September 13, 2012


The arrival of seven hungry piglets has a ripple effect on our domestic economy. Before we were pretty much able to keep Momma and Poppa pig fed utilizing kitchen scraps, some sprouted wheat and some alfalfa.

the pigs gather round as Lindsay brings the day's accumulation of kitchen scraps

I'd note that in our context, "kitchen scraps" involves a good deal more than it would for most modern kitchens. The industrial food system culls about half of the food produced before it gets to market, so the food scraps generated in the average kitchen are actually only a smaller portion of the food scrap produced overall. Added together, probably about two-thirds of the food grown in this country ends up in one waste stream or another.

the pigglets are eager for their share

The "waste" that comes out of a farm kitchen, one that's served by its own garden and animals, is different both in nutritional value and sheer volume. My guess is that we're able to reverse the urban average with more than two thirds of our food production making it to our kitchen table.

Because we combine the farm waste stream with the waste produced in the kitchen, our total volume of waste is higher per person that what urban folk produce, but even so, there's a limit to how much of the food we gather and grow will become pig food. With an additional seven hungry snouts in the trough, we will either have to supplement with purchased feed or tap the resources our forest provides. The second route is the way we want to go, and this is the first year that we'll be making serious use of our forest's ability to feed our pigs.

Perhaps the greatest food resource Windward has is its ancient oak trees, some of which are more than three hundred years old. Not every tree produces acorns each year, and last year we had no acorns at all, but for most years we can count on a bountiful harvest. This year is turning out to be an average year production wise, but given the number of mature oaks in our forest, that's not a trivial amount of food.

One usually thinks of food as something that comes out of the ground; in the case of acorns, we have food falling from above. Sometimes when there's a brisk wind, the acrons falling on our metal roofs can sound like hail or distant rifle shots. Either way, it's the sound of high energy food that's free for the gathering.

We're especially fond of animals that are ready and willing to feed themselves as opposed to animals that require us to prepare and bring their food to them. For example, our sheep are quite happy to wander around Windward grazing on grass, just as our ducks and guinea hens spend their time patrolling our grounds looking for weed seeds and bugs of all sorts.

Given the opportunity, our full grown guinea hogs would also like to enjoy the freedom of the grounds, but like chickens, they can be too aggressive and do real damage. As for the piglets, this fall they need to be growing as quickly as they can in order to be ready to harvest in early November, and acorns will play a large role in providing them with the calories necessary to grow to their full potential.

While we're not willing to have the adult pigs roaming Windward at their pleasure, the little piglets are another story. For one thing, they're still small enough that it would be difficult to keep them in their momma's pen. They stay with momma because that's safe and that's were the milk is, but in between nursing they're screwing up their courage to expand their horizons, and it's acorns that draw them out.

As the acorn fall gets underway, it's becoming common to see groups of piglets as much as fifty yards away from their mother nosing through the leaves for acorns.

five pigglets browsing for acorns

They're still shy enough that any load noise or approaching human will send them scurrying back to the safety of their mother. But it won't be long before their insatiable desire for more acorns draws them back to the hunt for those tasty acorns.

piglets running for the safety of momma's pen