A Food Forest Garden

Below are photos of some of the produce collected from the garden on a daily basis. Some days are better than others, depending on the season. There is a lot of variety in our small harvests and our meals are designed around such variety.

We don’t produce crops in the way prescribed by conventional agriculture. You won’t see rows of the same crops grown together in tilled plant beds. Low in cost, labour and maintenance, high in diversity, this has been a way of securing food in tropical areas since prehistoric times. But with the advent of modern agriculture for commercial food production, these edible forest gardens and the old practices and traditions that created them, were lost. Sadly, even in non-commercial settings, food forest gardening is little known, as majority of the population became educated in the ways of conventional agriculture.

Below are three photos depicting most agricultural practices.

Our Food Forest Journey

We are creating our food forest garden on land that has been developed as a coconut plantation in the midst of government-led campaigns for copra production. Synthetic fertilizers given out by government were regularly used. Coconut trees were planted very closely together, many less than a meter apart, such that an area of less than 2,000 square meters had 60 coconut trees. The land was also planted with exotic and invasive mahogany and gmelina trees in a similar campaign for fast-growing sources of timber. The land also had a history of cattle grazing.

Rocky and sloping and such a history of use spanning over 75 years left us with land that is very difficult to manage. The only way, it seemed, to get anything to grow, was through the forest garden.

Our food forest garden includes livestock. We have native chickens and muscovy ducks that free-range. These fowls are problematic because they destroy seedlings and young plants. But this problem also became the opportunity to use companion planting to protect plants during the vulnerable stages of growth. The goats are put in the garden on a leash when some areas need pruning and trimming. The food forest surrounds pigpens with soil flooring regularly filled with coconut leaves, banana leaves and wood chips collected from here and nearby areas. When the pens are cleaned, bedding material are composted and used to amend the soil.

Piglets foraging in the garden.
Ducks in the garden.

Rain water harvested from the roof of our home and the pigpens is used to water the garden. The gardens close to the house are irrigated with greywater from the kitchen and shower. Kitchen and table scraps are composted in sections of the garden that need improvement. Anything trimmed or cut down from the garden returns to the garden.

Plants have grown well irrigated by greywater through a simple wastewater treatment system.
Ornamental plants thriving in an infiltration planter. Water from the kitchen goes through a simple homemade grease-trap, and into this planter.

Rain gardens were dug up to control flooding and soil erosion. Rain gardens also became protected areas for such crops as taro which ducks loved to attack. Pioneer native bushes and trees were allowed to grow, attracting native birds, insects, lizards and other species. They also proved to be resilient trellises for climbing crops such as winged beans, yam beans, lima beans, passionfruit and gourds.

This year, 2019, it will be our 9th year working this land. A lot of improvement have taken place and the land is more productive and diverse than it has ever been. Our yield is growing though still far from the yield of land worked in the manner of conventional agriculture. But our inputs are much less invasive, less expensive, less labour-intensive and more environmentally beneficial.

The north garden plots, trying to protect the soil from erosion and the vulnerable plants from attacks by ducks and chickens.
The south garden plots, located on sloping land, wood borders used to lessen erosion and protect from duck attacks.

We still have more work to do which develops and evolves slowly over time. Invasive trees will need to be removed and replaced with native varieties. The number of coconut trees will have to be reduced so more diverse crops can grow.

If you would like to grow crops and raise livestock for domestic or commercial production, please consider the food forest gardening method. A good introduction to the food forest garden is by way of Masanbu Fukuoka’s natural farming.  However, while food forest systems seem to have its roots in the tropics, a lot of information about food forests on-line are written for temperate and sub-tropical climates. But by understanding the basics, observing your natural environment and working with people who have kept the tradition of forest gardening, you can create your own food forest garden. Good luck!

Natural Housing for Backyard Pigs

We have been keeping pigs for almost 9 years now and our accommodation for pigs, in a tropical backyard setting, have changed over the years. Here’s how things developed, plus an outlook for the future.

The Tethered Pig
As often practised by people in our village with very limited space and resources, we kept pigs on a leash and tied them to a tree during the daytime and then tied them under the house at night. If we had 2 pigs we had to keep them a distance from each other. Otherwise their leash would get tangled up and they may get hurt. Our first fatteners and a gilt were tethered pigs. When our gilt was about to farrow, we built a little pen for her. The pigs were fed in modified large plastic containers.

In the video below, the gilt Miss Piggy is tethered next to the goat house under a tree.

The video below shows a conventional concrete pigpen commonly found in our village. A boar and 5 sows are kept in individual pens.

The Penned Pig
We started with a small pen, about 8 square meters. It was made of strong bamboo and had nipa palm fronds for roofing. The flooring was just soil with some sawdust and rice hull mixed in. We raised our first boar, kept two gilts, had a sow farrow in this pen. We also kept 1-2 fatteners at a time in this pen.

In the video below, Bootleg, who had just undergone hernia repair surgery, plays ball in a pen made of bamboo and wood.

In the video below, sow Number 3 farrowed for the first time, to 4 piglets in this bamboo pen. The piglets are 2 weeks old in this video. We installed a creep rail with warming lamp which the piglets never used! In the latter part of the video, Number 3 is shown eating from the wooden trough. After many months of use, water leaks out of the trough and floods that area.

Later, we built two more pens of about the same size, so that we could rotate the pigs and allow the empty pens to fallow and get cleaned up. The two new pens were made of coconut and some scrap lumber, bamboo, nipa and tarpaulin roofing. The pigs were fed in large plastic container or modified rubber tires. Later, we decided to build troughs out of mahogany planks. The troughs can be filled with food and water from outside the pens. The pigs couldn’t turn over the troughs so the food and water didn’t get spilled. This made feeding much easier. We tried installing pig drinkers but as the pigs got bigger they destroyed those things.

In the video below, five new piglets enjoy the soil and grass in a large pen made of coconut lumber, some bamboo and scrap pieces of wood. In less than a week, all that grass is gone.

In the video below, 3-day old piglets play fight in the same pen shown above. The piglets were born in this pen.

Over 2 years, we used these pens. We kept a boar, 3 sows, a few fatteners in these pens. We had 4 farrows in these pens. Over the years, these pens required a lot of maintenance and emergency repairs. The wood rotted and pigs escaped several times. Ducks went into the pens and got eaten by pigs. The roof rotted and leaked when it rained and flooded the pens with mud. The pigs loved the mud but when there was too much mud, there was no dry place for them to sleep in. We desperately needed better pens.

In the video below, 2 young boars are fed on a tire cut in half. When it rained and the pen became very muddy, it became impossible to keep feeding the pigs this way. We got stuck in the mud!

The Better Penned Pig
At the moment, our pigs are in their new accommodation built 14 months ago. The designs of the pens were inspired by the following technical illustrations. These illustrations are from Swine Plans published by the University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture. We modified the designs to suit our location, climate and needs.

The pens have half meter walls made of concrete and over that are fences made of strong mahogany wood planks. The fences have gaps for good ventilation and sun exposure. The fencing for the boar pen is higher (about 4 feet high) than those for the sows (about 3 feet high) because the boar is much bigger and can jump out of the pen. These pens are a spacious 22-25 square meters. The farrowing pen has a creep rail and an escape hatch. The escape hatch allows the piglets to go out into the garden. The farrowing pen has LED lighting and an extra socket for a heat lamp for piglets born in the cool season.

