A Michigan orchard is keeping its apples fresh for the picking with the help of 18 hungry pigs.
Virtue Cider in Fennville, Michigan is planning to let pigs run rampant throughout rows of its apple trees. The orchard recently added 18 Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs to the payroll.
The porcines were brought on board to consume rotting apples covered in pests, effectively keeping the insects from spreading to other healthy apples elsewhere on the tree.
Currently, the orchard is full of saplings, but in a few years, the work of these adorable snub-nosed beasts will be in high demand.
Gloucestershire Old Spots originally hail from England. They are named for the large black dots that adorn their skin. And, like any piggy, they are excellent composts.
Some question if this practice is clean and safe for consumers, but the pigs seem to be destined for the job. A century ago, they were dubbed "orchard pigs" due to their opportunistic apple-grazing behavior.
Missy Corey, Culinary and Hospitality Director for Virtue Cider, said:
"The folklore is that the spots came from apples falling on them and causing bruises."
An estimated 500 Gloucestershire oinkers populate farms across the U.S., 18 of which now call Virtue Cider home.
The orchard isn't the first to return agriculture to traditional practices. Goat rental businesses offer chemical (and mechanical) free lawn care. Chickens were lobbied as natural tick-control in New York. Feral cats are often hired to control rodent populations in barns and warehouses. And now, pigs are employed at orchards.
Pests found on the apples are typically immature. Ideally, the pigs will eat pests in this larval stage, thereby putting a wrench in a successful reproductive life cycle.
But the fear is contamination. Animals and crops are not supposed to be in the same vicinity on a farm, according to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). Manure specifically can carry at least trace amounts of bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. However, science doesn't seem to back up the GAP's concern, and there is still the possibility that crops are contaminated from coming into contact with human hands in transit.
The practice of employing orchard pigs seemed to work in the 20th century, so maybe history will win out this time around.