Hickory nuts are dropping in the woods and in the hedgerows. The pigs are pleased. They crush the shells with their molars and then sort the nut meat from the shell with their tongues, spitting out the fragments. The noise from the cracking shells sounds like it ought to be painful, but the pigs obviously don’t think so.
Nuts and acorns have been traditionally used for pig forage. Our farm has red and white oaks scattered thinly over it, but they are so far apart that we can’t move the pigs to all those isolated locations to harvest the fallen acorns. Pigs used to be fattened in this part of the country in the abundant chestnut groves until the blight wiped them out, but I’ll write more on a curious short term reintroduction of chestnuts in a future post… Other mast forages like pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, and beechnuts either can’t be grown here or just aren’t found on our farm. But we do have hickory nuts, lots of them. We have both shagbark and bitternut varieties. I prefer the shagbark trees for their crazy delaminated appearances. Nuts from the shagbarks are more palatable for human consumption although extracting the meat is more challenging and less rewarding than working with pecans or walnuts. The bitternuts are appropriately named for their high tannin content. Pigs seem to be equally fond of both hickory species.