jul 14, 2023 at 16:40
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Seems unclear. Sarjeant (2001) has dug through to find as much information as they could, but they seem to be extrapolating from food in the same way that you did ... the section on "Its [The Shire's] Pastoral Farming" briefly discusses ponies, bees, dogs, pigs ("we cannot be sure that there were pigs; bacon can be made from mutton also"), sheep, goats ...

cattle, maybe?

Were there cattle? Well, since the hobbits consumed yellow cream, milk, butter and cheese (I, pp. 58, 135; III, p. 303), this may seem likely ... One might imagine such cattle to be of a small breed, like the Shire's ponies. However, their presence in the Shire is by no means certain; all those products could have been made from the milk of goats or even sheep.

chickens, probably not?

The mention of 'fowls chattering in a yard' at Crickhollow (I. p. 120) could refer to any domesticated egg laying bird; it is highly unlikely that the hobbits kept hens, since those birds were confined to distant tropical lands until relatively modern times. Instead the hobbits might have eaten eggs of quails, plovers or some other bird, harvested in the wild, or conceivably of ducks, wild or tame.

(Sarjeant seems to have missed the food (ham [always from pigs AFAIK], "cold chicken and pickles", etc.) in "An Unexpected Party"? Maybe we could have an argument about translations from Westron to English??)

Sarjeant, William A.S. 2001. “The Shire: Its Bounds, Food and Farming.” Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, no. 39: 33–37. https://www.jstor.org/stable/45320598

https://journals.tolkiensociety.org/mallorn/article/download/139/133

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    Sergeant 's argument about no chickens is bogus -- Sam cooked potatoes, which are native to the New World and weren't available until the Early Modern period. Historical biogeography was not a priority for Tolkien.
    – Spencer
    Jul 13, 2023 at 21:56
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    @Wastrel In any case they had Pipeweed. Jul 14, 2023 at 14:18
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    @Wastrel I don't think by "you won't find any" Sam meant there exist none in Middle-Earth, but only that Gollum wouldn't have randomly stumbled on any in the wild in Ithilien at that time of year. Jul 14, 2023 at 16:16
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    @Spencer Yes and no: In the first edition of The Hobbit, Gandalf calls for "cold chicken and tomatoes," which Tolkien changed to "pickles" in later editions. According to The Annotated Hobbit, he made the change because he realized that tomatoes were a New World plant and wouldn't make sense in the Shire. (I don't have the book at the moment to check if that claim is based on hard evidence or inference.) So he seems to have been somewhat concerned with it--but not concerned enough to get rid of the taters.
    – DLosc
    Jul 14, 2023 at 17:31
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    @Spencer: Sarjeant’s anti-chicken argument is doubly bogus — while they’re indeed originally SE Asian, all sources I can find agree that chickens were in Europe at least by imperial Roman times (one recent academic source: Perry-Gal et al, PNAS, 2015), so they’re much longer-established than plenty of flora/fauna attested in the text.
    – PLL
    Jul 15, 2023 at 10:20
-4

It is rather illogical to assume that Hobbits raise pigs, or cattle, merely because Hobbits in the shire may eat meat and other products from those animals.

It would be more reasonable for humans in Bree to raise cattle and pigs, and sell meat and other products from them to hobbits in Bree, and then someone in Bree thought of exporting pig and cattle products to rich hobbits in the shire like Bilbo.

Bilbo owns a number of products which were not invented until a few centuries ago, despite Hobbits having a low technology, and there are examples of plants found only in the new world in historic eras.

So my guess is that Dwarves travelling through the Shire often buy food and pay for staying in Hobbit run inns. And rich Hobbits like Bilbo and his ancestors buy technologically advanced products from Dwarves.

And so rich Hobbits like Bilbo could also buy specialty foods from outside the Shire. By the time of LOTR Bree is the only settlement close to the shire still inhabited, so Bilbo and other rich Hobbits could buy pork, ham, beef, milk, cream, butter & cheese from Bree.

And maybe less rich Hobbits might raise smaller livestock like sheep and goats for mutton, goat meat, goat milk, goat cheese, etc.

I remember one time when I was a child we were at a party in the country. There was a sheep chained to a stake being used as a sort of living lawnmower. The sheep pulled the chain off the stake, and I watched the home owner pull on the chain to drag the sheep back to the stake. I thought that sheep were small weak animals, until I watched the man struggle to pull the sheep closer to the stake to slip the chain back over the stake.

When I was 18 we visited the place that we moved to. And someone said to go out to the barn to see the goat. I went out to the barn expecting to see a goat, but to my surprise I saw a pony sticking its head out of the upper part of a barn door. And then I notice that the "pony" had horns. I was expecting to see a goat about 1 foot tall, instead I saw one of the largest breeds of goats.

Later, when we used the goat to graze on vegetation, I sometimes had to drag along the ground the heavy block of metal the goat was chained to when moving the goat, and it was quite heavy. Apparently that weight was necessary to keep the goat from dragging the block by itself.

As for pigs, adult pigs of various breeds usually weigh at least as much as an adult human and often several times as much. A few individual pigs are known to weigh more than a thousand pounds, and one weighed more than a ton.

Since adult Hobbits in the Shire were about three to four feet tall, even the smallest breed of miniature pigs would weigh more than the average Hobbit, and many breeds of pigs weigh ten times as much as an average Hobbit.

Here https://moviechat.org/tt2222135/Dog-with-a-Blog/64a8eca1cee4b4181179bda2/The-Pirate-Avery is a link to a post where I criticize a television episode where a girl steals a pig mascot of a rival school and, despite not being old enough to drive, transports it a decent distance, presumably leading it on a lease. And all the problems she might have with moving a large and possibly stubborn pig would be even greater for most Hobbits who were smaller than her.

Pigs can be quite dangerous. In The Wizard of Oz (1939) there is a scene where Dorothy falls into the pig pen and everyone panics and rushes to get her out as fast as possible. And that scene is considered rather realistic. Pigs have killed humans.

So I would expect that the Hobbits in the Shire don't raise cattle, and raise only the smallest breeds of sheep and goats, and possibly very small breeds of pigs.

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    I'm not sure the comments about relative Hobbit/pig weights is relevant. Cattle would outweigh men by a similar amount, and is clearly not an insurmountable obstacle. (Unless you are taking the relative docility of cattle into account.)
    – chepner
    Jul 14, 2023 at 13:19
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    Dwarves themselves would have to buy most of their food, so I'm not sure they would use it as payment while passing through the Shire.
    – chepner
    Jul 14, 2023 at 13:20
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    It's one thing to own some items that couldn't be produced in the Shire. Trade with dwarves, magic, Númenor, bla bla. But to think that all the dairy, which most Hobbits seem to consume in considerable quantities, is imported is stretching it. Without motorized transport and refrigeration that's totally impractical. Jul 14, 2023 at 16:20
  • What kinds of dragons did you see on the farm you visited? Point being, Middle-earth is a fantasy world, which may not correspond directly to ours, which is why real-world references have small weight compared to in-universe references. It is possible, even likely, that hobbits had only hobbit-sized goats, but AFAIK goats aren't referenced anywhere. Jul 17, 2023 at 11:45

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