[Note: This is the twenty-seventh sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy. I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while. My blog is home to reviews of 202 books, and you are very welcome to explore them. The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.]
Pigs are also known as hogs or swine. The U.K. and U.S. have slightly different definitions of these terms. For simplicity’s sake I’ll use pigs, and pigs will refer to both piglets and adults of both genders. In different regions, over a million years or more, the pig family evolved into a variety of different species, including boars, bearded pigs, peccary, warthogs, and so on. Today, there are a billion pigs on Earth. The ancestors of domesticated pigs were wild boars, which once inhabited regions of Africa and Eurasia, from Ireland and India to Japan and Siberia. In North and South America, none of the pig family species have been domesticated. They remain wild and free.
Wolves were attracted to human encampments by the enticing aroma of garbage and (remarkably delicious) human feces. Over time, a portion of the curious but incautious critters lost their freedom and got reduced to dogs, critters unable to survive in the wild beyond the human sphere. Similarly, some ancestors of wild pigs were lured into the domestication trap by a treasure chest of garbage, feces, and lush gardens. The moral here is to always avoid human settlements, at any cost, no matter how wonderfully shitty they smell. Danger!
Peter Wohlleben reported that the super intelligent wild boars remain alive and well in portions of Europe, where they have been labelled destructive pests. German hunters kill 650,000 each year. When the shooting starts, boars disappear during daylight hours, and become night critters. Hunters are forbidden to use night vision devices. When hunting season begins in France, the boars swim across the Rhône River to Switzerland, where hunting is banned. As Winston Churchill once said, “Dogs look up to us, cats look down on us, but pigs treat us as equals.”
Wohlleben says that many folks would never consider eating ape flesh and, if we fully understood how intelligent pigs are, the notion of eating them would gross out those who are confused about the sacred dance (in the family of life, we all feed each other). Domestication did not reduce pigs to slobbering dimwits, and some types remain capable of surviving in the wild. Mud-covered pigs are like rich humans at luxurious health spas. When the mud dries, fleas, ticks, and other parasites are baked into it. Then, pigs rub on trees to discard the cruddy mud, and the annoying pests trapped in it.
Cattle, sheep, goats, and horses are grassland creatures. Pigs are not. They prefer to reside in moist and shady places — temperate and tropical forests, close to water sources. Unlike the other four, nomadic grassland people don’t keep them. Enslaved pigs are usually kept by sedentary communities. They can grow up to 770 pounds (350 kg), and have seven litters per year. Piglets can grow rapidly when food is abundant.
John Reader noted that pigs are remarkably efficient at turning food into flesh. Because their diet is more nutrient rich than mere greenery, they could convert 35% of what they ate into meat (sheep 13%, cattle 6.5%). In ten months, the offspring of a pair of pigs can produce 3,200 pounds (1,451 kg) of meat — ten times more than cattle.
While cattle, sheep, goats, and horses are herbivores, pigs are omnivores. Like stoned potheads with the munchies, pigs are not fussy eaters. They will chow down on kitchen wastes, slaughterhouse wastes, spoiled spuds, ugly spuds, peelings, excrement, nuts, grains, roots, insects, leaves, fruits, flowers, fish, human corpses, and other carrion. They have been known to bite, and sometimes kill children.
In many settlements, pigs were proud members of the department of public sanitation, along with rats and dogs, cleaning up crud in the streets discarded by untidy humans and other critters. In regions of India and China, many pigs enjoyed rewarding careers in the sewage treatment profession. Outhouses were often built above pig sties. When steaming turds fell from the sky, pigs would scramble to gobble up the precious gifts from heaven.
For some mysterious reason, folks in the Middle East considered pigs to be unclean. Both Hebrews and Muslims forbade touching or eating pigs. Marvin Harris added that pigs provided no milk or wool, and they were not at all interested in being herded. Pigs were not grass eaters, they ate the same foods that humans did. Consequently, farmers and gardeners were not fond of them. Also, hot sunny, arid lands (like the Middle East) were a poor habitat for pigs. When air temps rise above 98°F (36°C), adult pigs exposed to direct sunlight can drop dead.
Richard Lillard wrote about the early American colonies. Many regions were forested, unsuitable for cattle, but heaven for pigs, who could keep themselves fat and happy via rooting and foraging. For most early settlers, pork seemed like an exotic food, because in the old country, boars were kept in hunting preserves, for the hunting pleasure of wealthy aristocrats. Bacon was for billionaires, high class lords and ladies.
