Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hickory nuts, acorns and pigs

When Jonathan went to collect acorns from the big oak tree in the front yard earlier this week, he came back with an empty bucket. Between us and the squirrels, they are all gone. We do have other oak trees, but they're out in the pastures. We'll have to start collecting those now, but I'm amazed and impressed that the pigs have been feasting on acorns for a few weeks already. They've also been getting some corn, but the acorns have definitely cut down on the feed bill, and we have several large bags saved to ration out over the rest of the fall.

We also have a couple of hickory trees in our front yard, and I looked around the ground to see if I could find some hickory nuts for the pigs, since they are also a good source of nutrition. Unfortunately, I only found about a dozen. Shagbark hickory trees are on Slow Food's Arc of Taste, and the nuts are very tasty, although small, which is why they'll never be a big commercial product in this country. None of our hickory trees look all that healthy though, so I also wonder if they are just not very hardy.

Moment of serendipity: I'd never heard of mast-finished pork until this summer, and then a couple days ago, I received my newsletter from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving heritage breeds of livestock that are in danger of extinction. (They're the big reason we moved out here!) Anyway, right here on page 5 is the cutest litter of piglets, and the caption says,
The characteristics of the Tamworth reflect the breed's centuries of selection for an outdoor life. Pigs of this breed were expected to find their own food, especially mast (or acorns) of oak and beech forests. Long heads and impressive snouts enable these pigs to be efficient foragers. Long, strong legs and sound feet give Tamworth pigs the ability to walk for considerable distances.
Our Tamworth pigs are pictured above, eating acorns.


Abiga/Karen said...

We found it very interesting about the pigs eating acorns/nuts. We have so many black walnuts here that we cannot eat so I offered them to some local people who were raising a couple pigs organically. They ended up turning it down anyway. Although we are not ready for pigs here yet it is handy information. Our black walnuts seem to get a lot of flies or maggots in them and look bad so I think I need to contact the extension office for some info. Thank you for sharing with us all as it really helps. I also agree with you about eating fresh farm raised foods. I think most people who are on fast food, boxed foods etc. do not know what real food tastes like and some family memebers I have think natural food tastes horrible.Also, do you still have a pig or half a pig available at butchering time? Blessings.

Deborah said...

I know we don't have a whole pig left. I'll have to look through my records to see if half of one is still available.

Don't worry about maggots in the walnuts. Pigs are omnivores and love bugs. The maggots will die inside the pig because they'll suffocate.

If your extension office is anything like ours, they don't have information on anything other than conventional agriculture, so I doubt they could give you much info on mast-finished pigs. I finally gave up on calling our extension office -- they had no idea where I could get my hay tested, and when I asked about getting my soil tested, they told me to call my seed dealer, because they'll do it for free. They don't seem to understand that we don't all belong to the Church of Monsanto and Cargill.


Great article. I like the looks of those pretty little red pigs. Do they get huge like some of white feed pigs do?

How many pigs do you keep and do you let them have babies?

gavin said...

Great to see Tamworths being allowed to express their natural instincts.
Have you also tried shredded vegetables ? Ours would get a mix of shredded vegetables (e.g. turnips, carrots, cauliflower) and pig meal.
The end result is worlds away from any Springfield derived pork.
Ours also live outside all year round with no bother at all, the muddier the better !

Deborah said...

We've tried everything from two to eight pigs. Four seems to be the most manageable. We did try to have babies once, but it wasn't a very good experience. We might try again sometime, but not in the next year or so. If you check the blog archives, you might find our unfortunate pig birthing story.

We haven't tried shredded vegetables, but we should. We've given them whole vegetables, and they don't seem that popular. I'm sure if we chopped or shredded them and mixed in the corn, they'd eat it without hesitation. Thanks for the idea!

Teri said...

We also raised Tamworths this year (two of them - it was our first pig raising experience). A friend told us about a supply of hazelnuts that was going unused. So we spent the better part of the morning on our hands and knees, encouraging our toddler to put IN to the bucket more than she was taking OUT! All in all I think we filled two 5 gallon buckets and our pigs enjoyed them for the last month of their lives. Can't wait to taste the meat!

Deborah said...

How cute, Teri! Oh, it makes me wish I had a toddler again. I bet that was fun!

Heather said...

This link made me think of your acorn story:

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Thanks for that link, Heather! It's very interesting.


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