Go To The Woods—And See.
Damn near the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I finally have pigs foraging in the woods. I’ve wanted to do this for years. Wild pigs don’t live on the prairie. They live in the woods, rooting for tree mast, grubs, and whatever else they can find. I think livestock should be raised as close to their natural environment as possible and have access to their natural foods. How can I hold that conviction if I don’t test it first hand?
I’ve been asking myself for a long time, “why wouldn’t anyone who really wants to raise premium pork do this?” I’m sure I’ll have a detailed answer in time, but the short answer is labor. Normally, I can fence in several acres with two strands of electric wire in one long day. I spent days laying out 1,500 yards of fence lines in the woods, adjusting, adjusting, and adjusting again to get the straightest lines (taught wires don’t like curves) without felling any good trees. I burned seven tanks of gas in my chainsaw cutting Buckthorn, Boxelder, and plenty of fallen logs—including a 78' Bur Oak—in my path. I hand carried all of my materials out there: steel T-posts and round posts, buckets of insulators, and a couple 44 lb spools of electric fence wire. I carried all my tools out at 2:00 this afternoon.
When I let the hogs into the pasture section that connects to the woods, they worked their way through the pasture and stopped in a line where the electric fence used to be (they were in this same pasture back in July). One of the Tams (never fails) stepped forward into the brush, then her sister, then the whole line.
I followed them later as they worked their way deeper into the woods, under the Bur Oaks, and heard a different oinking tone. Normally, when I walk through the group, there’s a satisfied/curious oink-oink-oink-oink, grunt-grunt as they approach me. (It’s a little bit like the Sesame Street Martians—yip-yip-yip-yip-yip—uh-huh, uh-huh). When the hogs are out of feed, they have a lower, more menacing tone. But when I caught up to them under the oaks, they ignored me. Instead they oinked back and forth to each other in louder, higher tones—like they were calling out their finds, “Damn, these are good.” They snuffled under the leaf litter for acorns and hickory nuts and rolled rotten logs for grubs. Definitely a kids-loose-in-a-candy-store moment.
I went out after dark to check on them. Both shelters in the pasture were empty. I walked the fence path into the trees until I could hear snoring and shined my light on a pile of bristly black forms. They’ve never slept under a tree in their lives and now they are bedding down in the woods like their wild counterparts. I’ll have to manage their foraging so they don’t tear up the candy store, but it’s worth seeing this unfold. Admittedly, pork on the plate is the real moment we’re waiting for, and the final test, but I think that better feed and environment leads to a better product. We’re getting there.
I poured myself a celebratory Manhattan when I came back in. Damn, these are good.
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Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
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The Odyssey Farm Journal
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Dane County 2022 Climate Champion
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