All the pens have concrete troughs built along the side wall of the pen. The troughs can be filled with food and water from outside the pens.

In the video below, sow Auntie Brownie is with her piglets in the maternity pen. The trough and creep rail is visible, as well as the escape hatch behind the creep rail.

Two of the pens are right next to each other with a gate in between. The boar stays in one pen and the sow is placed in the other. This boar-sow contact allows the sow to go in heat and makes it easier for us to detect when the sow is in heat. If it is time to mate the pigs, we just open the gate in the middle (see video below).

The roofs of these pens are made of galvanised iron sheets, built at a height of 9-12 feet for ventilation and sun. Unfortunately, the roofing material are thin and may need to be replaced in a couple of years. The gates of the pens are made of galvanised iron pipes which we painted over. The floors of the pens are soil mixed with saw dust and many other natural materials such as dry banana leaves and coconut leaves. We have also sprayed the floor of the pens with lactic acid bacteria solution (LABS) and added some IMO (indigenous microorganisms).

We need to keep the sow more comfortable in the farrowing pen during the hot summer months. We plan to put an electric fan in the farrowing pen and direct it towards the creep rail. We hope this would encourage the sow to farrow next to the creep rail which will protect the piglets better from crushing.

We need to fence an area of the garden around the farrowing pen so that when the piglets are out in the garden, they will not wander away outside of the property where they could be in danger (particularly by dogs). The fenced area needs to be large enough for the piglets to run around in and should at the same time keep the piglets away from sections of the garden where we don’t want them to go. The fences should be short (2 feet or less), strong but not imposing and should be made of material where vine plants can grow over. At the same time, the fences should not get in the way when we rotate sows from one pen to another.

Coconuts and mahogany pods fall on the roof of the pens and if this persist, the roofs will be destroyed. We plan to cut these trees. This will allow the fruit trees, native trees and shrubs already growing in the area to flourish and provide shade and forage for the animals.

We would also like edible fruiting vines to grow up the pigpens and over the roof. This will provide shade and food for humans and animals. We are working to have more vegetation grow around the pigpens.

We will also have to continue using IMOs and LABS in our pigpens. We think that these, plus sufficient ventilation and sunlight, destroy pathogens in the pens. When we fallow a pen, that’s also when we harvest good organic compost which enrich the gardens where soil is very poorly and rocky.

Basic Principle of Natural Environment for Housing Pigs

Below is a good video that explains the design principle of housing for Natural Farmed pigs. We did not implement this design completely in our pigpens but we do our best to keep the principle of re-creating something as close as possible to a natural forest environment, the natural home for the domestic pigs’ ancestor, the wild boar.

Here is another interesting video (below, in 3 parts) that explains the importance of environment, welfare and public health in pig farming. Several examples of sustainable and profitable systems shown may be useful for those seeking better ways of raising pigs.

Stocking Densities for Pigs

There are several recommendations based on welfare regulations on stocking densities for pigs. Most of the figures are based on accommodation in temperate or non-tropical settings. We believe that because of high temperatures and humidity in the tropics, the minimum space required for pigs should be larger than those recommended in the link below.

Refer to The Garth Pig Stockmanship Standards on Stocking Densities.

We will post updates once we have implemented the improvements planned for next year. If you have any questions about our pig accommodations, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and we’ll do our best to reply.

Homemade Dishwashing Liquid

Dishwashing liquid is great, it cleans, removes oil, disinfects, smells nice and foams a lot. But before the thing was invented, people did fine with laundry soap, detergent bar, detergent powder, detergent cleansers. And long before that, people used washing soda, soda ash or sodium carbonate. And way before that, until now, in some parts of the world, people have been using sand, ashes, twigs, stones, leaves and rice hull. I often use dry leaves to clean the scum, oil and dirt from the pigs’ water buckets and those work great. I have also found rice hull or even rice or large corn grits great for cleaning the inside of bottles and containers.

Lately, I decided to make my own dishwashing liquid, for use in the kitchen, for hand washing plates, glasses, cutlery and cooking utensils. Homemade dishwashing liquid works fine and is much less irritating to the hands than commercially prepared ones. If you want to give it a try, here’s three ways.

Recycled Soap Bits

Collect soap pieces, put them in a container, add a bit of water. That’s it. Great if you have a container that’s a bit wide and shallow so you can stuff a sponge in it. If you have hard water, add a half teaspoon of vinegar to the water at the rinsing stage. Just keep adding water and soap pieces as needed.

Detergent Powder

Mix a tablespoon of detergent powder with a cup of water and a teaspoon of vinegar. Put the solution in a squeeze bottle or you can recycle plastic bottles with a hole punched on the cap. Shake well before using.

Soap Flakes and Borax

Mix 2 tablespoons of soap flakes or grated soap with 1 tablespoon of borax in a stainless steel pot. Boil up 2 cups of water and pour into the soap and borax. Mix well and cover. Let sit for overnight or several hours, stirring every now and then, until the soap is thoroughly dissolved. If you have hard water, add a teaspoon of vinegar. Pour everything into a squeeze bottle (I use an old mustard plastic container). Shake before using.

Some notes on using

In hand washing, the best procedure involves scraping away food particles and washing out the oil before using the dishwashing liquid. Additionally, most dishwashing liquid (homemade or store bought) work best when used with hot water, with washing done in the sink or a bowl. Soaking the sponge in a combination of water and dishwashing liquid work quite well too.

What is the shelf-life of homemade dishwashing liquid?

Prepare homemade dishwashing liquid in small batches. These are best when used right away or at least within a week rather than stored for weeks or months. The solution degrades over time.

Will the vinegar ‘un-saponify’ the soap?

Saponification is actually an irreversible process. But a lot of the problem with mixing large quantities of vinegar with soap in high heat is the separation of fat and the alkali solution in soap. So don’t use too much vinegar and don’t heat the soap and vinegar together. The heat shock and acid can cause the soap emulsion to degrade. If used as described in the recipe above, and you have hard water, the vinegar will bind with the calcium/magnesium ions in the water and help the soap work better.

What does borax do?

In the above recipe for dishwashing liquid, borax converts some water molecules into hydrogen peroxide which cleans, disinfects and bleaches. This is best done when washing with hot water.

I don’t have borax. Can I use hydrogen peroxide instead?

Soap and hydrogen peroxide (3% solution) mixed together is fine, but don’t prepare a large batch. Use within 7 days or less. Over time, hydrogen peroxide and soap react, degrading the solution.  The mix also needs to be protected from light, so you’ll need an opaque container for the solution. Half a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide should be enough.

If you do use hydrogen peroxide, you may add vinegar (4% acidity) but only if the hydrogen peroxide is a weak solution (3%) and a small amount of vinegar is used. Strong concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and vinegar mixed together create strong paracetic acid which is corrosive.

A word of caution

With DIY dishwashing liquid or any cleaner, be careful about mixing household chemicals. Never mix together bleach, ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, acetone, chlorine, muriatic acid, oxalic acid, ammonia, toilet cleaner or drain cleaner. These could result to dangerous combinations.

