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From the Introduction:
“In my fifth year of raising pigs I’ve learned a little bit about the trials and tribulations as well as the joys and benefits of raising these intelligent powerhouse mammals. Every batch of pigs I raise is unique, and I tend to grow very fond of them throughout the seasons. One of the main guiding principles on my farm is to treat every living creature with compassion and care. Listening to what the plants and animals are telling you and acting on that information is perhaps the main job of any farmer. The conversation I’ve had with my pigs over the last few years has been very enjoyable and informative.
The Dehesa are the areas in Spain that produce a product that you may have heard of. They’re an agriculturally productive landscape, utilizing a silvopastoral system that consists of oaks as the primary producer of calories. These oaks fatten Iberian pigs on acorns to produce the famed Jamon ham.
Western Wisconsin, where I farm, is not Spain by any means (it is way too cold for that!), but it too consists of intensive agricultural land interspersed with what is called marginal land, i.e. land that is steeply sloped, forested, or otherwise unproductive in the growing of grains. Oaks and hickories are abundant around my neck of the woods. I can’t drive more then ten miles without seeing a grove of 100 year old oaks and an abandoned apple orchard.
The term “mast” refers to the fruits and nuts that fall from tree and shrubs that are eaten by wildlife and some domestic species. Nuts are considered hard mast and fruits are considered soft mast. Hard mast producing trees and shrubs, such as oak, hickory, and hazelnut, are the key species in my systems of raising pigs. These trees and shrubs are the most resilient and sustainable food source for any mammal, for that matter.
Producing abundant mast is the practical permaculture pig farmers goal. The more calories produced in a perennial system, the less feed inputs you will have to grow or purchase to get your pigs to a marketable weight. my goal is to feed my pigs on at least 50% mast by 2018, with some supplemental grain and root crops.
One of the benefits of the pig is that she is the ultimate omnivore. She will eat and relish mast, yes, but she will also dig into the soil horizons to find more tasty treats that contain some calories: slugs, bugs, worms, and roots. And she does all this foraging while leaving the trunks of any tree over a couple inches in diameter alone. I’ve never seen a pig gnawing on a living tree, but they do love to use them as scratching posts. They also like to dig down into the roots of brambles and most herbaceous plants and chomp on those.”