I'm not really very fond of summer - the heat, the humidity, the extra long days. The hogs don't like it a lot either. They rise early and go work out in the pasture, sleep in the afternoon in a cool spot, hit the wallow later in the day, go out to forage in the cooler late part of the day, get fed, go back to sleep. The Hog Days of Summer. But the greenness of the paddocks, the lushness of growth and the variety of fodder is mind blowing, and I quite delight in it. And I'm seeing lots of varieties of this plant all over the place.
Huge squash and pumpkin plants, loaded with fruits. The sows have already figured out that there is treasure beneath the canopy of scratchy leaves and harvest their own quite efficiently. We have all sorts of pumpkins, patty pan squash (which I have never been able to grow well in the garden), gourds, even bizarre squash crosses. All are delicious in the hogs' eyes. They like to wait until the fruits are kind of seedy, which works well for me. You see, I didn't plant any of these. They were free, resulting from a great haul I made last autumn.
This is the pickup load of squash, pumpkins and gourds I got from a garden center last fall, right after Hallowe'en. The feeder hogs and the sows loved them! They got generous portions every day for almost 3 weeks. They would have been pitched in a dumpster if I hadn't hauled them off. And since a hog can only digest about 20% of the seeds it eats, the rest come out the other end in a pre-packaged, pre-fertilized seed bomb, which the hogs are kind enough to deposit in any place they wander. The seeds slept through the winter and spring, but wakened with vigor once the weather heated up.
The big, broad, sprawling leaves shade the rest of the ground, giving the clover and alfalfa a cooler spot to grow. The cowpeas and lima beans are getting a leg up and adding their nitrogen-fixing contribution to the hog manure that allows these cucurbits to really grow strong. This is very exciting to me, as we make a point of letting forages go to seed just so the hogs can eat them and distribute the seed bombs. It adds to the tilth and sows seeds all in one swoop! In time, we will have to sow very little seed, benefiting from an endless loop of nutrition for the hogs.
Look at these patty pans - some weigh over 3 pounds when I pick them for the sows and the hogs, and I might pick 5 from one bush, and five more days later. Really big, really seedy, and so delicious to the hogs. They come running when I start lobbing these over the fence. If I sang while I did it, this would be their version of the ice cream truck, a tasty treat in the middle of the summer time blues. And their joy lightens my sweat-soaked spirits as well. Guess we're both enjoying the squash loop. PS they are busy sowing seeds for next summer. Lots and lots of them.
It seems like it was only yesterday when the red pigs joined us, and tomorrow is the day they leave the farm. In their honor, I offer this tribute.
The little Red Wattle x Berkshire piglets arrived in early springtime, newly weaned, and a little scruffy. One was a runt (surprise!). We got them settled into a stall, where they could get used to their new home and be trained to electric fencing for a few days. They learned to love the self-feeder (buffet open 24/7) and devoured field greens that I tossed to them. They were wormed, bedded down in thick straw, and safe. And they were named after the Herb of the Year - chili peppers. Aleppo, Cayenne, Dundicutt and wee Hatch officially became part of our farm family.
After 5 days, they started their life on rotational pasture grazing. They took on the job with gusto. I was amazed by their zest for foraging. They also were getting fermented feed to provide probiotics and to assist their gut in digesting the plant material that they consumed with great relish. Pretty soon, their bristles became glossy and thick.
The runt, Wee Hatch, started to gain in size with his sisters, eventually catching up and even surpassing a couple in size. He was the little red pig who could - and did.
The red pigs grew fast and strong, with a vitality that has been, sometimes, a bit overwhelming. At 300# and their backs as high as my hip, armed with a lot of curiosity, inquisitiveness, and determination, they have had some days that were challenging to this farmer. But I also love the way they approach me for a scratching, or to gently nuzzle up a treat of cucumbers or melon from my hand. Many times I have sat on the stoop of the barn in the cool of the evening and watched them run up and down the pasture, playing tag. Joy seems like a pretty simplistic word, but they have it in plenty, and it is genuine. With the heat of the summer, they have made a big wallow of mud and water to stay cool (Hatch made his own - he really doesn't like to be touched). Sometimes, they seemed to know I was hot, too, and thus decorated me generously with their wallow mud. I might not have always appreciated the sharing.
Yesterday was the company picnic, complete with lots of watermelon. They enjoyed the heck out of it (Wee Hatch is not in this picture - he grabbed a quarter of a melon and ran off to eat it by himself. I did mention that he caught up in size with the others?!) As a matter of fact, they have enjoyed the heck out of almost their whole lives on this farm. That's why I am always so grateful for the people who have chosen to buy their pork from us. Their purchase of a whole or half hog allows me to raise pigs the way that I do. They pay a premium above what grocery store meat costs, but they get flavorful heritage hogs that were raised out in the open, on pasture, in the mud, if they liked, and with lots of good things to choose from and to eat. They live 2 months longer than most hogs. And tomorrow, they will have only a few bad moments. As lives go, it's pretty enviable. Thank you, red hot chili piglets.
Merry Schepers lives on a farm with her heritage pigs in Nixa, MO.