Piglet Crushing, Understanding and Managing

The Figures in Loose-Farrowing Systems

According to studies, average pre-weaning mortality in loose farrowing systems commonly range from 20-33%. This is twice greater than that normally occurring in confinement farrowing crates. The major cause of piglet mortality in a loose-farrowing system is piglets being laid on by sows (often called ‘piglet crushing’). A survey of 40 producers using loose-farrowing systems in the midwestern United States indicated that average pre-weaning mortality of piglets was 26.4% and average litter size weaned was 6.7.

Our Figures in Loose-Farrowing Systems

Our sows farrow in a loose-farrowing system, a  pen of about 22  square meters. The flooring is a mixture of soil, wood shavings and other dry and green organic matter. The pen has a small fenced area (creep space) and an escape hatch for piglets. The sow is given nesting materials (dry banana leaves) on the day of farrowing. Our current crushing rate – with minimum supervision – is 20%. Mortality due to disease is 0%. The sows, now 3 years and 4 months of age, are healthy and strong, and our piglet post-weaning mortality rate is 0%. The average litter size weaned at 45 days is 8 piglets.

Note: Minimum supervision means we do not intervene during farrowing. We provide nesting materials as soon as the sow asks for them and then we leave the sow alone, watching at a distance of 25 feet. We save piglets from crushing when we see or hear them. Because of minimum supervision during farrowing, we are often unable to determine stillbirths or whether piglets were live born and died through crushing. We have decided to include these mortalities in our crushing statistics.

Farrowing Crates and Farrowing Pens

The use of farrowing crates with supervision can reduce crushing mortalities down to 5-10%. However, piglets and sows raised in these conditions often have a higher incidence of disease and post-weaning mortality than their loose-farrowing counterparts. The use of farrowing crates are under scrutiny for welfare concerns and their use has been banned in some countries. Apart from pasture and loose-farrowing options, there are new designs of farrowing pens to address the concerns of producers. Below are two examples (first and second video).

The videos below show strip-grazing farrowing paddocks and indoor and outdoor systems in the UK.

How we try to reduce the incidence of crushing in a loose-farrowing system with minimum supervision

  • Give sufficient nesting material. The nesting material of choice in the tropics is dry banana leaves. An abundant amount is necessary, between 15 to 20 large leaves or more depending on the farrowing space. The sow should have plenty of time to process the materials and build her nest. Our sows take 12 hours. She will shred the banana leaves. Sometimes, she is not able to do this well enough. Thus we give her banana leaves that are thoroughly dry so they are easy to shred. We may also cut the banana leaves along the length of the midrib so it is easier to shred and the tough midrib will not trap piglets.
  • Keep the sow in good body condition. Do not overfeed the sow. Don’t make her overly fat. If the sow is too fat and heavy, she is not agile and flexible. She cannot avoid crushing her piglets and cannot get up quickly when a piglet squeals when crushed. Crushing is also common when the disparity in size of sow and newly born piglets is very large. Thus, research shows that crushing tend to be higher with older sows/higher parity. Our sows are nearly 4 years of age and we do our best to keep them fit and agile.
  •  Feed the sow on a regular schedule. We feed our lactating sows three times a day and we stick to this. Make sure the piglets are not in the path of the sow when you feed her, otherwise, she may step on her piglets in the excitement to eat.

  • Motivate sows to farrow next to the creep space. This isn’t easy and we’re trying to do this by working with the sow’s natural instincts and not working against it or by force. In a loose-farrowing system, we can’t dictate where the sow decides to build her nest and farrow. Our sows always build their nests away from the farrowing rail/creep space. The sows always want a location that is away from the gate, the feeding trough and the creep space. However, the sow often begins to nurse her piglets away from the nest 24 hours partuition. This is the time when we try to get her to nurse her piglets next to the farrowing rail/creep space. We do this by putting forage material for her to eat near the farrowing rail/creep space and by dripping water over her neck to cool her down in this location. Often, she will favour nursing at a location where she feels comfortable. When it gets too warm in one location, she will move to another.
  • Provide heating in the creep space for piglets. Piglets seem to avoid bright lights so a bright heating lamp may not be suitable. We have tried incandescent lamps which are not suitable. We currently have infrared lamps which are still too bright. Perhaps a green coloured infrared lamp would be suitable. In a study, piglets are supposedly attracted by green colour. Use heating lamps only when temperatures are low (below 25°C) and only in the first few days to a week of farrowing. We notice that when temperatures go down to 22°C, the piglets will use the heated creep space even with the bright infrared lamp.
  • Entice piglets to use the creep space. Piglets prefer to sleep in random places and they won’t even start sleeping in the creep space until they are 7 days old. We would really prefer if they used the creep space from Day 1 and avoid lying next to the mother. To get this to happen, we will need to motivate the sow to build her nest next to the creep space. In the video below, Sow Number 3 built her nest about 5 feet behind the creep space, in the corner of the pen. She has always considered this space a safe space for farrowing. We tried to entice piglets to the creep space by putting materials from the nest into the creep space. This did not work very well at all. We tried to entice the piglets by putting soil and grass in the creep space which seemed to have better results because piglets love exploring and eating soil.
  • Reduce heat stress. Sow housing should be well ventilated and protected from long periods of sunlight. We have switched from dry to wet feeding to see how that may reduce heat stress. We also plan to install an electric fan in the farrowing pen, which may be directed to a cool space near the farrowing rail/creep space to entice the sow to nurse her piglets in that location. ‘Impact of Smallholder Management Strategies on Sow and Piglet Condition’ is an interesting doctoral thesis that shows the importance of some low-investment strategies for improving sow and piglet health and welfare in a tropical setting.
  • Try to schedule farrowing in cooler months. In lowland locations in the Philippines, this would be in temperatures of 24-29°C. This is fine for sows and not overly cold for piglets. Sows have greater difficulty during the hot summer months and crushing rates are highest during these months.
  • Establish a positive relationship with the sow, so the sow will not be stressed or threatened when she sees you. Avoid noise, sudden movements, distress. Talk gently, don’t shout. Never hit or hurt a sow.
  • Treat MMA (mastatis, metritis, agalactia) ASAP. Check for mastitis which may be a reason why a sow would not nurse her piglets and easily get hurt by suckling. If mastitis is not present or cannot be treated within a few hours, grind or clip piglets’ teeth if necessary, for example, when the sow growls and refuses to nurse her piglets. The procedure must be done by an experienced animal technician. It must be done quickly and expertly. It must be done with no or very little piglet squealing. Collect the piglets and clip/grind their teeth away from the sow. Or you can let the sow out of the farrowing pen and process the piglets while she is away. In a loose-farrowing system, no other mutilation should be done – no tail cutting, ear notching or castration.
  • Rest and relaxation for sow, exercise for piglets. Give the sow some control over the nursing schedule so she doesn’t get irritated by piglets squealing for milk. We try to do this by letting the piglets out of the farrowing pen through an escape hatch. The piglets spend time playing and rooting in the garden outside the pen while the sow rests undisturbed. When she wants to nurse her piglets she calls them. Although this doesn’t happen most of the time, it does help to relax and calm a sow when she can rest away from her piglets. In the above video, the piglets go out into the garden while their mother relaxes in the farrowing pen.In the video below, Sow Number 3 plays in her pen while her piglets are out in the garden. Number 3 is 3 years and 4 months old and yet she likes to play. She plays like this even when the piglets are in the pen, scaring the piglets, but she tries her best not to trample on the piglets.
  • Understand the personality of your sow. All sows are different. Don’t blame a sow for crushing incidents. Instead, try and understand why crushing happens.
  • If you witness a crushing incident: Wait for a few seconds to allow the sow to hear the squeal of her piglet and get up.  This is an important process that will train the sow to heed the squeals of her piglets. This also trains the piglets to avoid the sow when she is about to lie down, thus sow and piglets learn to coordinate their movements. If the sow doesn’t get up in 10-20 seconds, you may approach her gently and entice her to get up. You can call her or ask her to have some food or water, forage etc. When the sow gets up, the piglet can escape. If the piglet doesn’t move, it may be suffocating. You can revive a piglet that isn’t breathing by holding it upside down and shaking it in a downward direction and giving it several slaps on the back. Put a finger in the piglet’s mouth to clear the airway and induce breathing. Massage its chest to get it to breath. Some studies have shown that piglets crushed for several minutes can still be revived. We have revived a couple of piglets in this manner. The video below shows two piglets that survived crushing. One piglet has a limp but this became better after several days.

