On a perfect Maine summer morning, Scott Barbour got breakfast ready for his six rescue pigs. But it was slops and scraps.
Barbour, 60, makes mealtime a treat for the pigs he considers more like family than farm animals, topping off bowls of pig chow with a scoop of sweetened wheat cereal and a big dollop of blueberries. As he walked across the green grass of his front yard to deliver the bowls to the enthusiastic pigs, a pack of six dogs frolicked around his feet. Rescue goats inquisitively poked up their heads. Nearby, in their own homemade, tidy enclosure, a flock of chickens pecked at their breakfast. In a spacious hutch behind them, three rescue meat rabbits dozed peacefully in the shade provided by tall pine trees.
It was a bucolic scene. And for most of the animals here, it’s dramatically different from the way they had been living before Barbour and his girlfriend, Michelle Atwood-Beaudoin, plucked them from bad situations and grim futures. Now, they live the good life at the 3-acre hobby farm in Jefferson. In turn, the animals’ presence makes the farm, which they call the “Hobbit Farm,” a happy place for the people who live there.
“You just can’t help but smile when you come here,” Barbour said. “I think everybody has a calling in life. It took me awhile to find mine, but I realize I get up in the morning, and I make a difference in the animals’ lives.”
It was never obvious that Barbour would end up devoting all his spare time and income to rescuing animals. He’s a blue-collar Mainer who grew up on a working farm in Warren, the kind of place where the cattle and chickens were livestock, not pets, and the pigs got turned into bacon and pork chops. He always liked being with the animals, but after he grew up and moved out, he turned his attention to the working world. He was a stage builder and rigger at Bath Iron Works, and he worked there for 25 years, before retiring to start working for himself. Barbour has a property management business called Camp Security Plus, and he takes care of cottages on Damariscotta and Pemaquid lakes with the help of three employees.
About nine years ago, the comfortable pattern of his life took a jog when he learned of a dog — a small Shih Tzu mix named Maya — in Somerset County who was living with a hoarder. He felt he had to help.
“I never thought that what I did would turn into this,” Barbour said. “There’s only two things in this life that will love you unconditionally: animals and children. Unfortunately, they’re the two that are the most exploited. This is my way of trying to protect them.”
Barbour and Atwood-Beaudoin opened their home to four other rescue dogs after Maya, who have seamlessly joined with their pet golden retriever, Cooper, to form a well-behaved pack. Then there are the pigs, which include Eddie, Flower, Muffin and Violet, a pork pig who was caught at a pig scramble by a little boy who didn’t have a home. The piglet was living in the bathroom of his grandmother’s house, and when Atwood-Beaudoin saw a distressing picture of it on Facebook, the couple didn’t hesitate.
“I said immediately, I will come get her,” Barbour said.
There’s also Groot, a pig that came to the Hobbit Farm when he was just 5 weeks old, or so. He was sick, and when Barbour brought him to The Animal Medical Clinic in Skowhegan, Dr. Amanda Bisol said it was the nick of time.
“She said he would die in about a week,” Barbour said.
Instead, Groot got the care he needed, and has flourished at the farm, along with Maple, a miniature pot-bellied pig who had been living in a basement before Atwood-Beaudoin found him on social media. Maple is different from the other pigs — he’s much smaller, weighing in at about 35 pounds, for one thing. And he doesn’t live outside with the rest of the rescue pigs. He has his own sleeping spot inside the immaculate, 800-square-foot trailer shared by the people, dogs and cats who live at the farm. Maple’s best friend is Winnie, a silkie chicken who follows the portly pig everywhere.
“They’re inseparable,” Barbour said.
All of the animals have unique personalities. All are special, he said. And he’d like people to realize that the world is too full of animals living in bad situations. Novelty pets such as pot-bellied pigs might lose their lustre when their owners realize how much time, effort and money it takes to take good care of them, he said, adding that it shouldn’t be that way.
“There’s a lot of animals, especially pigs, that need our help,” Barbour said.
Barbour and Atwood-Beaudoin smile a lot in the company of their animals. The love and affection they feel for the beings that live at the Hobbit Farm is undeniable. But there’s an element of sacrifice that goes along with this kind of life, too. Barbour, who doesn’t like anything to suffer, has installed electric heaters in the animal’s enclosures so they won’t be too cold in the wintertime. Last winter, when outside temperatures dropped to 25 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit, the coldest it got in the insulated, heated outbuildings was 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We can dress for it, but they’re at the mercy of everything we do or don’t do,” he said.
This winter, that meant his smallest heating bill was $539 — on top of the cost for all that pig chow, other feed and supplementary treats such as the watermelon, cucumbers, carrots, bananas and strawberries that fill the refrigerator in the outbuilding that also serves as his office. Veterinarian bills can add up, too, with vaccinations for the dogs and health emergencies such as saving Groot’s life, which cost more than $2,000.
“I don’t ask for any assistance from anybody,” Barbour said. “This is something I wanted to do.”
Instead of spending extra funds on vacations or fancy toys, the couple, who both work outside their farm, spend it on caring for the animals. They also put in long hours and have learned new skills in order to take good care of the animals. Barbour grinds tusks, clips hooves — “same idea as a pedicure,” he said — and makes sure that everyone has plenty of affection.
“Every pig just loves belly rubs,” he said.
And he makes sure that even when he and Atwood-Beaudoin aren’t there, the animals listen to music so they won’t feel too alone. Outdoor speakers played classic country music to the animals, which Barbour said is a genre they like. He used to play rock and roll music, through Skowhegan-based radio station WTOS, but no more.
“I’ve played [WTOS] before, but the animals get kind of rowdy on me,” he said. “I had to back off.”
The farm has changed him in some ways, too. Barbour no longer eats pork, and has a tough time eating chicken, now that he considers pigs and chickens his pets.
“I don’t think there’s a stupid animal,” he said.
And when animals die, even those they’ve only had a short time, they dig a dignified grave on the wooded slope above their house.
“All the animals that have come here never leave here,” Barbour said.
But the giving is not one-sided. He and Atwood-Beaudoin get more from the animals than they ever thought possible.
“It’s overwhelming, it really is,” he said. “Their love for you is unconditional. All you have to do is give them a cookie, and they treat you like you had given them a car.”
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