Friday, April 29, 2011

Fattening the Pigs

It's fall now in the valley. It's kind of weird, only a couple of months after still seeing daylight at 10 PM, to realize the light is fading and it's only 6:30--and we're still in Daylight Savings time. Next week is really going to be gloomy.

But the weather is really something. Crisp mornings, but days when the golden hour (sic) seems to go on forever, when the sun feels warm and cozy without ever getting hot. Last week we declared Tomato Solstice, celebrated with a massive Tomato Medley salad; the onslaught of tomatoes having reached, apparently, its peak. It's all downhill from here.

The pigs know it too, at least physiologically. Somehow their desperate squeals and grunts, always aroused by the least prospect of being fed--a human presence in the driveway, for example--now have an extra level of urgency. They want to get fat, and their calorie requirements are heading skyward. What's more, we WANT them to get fat, so we've started chasing around the valley after calories to shovel into them.

This is a challenge even in normal times. We had a well-appreciated respite a couple of months ago, when Eamon bequeathed us a bin of past-it kiwifruit. Past it? Okay, they were rotten, a good portion of them, and had reduced in volume from the cubic yard or so that a bin starts at to something like half that. But the pigs couldn't get enough of them. Toss a shovel or two into the pen and they'd go to town, though not so enthusiastically that they couldn't rigorously cherry-pick the best ones, then snout out the fruit from the peel, until what was left was a pile of dead peels and fluttering labels. Hard as we shovelled those at them, we felt they were getting enough calories for several weeks.

But now the default diet has settled down to barley grain and kitchen scraps. Hardly enough for two growing piggies. So the hunt is on for supplements. Fortunately, it's apple season, so calories aren't too hard to come by. There's always a bin of secondary fruit around somewhere, but this season we've lucked out: Jennie and Jeff, the local organic apple orchardists, have bins they actually need to get rid of, and even some on the tree. I tell you, it's an odd feeling, grasping at apples on the tree and stuffing them into bags, and realizing you're doing this...for a pig. I mean, what has happened to our priorities these days, anyway?

There are two main problems with the apple strategy, though. You don't want to feed too much appleage to your pigs, because the fat gets all squishy and the meat can get to taste winey. The second problem is that the Pest Of The Year award goes, in a walk, to the common wasp. And wasps LOVE apples--especially half apples that the pigs have opened and passed on. So the pigs learn to shun the apples, which I never thought they'd do. Porkers with a food disorder: who knew?

So the saving grace for fattening the pigs has turned out to be: acorns. Freely available under many oak trees, nobody wants them, so car wheels and shoes alike just crunch right through them. And pigs love them. Will spend hours browsing through a nice pile of acorns, no matter how many twigs and leaves and last year's acorn shells are mixed in. Gets them out of the house, at least.

But even in acorn-collecting there is adventure. I started out by the side of the road. There are a couple of nice trees on the way into town: with a box, a leaf rake and a few sacks you can do quite well, if you don't mind all the debris that comes with the acorns. Yes, I must have spent fifteen seconds picking up individual acorns by hand before wondering why I was doing this rather than the pigs. And frankly, it feels a little furtive, parking the car on the brink of danger, scurrying around on the edge of someone's property with cars zooming past, never being quite sure that they won't come out and object to having their valuable acorns absconded with. On my second trip to those trees I did walk up the drive to get explicit clearance, and the people couldn't have been nicer. They almost seemed grateful to get rid of them.

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