Back country colonists enjoyed a grand life for a while, when the woods of Virginia and Maryland were swarming with pigs. The porkers could run free without supervision, because they were fairly safe. They were not easy prey for wolves or bears, although the alligators of Alabama were connoisseurs of plump, juicy, free range organic ham. As long as you provided a source of salt, and tossed out some corn every day, the pigs would remain in the vicinity. Humans were careful to mark which pigs belonged to them.
Pigs, of course, were delighted to raid gardens and crops, which totally pissed off the tillers and planters. The dirty sweaty lads jumped up and down, yowling and bleating for compulsory fencing laws, but their pleas were ignored. The majority loved having pigs, because raising them was much easier than the tedious drudgery of agriculture. Ordinary folks could enjoy a leisurely way of life that provided a decent standard of living.
Simon Fairlie noted that huge numbers of pigs were born and fattened in the frontier forests, and every year their keepers would drive them down hog trails to big cities on the east coast, where they were traded for gold. Pork was America’s favorite meat until the 1950s, when beef moved into the top position. The first McDonalds restaurant opened in 1948, and soon became a sprawling empire, serving haute cuisine to America’s hungry, burger-loving billionaire aristocrats.
As I’m writing this, the news had a story about feral pigs, of which six million now inhabit 30 U.S. states, especially Texas. They are descendants of the pigs brought by Spanish explorers centuries ago. Feral pigs can grow up to 400 pounds (180kg). Humans who grow things that pigs love to eat are shocked and infuriated when pigs happily drop by to enjoy the delicious gifts that were so kindly left for them. The hotheads buy assault rifles and shoot lots of pigs. Pigs are champions at rapid reproduction, and those that are shot are quickly replaced.
They also have strong razor sharp tusks, which make cougars think twice about attacking them. Of course predator eradication programs have sharply reduced the number of pork-loving carnivores that used to roam the land. The news story was about a 59 year old woman who was recently killed by multiple feral pigs as she stepped out of her car at dawn. She bled to death. Attacks like this are extremely rare.
Jared Diamond wrote about the Norse colonization of Iceland a thousand years ago. It became the most ecologically damaged nation in Europe. Wildlife took a heavy beating. Within a few decades of settlement, about 80 percent of the trees were whacked down. Sheep and pigs foraged amidst the stumps, and prevented forest recovery by repeatedly nipping off the new seedlings. When the highly erodible volcanic topsoil became more exposed to wind and water, half of it moved from dry land to the ocean, and green countrysides were reduced to deserts. Today, only one percent of the forest still exists.
We’ve already met the huge, powerful, and fierce aurochs, the wild ancestors of cattle. It’s hard to imagine how such mighty animals were reduced to cud chewing manure makers. Obviously, the most aggressive bulls were put in the fast lane to the butcher’s chop shop, while those having milder manners were sent to bovine bordellos, where love starved cows eagerly enjoyed their deep affection. Over the course of centuries, deliberately selecting the most passive bulls for breeding stock, generation after generation, gradually drove the aurochs spirit extinct. Shamans call this soul loss (i.e., domestication).
Sandra Ingerman wrote that soul loss is a spiritual disease which, in advanced cases, can result in shadow beings who exhibit a “nobody is home” emptiness. She says that most of us these days are not fully at home. Jesus said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Indeed!
OK, back to cattle. The quick and easy path to mild-mannered bulls was to fetch a sharp knife, relieve them of their testicles, and turn them into mellow, easygoing oxen. In the early days, cattle were used for meat, milk, and hides. Later, they became a source of muscle power — beasts of burden, and draft animals that pulled carts, chariots, plows, logs, and so on.
Folks eventually quit using oxen for muscle power when someone finally invented a contoured collar harness for horses that allowed them to pull serious loads without strangling themselves. Horses required a richer diet, but they worked much faster than oxen. So, farmers could plow larger fields, and fields that were farther from home. Keith Thomas reported that it wasn’t until oxen were retired from muscle work that roast beef became the iconic centerpiece of English cuisine. Until then, it wasn’t wise to eat your tractor.
