I have big dreams for my pigs. Some day in the future I'm going to have a substantial amount of my farm set up with plants, fencing, and water systems such that I can finish pigs to a great degree by rotating them through several paddocks and letting them do their piggie thing without hauling any feed to them. My current idea is to plant widely spaced rows of hazels and then fill the spaces in between with sunchokes. I figure with the right spacing I can create a good finishing ration since hazel nuts run about 20% protein and sunchokes roots are almost all carbohydrate. I'm still years and years away from realizing this concept because perennials take a long time to establish and I want to propagate out only superior hazel stock. I don't want low yielding wild-type shrubs. I have enough japanese honeysuckle on my land providing shrub habitat without any marketable production.
Modern hybrid hazels developed by Badgersett Research Co. in Minnesota are capable of growing a respectable amount of food year in and year out so long as the bushes' fertility needs are met. I bought 50 hazels from BRC a few years ago, and this fall I'm going to copice the best couple of shrubs I have to "layer" propagate them for next year.
I'm sold on the superiority of Badgersett's bushes. I tried another nursery in the past and its plants were inferior, and I had this basic observation confirmed in spades a month ago when a friend and I visited a five acre planting of hazels out near Cortland. The owner had purchased hazels from all over the place beginning back in the 1990s and most of them that originated on nurseries other than Badgersett were either dead from or seriously damaged by eastern filbert blight. His Badgersett plantings looked good and healthy.
The photo above is the business end of a hybrid hazel in bloom (this is an out of date photo, they bloomed at the end of March this year). There are two flowers, the big catkins are male, and the small buds with a tiny red petals in the middle are the female flowers that will bear nuts in September.