On Sunday, Dan and I (with the ever eager “assistance” of Micah, Anna and Joe) began to clear the patch of forest beside the pasture. This is becoming more and more imperative as, even with the orchard, we just don’t have enough grass to sustain 13 sheep—at least not during this time of year. So, as part of the “long range plan” (This is a bit grand for the “let’s give this a try/seat of the pants” philosophy we seem to live by) we decided to clear the trees along the fence line as part of an eventual extra two acres of pasture. It was a whole family activity—Dan with his chainsaw knocking out the smaller trees, me tugging the branches so the trees would fall the right way and yelling “Watch out!” “Step back!” “Grab the puppy before she gets smooshed!”, the kids all milling around excitedly, poking at the caterpillar nests that used to be high above their heads, and the sheep crowding along the fence line calling for treats. Fun, fun, fun!
And somehow, we got a nice little spot cleared. It will soon fill up with jewelweed, no doubt, which is just fine with us. The kids love snapping the jewelweed pods in fall—they are like little tightly wound springs that go zinging up like confetti from those little celebratory plastic bottles they sell around New Year’s Eve. I also made a weak “Jewelweed tea”, freeze it into ice cubes and plunk it in the bath for the kids’ various skin issues—dryness, bug bites, rashes, etc. Oh, and the sheep enjoy munching jewelweed too. It’s a pretty all around awesome plant.
Anyway, as we were clearing, we thought we might as well toss some of the branches into the pasture for the (always) hungry sheep, a waste minimization strategy. Here’s the thing: I know choke cherry twigs and branches are poisonous to livestock and I THINK I can recognize choke cherry. (Before we brought home our first four sheep, I walked the pasture with an armful of guidebooks and a good friend and tried to determine if we had any definite pasture no no’s. So I have at least vague knowledge of local plants.) But after the kids had enthusiastically tossed in about 50 branches that Dan said he was “pretty sure” was birch, and after the greedy sheep had begun to consume them, I had this moment of panic. What if the branches were choke cherry after all? They did have a strong odor. (I remembered choke cherry had an odor, and though these branches smelled just like birch beer, I didn’t trust my nose at all.) I ran around yanking back the branches. and generally, acting pretty ridiculous. After they were all out, I went up to the house, got my tree identification book, and discovered that okay, Dan was right, the branches were birch. So back in they went. Crazy, eh? Like Maggie, our beloved border collie, I have a tendency to fixate on things—usually negative things—at the strangest moments. So it goes…
Another bit of fall-out from the clearing project, was the possibility of pigs. Yup, pigs! After visiting West Elm Farm last week, and seeing Patrick’s two amazing, compost creating pigs. (He even uses them to churn the old matted straw of the sheep stalls—a super speedy “deep composting” that requires none of the back-breaking, nose-offending mucking out that’s a semi-regular part of our existence.) I thought, hmmm….. why not? Pigs are terrific at clearing land. They say that pigs will root out stumps, churn and fertilize a stretch of land and turn all that inedible stuff into, well, um, meat. So…. maybe. Here’s the thing though: Eating our own “pet” pigs would be quite a stretch for this suburban gone rural family. The kids have no trouble eating the chickens. Well, so far we’ve just eaten one mean rooster. (This is a good blog subject in itself.) and when Maggie went a little crazy during shearing and killed three of our guinea fowl, nobody had any trouble putting them to good use. But I suspect a pig might be different. They are smart, and kind of cute. And there’s also the fact that we barely eat pork as it is—just bacon on rare occasions and a pulled pork sandwich when good barbecue presents itself (Rare in New England). To tell the truth, my former vegetarian self, just can’t stomach pork—especially with what I have seen of the giant Midwest pork enterprises.) So a freezer full of ham and pork chops, well… maybe. If we can manage it, I could certainly supply Seaport with lots of good, healthy food, and we’d have bacon anyway and compost and a ready new pasture for the sheep. If we couldn’t manage it, we’d have two big fat pets we have to feed over the winter. So, we’ll see….. Pigs might be one of those projects that “looks good on paper”.
But I have to say I’m kinda fascinated with some of the heritage breeds, Large Black pigs in particular. Anybody have any experience with swine? Any advice?