Breeding for Good Maternal Instincts and Understanding The Sow

Domestic sows for commercial production have been selectively bred to be prolific. While wild and native sows have a litter of only 3-6 piglets, their domestic counterparts give birth to 12-14 per litter.

In the meantime, to cope with increasing litter sizes, studies are being made on selective breeding for good maternal instincts and other mitigation strategies to address health and welfare issues.

If we had a choice, we would prefer that the sow produced a smaller litter of piglets with high birth weight and lower or no crushing incidents. This would probably be the sow’s choice too. We have also wondered if a sow deliberately crushed her piglets when she had too many. An interesting paper on this topic is ‘Maternal behaviour in pigs and its relation to piglet performance and survival’. Some of the interesting theories mentioned in the paper are the following:

Theory of Maternal Investment

Some sows are more responsive to the piglets’ scream than others (Hudson et al. 1991). The question is, what differs those sows from the others? Is there any explanation for this variation? The main opinion about crushing seems to be that sows crush piglets by mistake, and that some sows are more caring than others. Andersen et al. (2005) questioned this a bit by presenting their theory about reducing maternal investment. The point with reducing maternal investment is to be able to have more offspring in the future (Manning & Dawkins, 1998). Most of the fatal crushing occurred the two first days after parturition and this supports Andersen et al. (2005) theory because then the maternal investment is still on a low level. The sows that crushed piglets had generally larger litters and this also support this theory because a large litter means a larger investment (Andersen et al. 2005). If Andersen et al. (2005) theory is correct; how can killing piglets increase the sow’s fitness? Infanticide is present in various species and the causation seems to be species dependent. Female rabbits sometimes kill their young and eat them. Boyd (1985) suggest that this may be one way for the rabbits to adjust the balance of stored nutrients and litter size in relation to the capacity to obtain nutrients from the environment. But this seems not to be the case for pigs because Andersen et al. (2005) do not mention anything about sows eating their crushed piglets.

Trivers-Willard Hypothesis

There is also a theory on sex-biased parental investment called the Trivers-Willard hypothesis. It predicts that parents will bias their sex ratio toward sons when in good condition and toward daughters when in poor condition. That daughters are more benefiting than sons during poor conditions are explained by the notion that males in poor body condition, which can be a result of poor environment, seldom gets a chance to mate (Trivers & Willard, 1979). This theory is sometimes used to explain infanticide. In a study made on wild boars they counted and sex determined fetuses in the uterine of wild boar females killed by hunting and they saw some tendency to biased litters. Small litters contained more males and large litters more females (Servanty et al., 2007). So it seems that there is a relationship between sex-ratio and litter size already early in pregnancy. If sex-ratio can be shifted already before birth it would probably be more inexpensive than provide them with nutrients during the whole pregnancy, give birth to them and then crush them. The piglets’ sex is not noted in Andersen et al. (2005) study so it is unclear if they crushed one sex more than the other.

Nest Building Theory

In a restricted environment, sows are more active during farrowing than sows kept in semi-natural environment (Thodberg et al., 2002). It could be a result of the restricted environment. A restricted sow may become stressed prior to farrowing, and continue to be so during farrowing, because she cannot perform her natural behaviour and build a suitable nest. The findings by Thodberg et al. (1999), that sows were more active prior to farrowing and less active during farrowing when given access to nest material, supports this theory. In a semi-natural environment the sow can express her natural behaviour to a much larger extent so that she might be more satisfied compared with the sows kept indoors. She have unlimited access to different kinds of nesting material so she can build a satisfying nest. If the sow doesn’t get the ability to build a nest she is satisfied with, she might not stop nesting. This is because the later phase of the nesting behaviour is triggered by feedback and external stimuli (Jensen, 1993).

The Isolation Hypothesis

Sows indoors are often kept very close to other sows. Sows living under natural conditions leave the group when they are about to farrow (Jensen, 1989) and it is likely that this behaviour has been evolutionary favoured; that it has increased the sow’s fitness in some way.  The hypothesis of why the sow leaves the group is that the isolation is necessary for the piglets and the sow to learn to recognize each other and to avoid cross suckling (Jensen, 1986). One thing that may have a negative impact on the piglets’ survival is that sows kept close to each other can hear vocalizations from the other sows’ piglets. This may habituate her to the sound and way make her less attentive and responsive to the sounds that really mean something: the sounds from her own piglets. It is important that the sow react to distress calls from the piglets, otherwise she might crush them. Crushings often have underlying causes and they are interlinked. The piglet can be weakened for some reason or even already dead when the sow lies down on it. So, the sow cannot be blamed alone but her behaviour can in some cases affect the outcome. If she rises up to a sitting or standing position she may be able to save the piglet because many piglets die of suffocation (Weary et al. 1996). Because there is a genetic correlation between response to piglet distress calls and piglet mortality (Grandinson et al., 2003) it would most likely be possible to affect this trait by genetic selection.

Proactive/Reactive Theory

Thodberg et al. (2002) studied maternal behaviour in sows and used animals that previously, at younger age, had been tested for behavioural reactivity. The authors suggest that the extreme sows in this test had similarities to proactive and reactive types described for rodents. These two types of coping styles differ both behaviourally and endocrinologically. In mice, proactive individuals show more active avoidance behaviour, nest-building, routine formation and less flexibility than reactive individuals. Proactive individuals get high levels of catecholamines in the blood when they are stressed, but the cortisol levels stays low. (Catecholamines cause general physiological changes that prepare the body for physical activity (fight-or-flight response); while Cortisol is one of the most widely used biomarkers to detect stress in pigs). For reactive, is it the other way around, they get high levels of cortisol and low levels of catecholamines (Koolhaas et al., 1999). Proactive and reactive coping styles have also been studied in pigs. A study by Janczak et al. (2003) could not confirm that there are different coping styles in pigs whereas Ruis et al. (2000) got results supporting that there is. Thodberg et al. (2002) found that individuals showing proactive behaviour in the behavioural reactivity tests were behaving with less flexibility when it came to nursing. The reactive individuals appeared to be more in control of the nursing behaviour. However, the authors also recorded other traits in this study that did not fit the proactive/reactive theory (Thodberg et al., 2002).