Earlier, we looked at the prehistoric deforestation of Europe. Actually deforestation was a global human enterprise. In early times, we created manmade grasslands to attract large herbivores. With the domestication of livestock, and the craziness of the agriculture fad, and the human population outburst, deforestation continued. It’s happening right now, on a massive scale, as epidemic soul loss turns folks into weird critters obsessed with killing Big Mama Nature. This is not a path with a future.
Years ago, I did some hiking in the hills above San Francisco Bay, where cattle were grazing. Generally, the vegetation was kept neatly trimmed, and here and there were 100 year old oaks. They dropped lots of acorns every fall, but there were few young oak trees, because their seedlings were routinely nipped off. Originally, these hills were thriving oak savannahs, covered with a thick undergrowth of sagebrush and other shrubs, dotted with oaks of all ages. [LOOK]
Especially in coastal regions, California Indians deliberately burned off the cover of dense sage scrub to create grasslands that attracted game. Later, the Spanish and American colonists created more manmade grasslands for their livestock. Once the brush was burned off, and cattle introduced, the oak savannah was doomed. To add insult to injury, the exposed grassland became extremely vulnerable to troublesome immigrants, known as exotic invasive European weeds (more on these in a minute).
Bison are also ruminants and, in the good old days, they were wild, free, and happy. They were not the personal property of status seeking ranchers, consequently, for many thousands of years, they did not rubbish the western U.S. plains. They did not fool around with fire, or create deserts. Dan Flores mentioned that the bison herds were lovingly managed by family planning brigades called wolf packs. They ate maybe four of every ten bison calves. Wolves were dignified professional predators, not infantile status seekers, so they did not kill as many bison as possible, just enough to fill their growling tummies. Enough is enough! Status seeking is for dweebs and weenies.
¶ Western United States
When European colonists migrated into the western plains of the U.S., they found millions of buffalo that had beautifully coevolved with the ecosystem over millions of years. The alien white lads came from a culture that had a long tradition of owning and exploiting domesticated livestock, which were imagined to be valuable commodities. The more you owned, the cooler you were, and the higher your social status. The settlers soon discovered that the large wild herbivores of the plains were too proud and intelligent to be domesticated and enslaved. Dang!
The European culture was based on private property — owning land, homes, livestock, and so on. By the nineteenth century, most of the vast forests of Europe had become cropland and pasture, and almost all large wild animals had been eliminated long ago. Some survived as characters in fairy tales, where the roles for devious demonic bloodthirsty monsters were often assigned to big bad wolves.
The colonists were incapable of imagining the possibility of transforming into nomadic hunter-gatherers, and enjoying an exciting life of wild freedom. They were, after all, civilized people, and their religious stories originated in an ancient Middle Eastern culture of herders and conquerors. Buffalo simply did not fit in their self-centered fantasies of wealth and excess. You cannot own what you can’t control. Their hearts were broken when they realized that the continent they had stolen was not home to many millions of passive domesticated livestock that belonged to no one. Well, they had a good cry, and then put on their thinking caps.
Rather than doing something sensible, like turning around, sailing back to the old country, where countless generations of their ancestors were buried, and spending the rest of their days in filthy cities roaring with deadly epidemic diseases and bloody religious fanaticism, they decided to stay, and rubbish the indigenous people, wildlife, and ecosystems.
Their brilliant plan was to import domesticated shorthorn cattle from northern Europe — purebred passive dimwits, ideal slaves. They could raise huge herds and become extremely rich cattle barons with ghastly pretentious mansions. Richard Manning wrote an excellent description of the comedy of errors that occurred in this grassland soap opera. The healthy, functional wild ecosystem was a serious problem that needed to be fixed, because it was an obstacle to progress and a growing economy.
Well, there were some annoying challenges. You see, buffalo could remain fat and happy on a diet that majored in grass. By a lucky coincidence, the western plains produced an abundance of delicious and nutritious grass. For example, the excellent blue bunch wheat grass remained a nutritious food source throughout the winter. Unfortunately, cattle gobbled it all up prior to winter, leaving nothing for later. Oops! When this primo grass is overgrazed, it can take ten years to recover.
The digestive tracts of buffalo had been fine-tuned by evolution to process the native grasses, so they were 18 percent more efficient than cattle. The fussy foreign cattle preferred a diet of leafy forbs (broad leafed flowering plants like alfalfa), which were scarce in their weird new habitat. The frustrated hungry cattle were not impressed, and wanted to go back home on the next boat. Request denied.
