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

Beasts of Burden



The spontaneity that our life in Mexico calls for was difficult for me to understand and accept in my first few years here.  I’m a list person, I like setting goals, crossing things off… But somehow these practices are not applicable to my life now. And it is a good thing. I have tasks I try to accomplish daily and I still make lists, just for the fun of crossing things off, but they no longer have time frames, or carry the consequences of guilt and anxiety if left undone.

Living in Mexico, and keeping animals required me to relinquish the habit of plotting my day and after several years and a lot of “letting go” I have come to understand this as non-doing . More days than I can remember, orphaned ducks , a horse on the lamb, or a trip to the rio have taken precedence over my schedule. To my western amazement, I have found, that allowing my day to unfold of its’ own accord works. I feel more productive than I’ve ever felt in my life.  In part because my idea of accomplishment has changed, I now consider it a valuable activity to spend the afternoon watching ducks bathe, for example.  What did not surprise me was learning, early in our time here, that this way of life came more naturally for Felipe.

Christmas day was a perfect example of his ability to ebb and flow to suit the needs of the moment, and accomplish without striving. It was a day in which there was nothing to do, or a more accurately a miracle. Felipe’s work week is six days 8- 5, and Sundays work generally entails upkeep of the house and farm.

We drank our coffee under the penetrating sunrise; breath steaming from the morning’s chill. Felipe’s plan for the day after he fed the pigs was to relax, which for him usually means putter around in the garden. When he returned from feeding, he told me, disconsolately, our sow Mancha was in heat, which was a surprise because she had been bred the month before, supposedly. This news meant a trip to town.

An unusual aspect of Felipe’s pig project is his role as pimp. It is his job to find and hire services for his sows. The heat cycle of a pig is fleeting, there is a single day in which she is the most fertile, and so on that morning Felipe wrangles his pig and marches her into town in hopes of a hook-up.

Not many people maintain a boar, because few keep enough sows to warrant feeding one to wait around for the few days he would earn his keep, which can make it difficult to find a porcine suitor. This was Felipe’ position until Christmas day when he woke to Mancha’s unexpected demands and realized he would have six sows in need of companionship within the next two weeks.  He had 3000(250$US) pesos saved to build a new room for them, but instead he headed into town with the money in hopes of finding them a mate.

Don Juan

As is often the case, and I think the result of his mastery of the moment, he succeeded almost instantaneously in a feat one might think would require a bit of preliminaries and returned an hour later with Don Juan(D.J.) on a leash. (He also acquired our car in this manner, with a 10,000 pesos (900$US) in hand and three hours later we had a stellar automobile.)  D.J. promptly bathed and got it on, not with Mancha, but another cachonda (amorous) lady pig, then had another bath. Felipe was not completely satisfied with this showing, but I suggested he give him a few days, perhaps he was having performance anxiety since Mancha is twice his size and very outgoing.

In addition to our new boar we have a new burrito. We named him Moses.  He is nine months old. Moses was promised to us in exchange for two piglets a couple of months ago, and then he and his mother disappeared in to the wild. After Elvis died  I asked Felipe if he thought we might be able to find them. I hoped having a baby around would distract me, I think baby burros are the most adorable creatures on earth, but we had no luck in our search.

After Felipe returned with Don Juan, we received a call the burros had been located and were waiting in La Tigra.  So we packed the piglets we promised for Moses into our all-purpose vehicle (it is also excellent off road and can haul 1/2 ton of animal food), and made our second unexpected visit of the day to La Tigra.

Moses had never been haltered, but Felipe, the lassodoro(good with a lasso), promptly curtailed him and we walked(in front)/ran(behind)/ and gently prodded him home. He he-hawed his way through the night at a remarkable volume for his size, but has begun to calm with the aid of corn and our quiet advances. Today he touched me with his nose.

I have assured Moses he has landed the best life for a burro in all of La Tigra. Felipe prefers burros to horses, for their strength, and dependable nature, and plans to incorporate him into his many ventures. But for now he is my companion and the felicitous wild card in my agenda.

Felipe and I wish you a very simple, very easy, and very good New Year!


Despite all of my finer sensibilities, I sometimes find myself described as cochino. This is a word that translates roughly as nasty, filthy, one that consorts with dogs or is pig like. It is the term mother’s use to shame children their when they pick their noses.

Now it is true, I do consort with dogs if consort means sleep with, kiss, lie down with, that doesn’t sound so good, but who in the culture I am from, the United States that is, would consider this outside the realm of acceptable behavior? But in La Tigra, dogs are considered filthy animals, which are not allowed in the house, let alone your bed.

I am the only one in my ranchito (little town) that takes the pains to wash their dishes in hot water occasionally. Does this count for nothing? Nonetheless, I  also am the only person I know of that has had chinos and sarna; translate poultry mites and mange. It’s sort of hard to write, Dead Silence, but I imagining that is the reaction of readers right now, and then something like, MANGE?! Are you freaking kidding me! Continue reading