October 2, 2012


The piglets have been getting quite a bit of attention in the Notes recently, and for good reason: they are filling a missing link in the cycling of nutrients here at Windward. As the piglets become more curious and adventurous, they continue to fill niches left empty by all the other creatures that call the farmstead home.

Lindsay and Andrew removing Audit's hide

Yesterday, we harvested one of the ewes, Audit, who had proven herself to be a poor mama and whose injured foot was limiting the range of the sheep.

Literally, only a few moments after the killing cut, even before the ewe had lost consciousness, two of the piglets who had been roaming around had found their way to the pool of blood accumulating on the ground. Soon one more curious piglet joined in, and then there were three.

Andrew, Kirill and myself stood watching in amazement as as the three little piglets drank up the blood, still warm from Audit's body, from the oak leaves and dry grass.

Such a thought may make some queasy. For me though, the sight had a very different impact-- a combination of awe, joy and appreciation moved through me. Giving the animal an easy death and putting the body to the highest and best uses we can are two of the primary ways that I feel we can honor the life and then death of the animals with whom we share our lives.

Because of the way we harvest our sheep and goats, we have yet to create an effective method to harvest the blood that drains from the body, without lowering the animal's level of comfort. As a result, the blood simply fertilizes the ground. The blood being, of course, rich in micro-nutrients such as iron, it would be best to be able to recapture it and utilize it for food or fertilizer.

Three piglets eating up the blood

I have commented in the past that perhaps someday we can plant a memorial and life celebration garden where the soil is enriched with the nutrients of the lives of the animals that have helped to create and maintain Windward and have nourished us stewards in the process.

While we may well implement such a notion, I am quite pleased that the piglets are able to put the nutrient dense blood to more immediate and direct use. And, I am quite amazed at how little effort we humans, a.k.a "the smart monkeys", had to put into figuring out a solution to the problem. It took the piglets less than five minutes to realize that there were a few ounces of waste (e.g. the blood), before they arrived to gladly minimize the waste stream.

In fact, it seems that part of the role of the piglets is to point out to us where and when we are not making good use of all the readily available nutrients. After a duck harvest a few weeks ago, feathers remained near the feather plucker. Lo and behold, over the next several days I found the piglets feeding from the scattered feathers. The acorns are another case in point. The piglets are gaining weight quickly by foraging for the abundance of acorns falling from the oak trees.

The pigs sure do live up to their reputation for being smart. They may well have the PhDs in waste management and nutrient cycling.