Buffalo were well adapted to the dry climate, and they could comfortably go for several days without needing a drink of water. Their herds roamed across the land at something like a walking pace. It wasn’t necessary for them to stick close to water, so they were able to wander and graze over a wide region. They might not return to a location for several years. The result was healthy grassland, healthy riparian areas, healthy herds of buffalo, and healthy tribes of Indians and wolves.
The prissy imported cattle, on the other hand, had evolved in a much moister climate, where it was far easier to find a drink whenever they got a bit thirsty. Consequently, they tended to concentrate their grazing on locations closer water, unload tons of manure, overgraze, and mutilate the banks of the streams (riparian areas). When riparian lands are undamaged, they can produce far more forage than can surrounding uplands — they are top quality places for indigenous herbivores. On the other hand, when the vegetation is damaged, the soil dries out, and floods are more likely to carry it away. Overgrazed land speeds rain runoff, which sometimes leads to spectacular flooding.
The buffalo were well adapted to surviving in a region where the climate majored in blast freezer winters and scorching summers. The cattle were adapted to living in a dainty moist climate with moderate summers and mild winters — an ecosystem strikingly different from the plains. During the super-cold winters of 1885-86 and 1906-07, maybe 50 to 75 percent of the cattle on the high plains died — while the snow-frosted bison remained warm, well-fed, and secretly amused at the misfortune of the hapless illegal immigrants.
Well, the ambitious colonists had still another brilliant idea. They decided to introduce traditional pasture plants from Europe, so their cash cows could get fatter faster. Unfortunately, most of these exotic plants promptly keeled over and died, because they were equally unsuited for the plains. So, the next brilliant solution was to import pasture plants from arid regions of Asia — a disastrous mistake that has caused irreversible damage.
Manning described some of the bummers. Crested wheatgrass thrived on the plains, and it outcompeted and displaced native plants. In the winter, this wonder grass retained little nutritional value, and so the mule deer, elk, and antelope starved in endless fields of grass.
Spotted knapweed suppresses native grasses, and has now spread to 7 million acres (2.8 million ha) in 48 states. Because of root secretions, most other plants can’t live close to it. Sheep can eat it, but cattle eat bunchgrass instead, which encourages the knapweed to spread.
Leafy spurge is now found in 26 states, where it has spread across 2.5 million acres (1 million ha). It excels at outcompeting most other species, achieving communities that are almost monocultures. Plants have extensive root systems, and can live for 40 years. Spurge has a toxic sap. Cattle will not graze near it, only sheep and goats can eat it. The plant transforms lands into biological deserts, and it is extremely expensive to eradicate.
Cheatgrass can survive in low quality soils, and in regions having minimal precipitation. Only in the early spring does this grass provide significant nutrients to grazing animals. For the rest of the year, it doesn’t, so animals can starve in a thriving grassland. Cheatgrass is especially flammable, and it burns hot enough to roast the seeds of native plants, which it has now displaced across large areas. After a cheatgrass fire, exposed soil is vulnerable to erosion and gullying. Following a rain, the runoff can be rapid, leading to sudden floods. Dan Flores wrote that in the U.S. mountain west, cheatgrass had turned 100 million acres (40 million ha) into a biological wasteland.
Eliminating invasive exotic vegetation is prohibitively expensive, and often essentially impossible. Invasives are here to stay, and their plan is to spread. Human intelligence remains an unfinished masterpiece.
Mark Brazil shared a story that was full of crap. In Britain, cow manure was promptly and properly composted by patriotic royal dung beetles, which returned essential nutrients to the soil. In Australia, none of the native dung beetles could get the least bit interested in cow shit. It was too wet, and too out in the open. Cow pies could patiently sit on the grass unmolested for four years, because nobody loved them. This deeply hurt their feelings. Adding insult to injury, Brook Jarvis noted that fussy cattle refused to graze in the vicinity of neglected pies, so the herd needed access to far more grazing land than normal.
Australian flies, on the other hand, discovered that cow pies made fabulous nurseries for their children. Each pat could feed 3,000 maggots, which turned into flies — dense clouds of billions and billions of flies — which the hard working Christians did not in any way fancy. Being outdoors was hellish. In the 1960s, folks imported British dung beetles, which loved the taste and aroma of cow pies. Oddly, this is one example where an introduced exotic species apparently didn’t create unintended consequences. When they ran out of pies to eat, the beetles simply died.