Continuing Research

And finally, here is a potential breakthrough in reducing piglet crushing incidents. 😉 In the video below, Sow Number 3 is nursing her piglets in a standing position. Sow Auntie Brownie does this as well. The piglets are 18 days old in this video. If only the sows would do this from Day 1. However, because she was feeling so relaxed by the suckling, Sow Number 3 fell over and nearly crushed her piglets! She got up quickly and continued nursing them, then proceeded to eat. 🙂

And the work continues….

If you have experience with sows and the reduction of crushing incidents in loose-farrowing or pasture systems, we would love to hear from you. Please share your experiences with us in a comment to this post. Thank you and happy farming!

Raising Ducks in Your Backyard

We started with a pair of adult ducks – male and female. We kept them in a bamboo fenced area of about 20 square meters. We clipped their wings so they wouldn’t fly over the fence. We provided a large basin of water for them to swim in. We built a small scrap wood shelter for them too. We fed them chicken pellets, pig pellets, kitchen scraps. Our free range native chickens sometimes ate with the two ducks and we had no troubles with that. We even kept a piglet in that area for a while.

After a few weeks, the hen started laying eggs under the bamboo grove. We got excited! To protect the nest, we placed a roof made of wood and tarp over it. By then the ducks have become accustomed to their new home so we removed the bamboo fence. They roamed freely in an open area of about 1,500 square meters. But they always stayed near where we fed them. After 35 days, 12 ducklings hatched and all grew up to become our first flock of ducks. There were no fatalities.

Should you decide to raise ducks in your backyard, here are some tips to help you get started. These ideas may be suitable for backyard settings with an area of about 25 to 1000 square meters, a natural environment, not concrete, for a flock of 2 to 25 ducks.

Before Getting Your Ducks…

Plan ahead. Consider the following.

Protect Your Plants

Little ducklings won’t be a problem. But as they get older, from 4 weeks on-wards, they will start feasting on your plants. A group of 6-8 week old ducklings can kill a banana plant, demolish a gabi patch and dig up camote, ubi, singkamas tubers. If you have a leafy vegetable patch, the ducks will eat the veggies. They will kill squash fruits and flowers. So you will need to protect your plants if you want to let your ducks roam freely in your garden.

Young ducks attacking corn plants.

Fence your plants with bamboo, scrap wood, chicken wire or netting. The fencing doesn’t need to be very high. A foot high will do. Raised vegetable plots also discourage ducks from attacking. To prevent ducks from attacking the soft trunk of banana and stems of gabi plants, you may also grow thick and sturdy ornamentals around the base of these plants. Twigs, branches, and mulch from grass and dry leaves may also discourage ducks from entering a no-go zone.

Ducks foraging kangkong and camote tops.

Alternatively, you can fence your ducks in a part of your backyard, away from the most precious plants in your garden. A fence about a foot high should be sufficient. If ducks fly over, trim their wings. Be sure that ducks have enough space to wander around. Unless you have lots of ducks in a small space, they aren’t really motivated or determined enough to destroy most ornamentals. Ducks can’t reach the fruits of shrubs and fruit trees. Grass should be okay, but in a small space with a lot of ducks, grass can be killed by ducks trampling and by the build up of effluent.

Protect Your Ducks

When you bring home your ducks, they will want to escape and go back to where they came from. You’ll need to get them accustomed to their new home. You can do this by caging or fencing them in your preferred location for the first 2-4 weeks. Ducks will stay where they are fed, watered and treated well.

At the same time, caging or fencing will protect your vulnerable ducklings from predators such as cats, dogs, large lizards, snakes and birds of prey.

Food and Water

Give your ducks and ducklings water as soon as they arrive. After an hour or so, you can start giving them food. For ducklings, chick booster pellets, crumble or piglet starter is fine. Don’t give pollard, hog mash or rice hull. It will clog up their crops and kill them. If you notice something is wrong with their crops, give them a bowl of sand and water. The sand may help them unclog their crops.

Adult ducks can eat commercial duck feed. If duck feed isn’t available, chicken or pig pellets is fine. Kitchen scraps, grated coconuts, hog mash, pollard, azolla, duckweed, banana trunks, de-boned fish trimmings, etc. are all fine. Ducks also eat mosquitoes and other insects. Give the ducks a varied diet, not just commercial feeds. If you have lots of surplus food, you won’t need commercial feeds at all.

Basically, ducklings and young ducks will need 18-25% or more protein in their diet, while adult ducks can do fine with 12-14% protein.

Feed adult ducks twice a day – early morning and late afternoon. Ducklings can be fed three times a day. However, ducks will look for food almost all day.

So, to keep your ducks away from your plants, you can give them something to forage on. Look at what you have in surplus. Papaya? Bananas? Coconuts? Just cut them open and leave on the ground for the ducks to find. We love coconuts – we cut them open and leave on the ground and the ducks will spend many happy hours on those. The coconuts will also attract flies and other insects which the ducks will love to eat.


Rest and Recreation

It is imperative that you provide water for bathing. Ducks need to clean themselves and swim. In a small backyard, a basin of water will do. A plastic container cut in half also works fine. Have several of these if you have lots of ducks. Larger yards can have a pond built especially for ducks. Design ponds that have drainage or overflow and are easy to clean. Duck ponds can be 6 inches to 3 feet deep or preferably sloping, and should be about 1 square meter area per duck.

In this video (below), we use the shallow plastic lid of a bucket as swimming basin for ducklings. There are 8 newly hatched ducklings with their mother. Don’t use a deep basin in such a case. If you do, the mother will attempt to swim in the basin and she will crush and drown her ducklings. If you want the mother to swim with her ducklings you must build a pool that is large enough for all of them.

In this video (below), a duck bathes in a tray of water. This shallow basin poses less danger than a basin that is deep. Ducklings can get trapped and drown in a deep basin.


Ducks will mate and start laying eggs at around 6-8 months of age. They will look for nesting places in their environment. In our experience, ducks will lay their eggs on the ground away from view. They will not lay eggs in elevated nesting boxes lined with cloths, sacks, dry grass etc. like chickens do.

In these photos (below), we use scrap wood as nesting houses for ducks. Our ducks love these. We have nesting houses under the house, under the dirty kitchen and under a bamboo grove. Put nesting houses in locations that don’t get flooded.


A brooding duck hen is very vulnerable. Give her privacy, keep her nesting area secure, away from aggressive drakes and predators. If snakes and monitor lizards are a constant problem, you may need to secure the entire duck area with netting. If you have an aggressive drake, separate him from the vulnerable hens and ducklings. A hen will sometimes kill her newly hatched ducklings if she feels threatened.

In the photo below, a duck has made a coconut tree stump as her nest. This wasn’t a safe place because it is frequented by monitor lizards that eat duck eggs.

Ducks have different rearing behaviours, some make very good mothers while others don’t. Most ducks make good mothers if kept in a safe environment.

Duck Behaviour and Socialisation

When introducing new ducks to an existing flock, segregate the new ducks for a while. If you introduce a new drake to a flock with a drake, they will fight to establish hierarchy.  The advantage of a large backyard space is that ducks can flee from aggression and the likelihood of injury and fatality is minimised. Once hierarchy is established there will be very little if any fighting.

In the video below, if there is ample space, ducklings can escape from aggression.

