This is part two of our ongoing series, "Where We're Going" that looks into our crazy awesome plans and the nutty ideas behind them. For some context, read part one: "Big Plans".
There is magic in the pig: in the salted, smoked mosaic of the belly, in the slow cured, persistence art of prosciutto, in the silky delicacy of the roast loin. There is magic in his nature and flexibility; omnivorous, curious, he enjoys novelty and variety and yet performs even in the most banal of conditions. We so often abuse his innate magic, mistaking his potential delicacy and affable versatility for a blank, static meat mechanism. But he does not want corn and soybeans for every meal, no matter how fortified we have made them. He does not want to live in a pen; he never dreams of steel and concrete. He is a wild animal, thirsting for green things, for mud, for camaraderie and adventure. His love of these things inspires my love of them and him, in all his silly, curious, and delicious forms.
It has always been my instinct, confirmed again and again, that without full expression of the nature of the beast, he can not be maximally delicious. And in the perpetual pursuit of perfect pork, we must also indefinitely pursue porcine utopia. What is ideal for a pig? He is a natural scavenger and omnivore, designed to work for his food. His rooting and curiosity aren't just cute piggy antics but foraging behavior that yield every kind of seed, tuber, invertebrate, small mammal, vine, shoot, sapling and root for his digestion and pleasure. When he has the opportunity to hunt his food, he eschews his bought feed until the other things are exhausted, and thus he and his meat are enriched. With some planning (and muscle power) perhaps we could give him a fruiting ecosystem where he can have hardwood nuts, deep soil full of insects, fallen tree fruit, and young plant growth all around him all the time. Around his wallow? check. Under his shade tree? check. In the flavor of his meat? Double check. Now fence it minimally so social groups can flourish and presto, happy pigs.
To start, we must survey the resources available to us; primarily our land and it's current vegetation. I have been slowly walking and examining each foot of our land, discovering it's surprising geological and vegetable diversity. We have no less than 6 distinct "regions" including a little delta and slopes of every angle and compass direction. Within our 30 acres one can go from Dewitt to Eureka Springs, from El Dorado to Jonesboro. We also have a much larger diversity of native hardwoods than I can thoroughly keep straight. Daily my children find me back in the woods staring dumbly at fistfuls of hickory leaves. So similar! But so different! As I work at distinguishing the productive keepers from the future firewood, Travis wields his chainsaw and tenacious focus to do much of the messy work. Since we have a wide variety of micro-geological regions, we consider which species are more or less appropriate for each area of the farm as we are clearing and planting. Some varieties are listed below by the quality of their seed for forage purposes, irrespective of their suitability for each "zone" of the farm.
- Mockernut Hickory- relatively even annual nut production, sweetest meat among hickories, open easily
- Red Hickory- large, easy to open nuts, lower annual yields than Mockernut
- Eastern White Oak- potentially enormous yields of giant sweet acorns, unpredictable cycles of boom and bust
- Post Oak- smaller acorns in large numbers, not very even year-to-year
- Shingle Laurel Oak- smaller acorn size and crop volume, nearly annual
- Willow Oak- smaller tree, somewhat drought sensitive with medium sized sweet acorns
- Southern Shagbark Hickory- nuts can be bitter, nearly impossible to open, but hey its food.
- Cedar- pigs chew and rub the bark to release sap which works as a natural insect repellent, make excellent fence posts.
- Plain ol' pines- no fruit, not good for firewood or fenceposts
- Privett- I hate you. Stop clogging up my everything all the time, get out of the way so I can plant delicious things already.
Once the whole of our land is roughly inventoried and cleared of unhealthy and unwanted trees, phase two will include planting more traditional fruiting trees including pecans, chestnuts, white oaks, persimmons, pears, and mulberries and setting up bee hives for improved pollination and yield. Any trees we plant will be babies and take not only coddling, but quite a few years to produce fodder, so planning this part of the plan requires more than shopping and digging. Little trees must be planted in appropriate locations, protected from resident livestock, and potentially watered in the driest times of their first few years. Another group of living things to tend; a job which we do not take lightly around these parts. A few little ones might be added this winter, but the majority of this part of the work will take many years to come.
Down the road I imagine walking through a dynamic and verdant hardwood forrest bustling with the chirping and buzzing of flying things, fragrant with a concoction of honeysuckle, fermenting persimmons, leaves, and damp earth, and populated by radiant red hogs who's gentle grunts and casual rooting suggest a satisfied life wanting for nothing. He knows not what complex, exquisite meats will come of him, just that he has the finest life a pig could know.
Join us next time for part three of this series where we examine the barely managed chaos of the chicken plan...