Pigs in Zen

Usually I have something poetic to say about harvest , but unfortunately, this year’s crop isn’t very inspiring. Due to uncommonly late rains our pickings are a little dismal. We planted very late and so weren’t in danger of our grain sprouting on the plant as many were, but because of the extended season we got a late wave of pests.
From this huge pile of sorghum you can hear the munching of a million tiny mandibles. When we shake a tassel bunches of small worms fall from it. They will continue to consume our profits until the sorghum fully dries and can be ground.
We did better with our corn, though because we weren’t able to weed sufficiently about a third of it is on the ground consumed by morning glory vines, irretrievable, because the late rain caused sprouting.
Fortunately, we grow only to feed ourselves and animals because the market value of grain is very low this year. Farmers who can afford to will keep their crop for fattening animals to make up for the loss, which should benefit us because people will be in the market for piglets.
Felipe’s pig project, on the other hand, is very productive. To date we have 48 piglets and three more sows to birth in the six weeks.
He has a delightful new procedure I’m excited to tell you about. For several days before one of his mama’s(his choice of words)is to birth he lets her run free. Exercise is good for birthing ease. Then she makes a nice nest for herself and has her babies in the open, which cuts down on piglets lost to crushing because they have so much room and no walls to get caught against.
Not to mention, they all seem very happy with the freedom. How can I tell when pig is happy? They play. Even the mama runs around, grunting and jumping like a piglet. It’s especially entertaining to watch Empire , all 250 pounds of her, cavorting with her clan.

Empire at Large
Felipe has also taken to letting pigs out if they are under the weather, he believes they find the natural remedies they need in seeds, grasses and leaves, and he’s found loose piglets are less incline to scours likely due to more diversity in their diet. We’ve had no illness requiring medication since he started the practice.
Alas, we can’t let them all roam free together, though we have enough room. Packs of pigs roam beyond their fences, and fences strong enough to curtail pigs are expensive. But for several weeks a year everyone but Don Juan, who molests the neighbor’s sows, gets a good romp.

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer


Mules are interesting– born of a burro and a horse, they’re sterile, a mutation of strength, intelligence and will. Singular creatures.

This is the team of machos that plowed our land, and yes, the white one is Pancho’s mule.
Each year we make a small step toward better husbandry; this year no tractor will enter our land. Last year we ran out of time and money (it’s more expensive to hire the mule team) and were forced to use the zero till plow.
The mule driver agreed to trade one pig for planting our large field and 500 pesos for the small one. Still we are the last to plant. His services are much in demand. Unfortunately, it is not because farmers are returning to less invasive ways. The mules are able to plow small, inhospitable places and in the last two years farmers have cut down the hedgerows, areas considered not worth planting in the past. They are ‘planting fencerow to fencrow ’.* Progress. Continue reading

Catching up with Felipe’s Projects

About a year ago, after six years of consecutive joint and individual failures to make a reasonable living Felipe and I made an agreement. I said,
“If you think you can make a living raising animals, I will stay out of your way with my anthropomorphizing, and devote myself to writing this book I am fantasizing will sell millions of copies.”
He said “Great!”
His enthusiasm was mostly due to the relief of not having me poking my nose into every aspect of his farming: crying when we sold animals, insisting on yards so large it made it difficult to fatten, speculating on his sows moods… Shortly after my pledge he came up with a business plan to keep eight sows for breeding, and consistently market ten pigs a month.
We introduced Empire in May of 2o12 and Don Juan in December, since then he has grown his brood to eight sows. Four have already birthed, and we have two more litters coming this month. Bringing us to a whopping fifty pigs at present.

The reaction of La Tigrains to his hoard has been consistent.
“You are crazy! Forty piglets and two litters yet to come! That’s too many, you will never sell them. Hogs are down, everybody knows that, you’ll never make money.”
We’re accustomed to such nay-saying . It is a part of the community’s character. Are we immune? It seems so, or we probably would have packed up long ago.
An interesting aspect of his system is; he utilizes native plants for protein supplements. Protein is the most expensive part of a pig’s diet and he has saved a lot of cash and increased his profit margin by using ground cubata pods as a protein source. He is also experimenting with parota seed which must be toasted and ground to be edible. The best part is that he hired local kids to the pods collect for him. It’s great to see them excited about doing something a little radical (no one else is interested in these campo food sources) for their own prosperity.
Felipe has been building rooms for his sows on Sundays after he puts in his 60 hour week. The sows seem very pleased with them (whoops– mood speculation). They weathered the first rains with ample dry space and they have a nice mud bath! Also, we have lost only one piglet to crushing as opposed to the three Empire smooshed last time due to insufficient space.
In the afternoons I give them their lunch and a shower. The piglets are already fighting each other and rolling around in the food. There is much squealing, mud digging and play; pig happiness. Imagine! Felipe managed to raise happy, healthy marketable pigs all by himself.

How to Make a Tortilla

As we enter the growing season I’m making tortillas with the remnants of last year’s crop. The corn is active with gorgojos and the dust of their munching. Most of them float to the surface to be skimmed off during cooking, the rest we accept as additional protein .

I begin to look forward to fresh corn at this time even though the seed is not yet in the ground, and to reflect on the marvel of this small hot air balloon of masa whose recipe I am honored to know by heart.

How to Make a Tortilla

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