Ducks are notorious for their aggressive mating behaviour. Drakes can kill duck hens and her ducklings. If you have a flock of ducks, don’t let the hens sit on eggs or rear ducklings all at the same time. There will be no hens for the drake and he will attempt to mate with brooding hens, breaking eggs and killing small ducklings.

In our experience, ducks socialise fine with native chickens in a free range environment. As long as there’s enough space, animals can escape from fights and aggression. Otherwise, they get trapped. Native chickens can be quite aggressive – in fact, they are much more aggressive than ducks. A hen with chicks or a rooster can peck a small duckling and kill it. So if you keep ducks in a small confined space, keep them separate from native chickens.

In the video below, a duck protects her ducklings from piglets foraging in the garden.

Messy Ducks?

Ducks are messy. They poop all the time. And the poop is a huge stream of muck. This isn’t too bad on a surface of rough grass and weeds, but can be dangerously slippery on concrete, compacted soil and walkways. I’ve had a few accidents slipping on duck poop. It can get quite dangerous during the rainy season too.

We discovered that one way to minimize the muck is to acidify the duck’s drinking water. We haven’t tried vinegar but what we’ve found citric acid to be quite effective. 1-2 teaspoons in a liter of water seem sufficient, just don’t put more than 5% in the water. Proper acidification improves gut health and digestion, resulting in more solid poop and healthier ducks. It also reduces irritating odors. Experiment and see what works for your ducks.

We also noticed that acidification results to thickening of blood. If you find this a problem when you slaughter ducks (and chickens), withhold the acidification in water for 2-3 days before slaughter.


Over the past years of keeping ducks, we have never had disease. We never saw the need to use antibiotics or multivitamins. Our duck fatalities were all due to drake aggression, accidental trampling in a feeding frenzy, ducks going into the pigpen and getting eaten by pigs and overfeeding of very young ducklings.

Strangely, we also noticed that since introducing ducks into our flock of native chickens, we’ve had a marked decrease in disease amongst the native chickens. We can only speculate that the ducks have brought in immunity to pathogens amongst our native chickens. We are yet to find studies that confirm or explain our experience.

Good Luck and Enjoy Your Ducks!

As long as your ducks are not overcrowded and are treated well, they should be fine. Ducks are sturdy, very robust animals. They are one of the easiest animals to keep in a backyard setting.

We hope that this bit of information helps you in your backyard duck-raising journey. Just leave a comment if you have any questions and we’ll do our best to answer them.

DIY Domestic Greywater Treatment

We had plumbing repaired in May and that also became the opportunity to find a way to treat domestic wastewater so that it can be diverted into the garden. Since sewage systems aren’t centralised in our village, it is important that we treat our wastewaters locally and in a way that is responsible.

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Above: Some of the drawings and plans we made to help build our greywater treatment systems.

In households in our village, domestic blackwater goes into a septic tank whilst greywater goes into the nearest empty plots. We have our own septic tank and our greywater went into a concrete water feature in the garden. This water feature often flooded especially in the rainy season, and wastewater just filtered into the ground. What we wanted was a system that not only filtered greywater, but also diverted it to good use in the garden. Additionally, we decided to separate kitchen greywater and bathroom greywater to lessen the load on our selected methods of treatment.

Treating Kitchen Greywater

Kitchen greywater goes though a pipe and gets filtered in a DIY grease trap (refer to links to resources below to learn how to make a Grease Trap). From the grease trap, the water pours into a constructed wetland – or what may be called an infiltration planter – built next to the rainwater fishpond. The infiltration planter is filled with layers of gravel, a fine mesh netting, sand and soil. Plants are grown in the infiltration planter to help treat the greywater. As greywater filters down the planter, excess water flows out into a lower bed of plants.

View of the Grease Trap.
Grease Trap – bucket with strainer on top to filter out food debris. Refer to links below on how to make a Grease Trap.
Accumulated grease in the Grease Trap.
Internal construction of the Grease Trap – elbow and pipe sealed with Epoxy.
Grease Trap is cleaned next to the compost pit.

Treating Bathroom Greywater

Bathroom wastewater consists of water from the shower and the bathroom sink. This water goes through a pipe and flows out over a gravel path with cement lining to prevent the water from seeping directly into the ground. The gravel path goes along the house, into the garden and down to the duck pond, some 10 or so meters away. The assumption is that the greywater – along with rainwater during the rainy season – would be filtered appropriately by the time it reaches the duckpond, at the same time reducing soil erosion, since the ground slopes naturally towards the duckpond.

Ground has natural slope and the Gravel Path Filter is dug up in the direction of the slope towards the duck pond.
After digging, the path is cemented to prevent water from seeping into the ground along the house. The water needs to flow and get filtered by the gravel and ultimately flow into the duck pond.
Gravel placed into the path. The orange pipe is the bathroom greywater outlet.
A closer view of the Gravel Path Filter. The reservoir/pond catches rainwater runoff from the roof of the house and overflows into the Gravel Path Filter.
At the end of the Gravel Path Filter is the duck pond. Rocks are placed at the mouth of the Path to filter out larger debris.


The results

After nearly 3 months of use, together with the onset of the rainy season, our constructed wetlands are working beautifully! Plants are growing well in the infiltration planter, the gravel path has done away with mud and soil erosion in a large area along that side of the house. Some plants and grass have even started growing amongst the gravel. There is some odour coming from the infiltration planter but this is not irritating and the odour disappears very quickly. As more plants grow in the planter, we hope the odour will be further minimized. The DIY grease trap – a 5 gallon/10-liter capacity -requires some cleaning only every 2 months. The grease and debris collected is dumped into the compost pit.

Note that if any edible plants are placed in the infiltration planter, they should not be eaten.


If you are interested in building a constructed wetland system for greywater treatment in your own home, check first with local ordinances. Some municipalities, for example, that have centralised wastewater treatment facilities will not allow domestic greywater treatment because centralised wastewater (especially blackwater) treatment needs sufficient amounts of greywater for proper treatment.

If you are sure that constructed wetlands are allowed in your location, you can find basic information, designs, principles and examples of ecologically responsible wastewater treatment systems through the following resources. Our home set-up was inspired by these resources. Good luck!




Duck Patrol

We keep ducks and native chickens together free range. Ducks rarely wander far from where they are fed and watered. Chickens can be more troublesome. Older roosters chase away the younger ones, hens pick fights with each other and with the ducks, killing chicks and ducklings that get caught in between.

But over the years, things have become more or less established, particularly, the hierarchy amongst the fowls. For one, there is less aggression amongst the ducks and between ducks and chickens. However, aggression amongst the chickens hasn’t really changed much, except for one thing: the ducks are putting a stop to it.

In the video above, a younger rooster challenges the older white rooster to a fight. A female duck steps in to stop the fight and she gets attacked by the younger rooster. So the drake steps in and the younger rooster runs off.

In the video above, two hens are fighting while some of the ducks look on. A female duck with 7 ducklings couldn’t stand it and decides to step in to stop the fight. The fighting doesn’t stop so she returns and manages to drive off the two hens.

And now, quite a common occurrence in the behaviour of young roosters recently, since the hens are often all already taken by the alpha rooster:

Planting Calendar for the Philippines


I started planting vegetables late last year. At the moment, I have beautiful looking tomato and eggplant plants but no fruits yet. So I thought that maybe I made the mistake of planting in the wrong time of the year. I have asked around about best times to plant but it seems that most backyard farmers here don’t really know and simply follow the rice growing season; generally, they start planting their seeds at the onset of the rainy season. This seems logical for backyard farmers who have no irrigation system for their crops. However, planting off-season may also mean the crops won’t be producing until the ideal conditions (especially rainfall and temperature) are available, or they may die or not produce at all.

