How did Travis mark the pigs born that year in Old Yeller?

In Old Yeller, Travis keeps track of how many pigs had been born that year by catching and marking them. He marks them by slicing strips of skin from their ears.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Travis undertakes the dangerous job of marking the pigs born that year by climbing a tall tree with a strong branch the sticks out to the side.  Old Yeller then herds the pigs under the branch, where they stand at bay, facing outward, forming a circle with the young pigs in the middle.  Whenever one of the young pigs happens to trot under the branch on which he is perched, Travis drops a lasso down, catching the pig in the rope's loop and hauling him up into the tree.  There, Travis grabs him, and quickly and efficiently executes the messy work of marking and castrating the pig.

Travis marks the pigs by cutting into their ears in a distinctive manner.  Each settler has a mark which is recognized by all the others, identifying the owner of the pig.  The Coates' mark is "overbit the right and underslope the left".  To make the family's mark on the pigs, Travis takes the right ear of the animal, folds it, and slices out "a three-cornered gap in the top side, a mark that (is) called an overbit".  He then takes the left ear, and on the underside slashes off "a long strip that run(s) clear to the underslope".  All the settlers know the hog mark of everybody else and all repect them...they would never butcher or sell a hog that did not belong to them (Chapter 9).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Travis keep track of how many pigs had been born that year in Old Yeller?

With large litters of piglets born each year on the farm, it's absolutely essential for Travis and his folks to keep track of exactly how many are born. But this is easier said than done and involves a lot of effort.

First and foremost, the piglets have to be rounded up, and this means separating them from the adult pigs. But this is a very dangerous process indeed because the adult pigs will attack at the drop of a hat in order to protect the piglets.

That's where Old Yeller comes in. He's used by Travis to round up the pigs and make it easier for him to separate the piglets from the adults so that he can mark them. Once Travis's loyal, faithful hound has done that, the young lad can get to work on the piglets.

He marks them by slicing into their ears. He folds their right ears and slices out a three-cornered gap in the top side, which is known as an overbit. Then, from the underside of the left ear, he slices a strip that runs clear to a point. This is what's known as an underslope. The mark, then, is overbit the left and underslope the right.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on