So I looked for a Crop Planting Calendar for the Philippines and found some information. I hope this serves as a useful guide for you. I intend to follow this guide (I think that Bohol is type Three Climate) and compare with the results of my efforts from last year. Ultimately, if I am able to record the results of various experiments with growing seasons, I will hopefully come up with the ideal growing calendar for our specific location.  There may also be varieties of crops that may be planted off-season, and there are various technologies, such as irrigation, protected cropping or greenhouses, poly-tunnels, etc., that can be used to extend a crop’s growing season. I suggest you experiment, record your results to understand better the crops and conditions in your location.


The Philippines has a wet and dry season and the relationship between these seasons create the 4 different types of climate in the country. Here are the 4 different types of climate in the Philippines:


Two pronounced wet and dry seasons: Dry from November to April; wet during the rest of the year. This covers the western part of the islands of Luzon, Mindoro, Negros and Palawan.


No dry season with very pronounced rainfall from November to January. The areas covered are Catanduanes, Sorsogon, the eastern part of Albay, the eastern and northern part of Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur, a great portion of the eastern part of Quezon, the eastern part of Leyte and a large portion of eastern Mindanao.


Season not very pronounced, relatively dry from November to April and wet during the rest of the year. Areas covered are the western part of Cagayan (Luzon), Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, the eastern portion of the Mountain Province, southern Quezon, the Bondoc Peninsula. Masbate, Romblon, Northeast Panay, Eastern Negros, Central and Southern Cebu, part of Northern Mindanao and most of Eastern Palawan.


Rainfall more or less evenly distributed throughout the year. The area covered: are Batanes Province, Northeastern Luzon, Western  Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur, Albay, Eastern Mindoro, Marinduque, Western Leyte, Northern Negros and most of Central, Eastern and Southern Mindanao.

Here is the Planting Calendar organized according to the Type of Climate:


Two pronounced seasons: Dry from November to April; wet during the rest of the year. This covers the western part of the islands of Luzon, Mindoro, Negros and Palawan.


Lowland (June to September and October to December)
Palagad (January to February)
Upland (April to June)


Dry Season (October to January)
Rainy Season (May to June)


Dry Season (November to January)
Rainy Season (May to June)


Batao (May to June)
Bountiful Bean (May to June and October to December)
Cowpea (May to June and October to November)
Cadius (May to June)
Mungo (July to September and November to February)
Patani (May to June and October to January)
Saguidillas (May to June)
Sitao (May to June and November to February)
Soybean (May to June)


Cabbage (October to December)
Cauliflower (October to February)
Celery (October to February)
Lettuce (August to January)
Mustard (August to January)
Pechay (October to December)


Ampalaya (May to July and October to January)
Cucumber (May to June and September to December)
Eggplant (May to June and February to September)
Melon (October to January)
Muskmelon (October to December)
Okra (May to June and October to December)
Patola (May to June)
Squash (May to June and October to December)
Tomato (October to January)
Upo (October to January)
Watermelon (November to January)


Sweet Potato (May to June and December to February)
Gabi (May to June)
Ginger (May to June)
Radish (October to December)
Sinkamas (October to December)
Tugue (May to June)
Ube (May to June)
Cassava (May to June and October to December)


Garlic (October to December)
Onion (October to December)
Sweet Pepper (May to June and September to December)
Condol (May to June and October to December)
Chayote (May to June and October to December)
Spinach (October to November)
Sweet Peas (October to December)
Carrot (October to December)
White Potato (October to December)
Talinum (May to June and October to December)
Kutchai (October to December)
Arrowroot (May to June)
Tapilan (May to June and September to October)
Beets (October to January)
Jute  (May to June)
Endive (September to October)
Snapbeans (October to December)



No dry season with very pronounced rainfall from November to January. The areas covered are Catanduanes, Sorsogon, the eastern part of Albay, the eastern and northern part of Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur, a great portion of the eastern part of Quezon, the eastern part of Leyte and a large portion of eastern Mindanao.


Lowland (October to December)
Palagad (May to July)
Upland (June to August and September to November)


Dry Season (March to May)
Rainy Season (January to February and August to September)


Dry Season (January to February)
Rainy Season (May to June)


Batao (February to April
Bountiful Bean (January to May)
Cowpea (January to March and May to June)
Cadius (February to March)
Mungo (February to June)
Seguidillas (February to April)
Sitao (May to June)
Soybean (January to March)
Tapilan (January to March and August to October)


Cabbage (January to March)
Cauliflower (January to March)
Celery (January to March)
Lettuce (March to June)
Mustard (January to March)
Pechay (January to March)


Ampalaya (June to August and November to February)
Cucumber (March to April)
Eggplant (January to April and August to September)
Melon (March to June)
Muskmelon (March to June)
Okra (Whole Year)
Patola (March to September)
Squash (Whole Year)
Tomato (January to April and August to September)
Upo (November to March)
Watermelon (January to March)


Sweet Potato (Year Round)
Gabi (Year Round)
Ginger (Year Round)
Radish (November to December and March to May)
Sinkamas (October to November)
Ube (Year Round)
Cassava (Year Round)


Garlic (November to December)
Onion (December to March)
Sweet Pepper (February to March and August to September)
Chayote (February to March)
Spinach (January to March)
Sweet Peas (February to March)
Carrot (March to August)
White Potato (February to March)
Talinum (June to July and November to December)
Kutchai (March to July)
Arrowroot (June to September)
Beets (January to March)
Jute (January to March)
Endive (December to March)


Season not very pronounced, relatively dry from November to April and wet during the rest of the year. Areas covered are the western part of Cagayan (Luzon), Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, the eastern portion of the Mountain Province, southern Quezon, the Bondoc Peninsula. Masbate, Romblon, Northeast Panay, Eastern Negros, Central and Southern Cebu, part of Northern Mindanao and most of Eastern Palawan.


Lowland  (June to August)
Palagad (November to January)
Upland (April to June)


Dry Season (October to December)
Rainy Season (April to June)
Third Crop (December to February)


Dry Season (September to October)
Rainy Season (April to June)
Third Crop (December to January)


Batao (May to June)
Bountiful Bean (May to June and November to January)
Cowpea (May to June and November to December)
Cadios (May to June and October to November)
Mungo (December to January and September to October)
Patani (May to June and November to December)
Seguidillas (May to June)
Sitao (May to June and November to January)
Soybean (May to June and October to December)
Tapilan (May to June and November to December)
Peas (April to June and November to January)


Cabbage (April to June and October to December)
Cauliflower (October to December)
Celery (May to July and October to December)
Lettuce (April to May and October to December)
Mustard (May to July and October to December)
Pechay (May to June and October to December)
Spinach (May to June and October to December)


Ampalaya (May to June and November to December)
Cucumber (May to June and October to January)
Eggplant(May to June and November to January)
Melon (May to June and October to January)
Muskmelon (November to January)
Okra (May to July and October to December)
Patola (May to July and October to December)
Squash (May to June and October to December)
Tomato (October to January)
Upo (April to May and October to January)
Watermelon (October to January)


Sweet Potato (April to June and November to January)
Gabi (May to July and October to December)
Ginger (May to June and November to December)
Radish (November to January)
Sinkamas (October too January)
Cassava (May to June)


Garlic (October to December)
Onion (big bulb) (November to January)
Sweet Pepper (May to June and October to December)
Chayote (May to June and November to January)
Spinach (May to June and October to December)
Sweet Peas (April to June and November to January)
Carrot (October to December)
White Potato (October to December)
Talinum (May to June and November to December)
Kutchai (May to June and October to December)
Arrowroot (May to June and December to January)
Beets (November to January)
Onion (small bulb) (November to January)
Endive (November to January)


Rainfall more or less evenly distributed throughout the year. The area covered: are Batanes Province, Northeastern Luzon, Western  Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur, Albay, Eastern Mindoro, Marinduque, Western Leyte, Northern Negros and most of Central, Eastern and Southern Mindanao.


Lowland (May to July and August to October)
Palagad (November to January)
Upland (April to June)


Dry Season (September to November)
Rainy Season (April to June)
Third Crop (December to February)


Dry Season (September to November)
Rainy Season (May to June)
Third Crop (November to February)


Batao (May to June)
Bountiful Bean (May to June and October to December)
Cowpea (May to June and October to December)
Cadius (May to July)
Mungo (May to June and November to January)
Patani (May to June and November to January)
Seguidillas (May to June)
Sitao (May to June and October to January)
Soybean (May to June and November to January)
Tapilan (November to December and June to July)
Peas (June to July and December to January)


Cabbage (June to September and October to January)
Cauliflower (April to July and September to January)
Celery ( June to July and January to February)
Lettuce (May to June and January to February)
Mustard (June to July and September to January)
Pechay (May to July and January to June)
Spinach (April to May)


Ampalaya (May to June and September to January)
Cucumber (June to July and October to December)
Eggplant (June to July and November to January)
Melon (November to January)
Muskmelon (November to January)
Okra (June to July and September to October)
Patola (May to June and December to January)
Squash (May to June and November to January)
Tomato (May to June and October to January)
Upo (April to May and October to January)
Watermelon (April to May and November to January)


Sweet Potato (May to June and September to November)
Gabi (June to September and January to February)
Ginger (May to July)
Radish (May to July)
Sinkamas (May to June)
Cassava (May to June and December to January)


Garlic (September to February)
Onion (September to January)
Sweet Pepper (May to June and September to January)
Chayote (May to June and October to December)
Spinach (April to May)
Sweet Peas ( June to July and December to January)
Carrot (May to June and November to January)
White Potato (October to December)
Talinum (June to July and January to February)
Kutchai (June to July)
Arrowroot (May to June and November to December)
Beets (June to July and November to December)
Onion (September to January)
Sesame (May to June and January to February)
Jute (April to May)

Not Sure Which Climate type?

If your location is not listed above and you’re not exactly sure which of the 4 is your climate type, you can use the illustration below as an initial guide. Happy farming!

Number 3 Farrows!

Number 3 was serviced by Pinky Boar on November 13, 2017. Her expected date of farrowing was March 8 (115 days gestation). She farrowed March 9 (116 days). Number 3 has a history of farrowing on time and not earlier. This is her third parity.

Number 3 in the maternity pen a week before farrowing.

First Few Hours – March 9, 2018

Around 1AM, I heard Number 3 making grunting sounds, not desperately asking for nesting material but since she usually does not grunt at this time of the night, I suspected she will be farrowing soon (12-24 hours).

At 6:10AM, our usual feeding time, a small amount of feed was given. I saw that the dry banana leaves we gave her yesterday had been put in one corner of the pen, indicating she was already exhibiting nesting behaviour in the night, thus the grunting sounds several hours ago.

7:00AM, we gave her more dry banana leaves which she collects and starts nest-building, stopping to rest every now and then, until around 10AM.

12:00 noon, I saw a couple of piglets! Farrowing must have started at least 30 minutes earlier. Number 3 farrowed along the lower right corner of the pen near the wall, her head towards us and her back along the wall, so we couldn’t see the piglets as they come out. The piglets are only partly visible through the gaps along the pigpen wall.

12:36PM, there appears to be 2 black and white piglets and 1 brown piglet, all suckling already.

1:41PM, two hours old, first sign of piglets fighting at the teats, so Number 3 starts grunting which helps stop the piglets fighting. While grunting indicates milk flow, I think it also creates strong vibrations across the teats which calms down piglet fights.

2:05PM, a rather lively piglet has started exploring the pen, then quickly returns to the mother.

2:30PM, a piglet travels even further towards the opposite side of the pen and stays there for a while, probably to urinate or defecate.

3:30PM, about 4 hours from the onset of farrowing, Number 3 gets up to eat the afterbirth, drinks water and eats about 400 grams of feeds. We counted 9 piglets born alive.

4:00PM, Number 3 lies on her right side, instead of her left side (her farrowing side) and this resulted in a lot of piglet fighting. The fighting subsides after a while. I think because Number 3 changed her first nursing position, the piglets need time to find their teats which can result in competition for teats.

Nursing takes place every hour, and Number 3 maintained this regimen for the rest of the nursing period.

Above Video: The light brown piglet climbing over the others is Humphrey. His teat is established at the first row upper left side of the mother, parallel to Panda, but he has trouble finding and attaching to it. He remains a very active piglet, but later he was the last to outgrow his scour. The black and white piglet that is unable to attach to a teat is Blackie. She gives up easily when she is unable to find her teat. She is the weakest in the litter and died due to accidental crushing. Panda is the rightmost piglet suckling. He had developmental problems but he attaches very well to his teat and grew to become one of the biggest piglets. The light brown piglet going to the mother’s head with Humphrey is Ihid and is considered the runt in the litter. He is growing fine.

Above Video: The weakest piglet, Blackie, is the focus in this video. I notice that the weakest piglets don’t engage in play and don’t actively explore the environment. Instead, they dig their snouts into the ground persistently. This is obvious even at only 2 days of age. In my experience with pigs of various ages, this persistent behaviour almost always indicated illness.

Some Observations on Farrowing

I was worried that Number 3 would have difficulty farrowing because she has a small vulva and thus possibly, a small cervix and birth canal. Interval between piglets in previous farrowing were 30-45 minutes.  However, this time, farrowing was much easier and shorter intervals (5-10 minutes) between piglets. I think it might be due to the fact that this is Number 3’s third parity and because of the addition of calcium in her diet. Calcium metabolism is also fairly good since Number 3 gets plenty of sunlight and exercise.

Above Video: Piglets at 5 weeks of age. Number 3 enjoys having her piglets and at the same time knows how to discipline them when they are fighting.

Above Video: Here, Number 3 is squeezing her way into the piglet creep space so she could eat their food. Because of this situation, we have decided to build a fenced area just outside the Piglet Escape Hatch. We call it the Piglet Restaurant where piglets can eat and drink safely, away from their mother. It is fenced to prevent ducks and chickens from eating the piglet’s food.

Some Observations on Lactation, Nursing and Sow-Piglet Interaction

Above Video: At 2-3 days of age, the piglets have discovered the Escape Hatch. They begin by exploring the soil outside. Later, they go further and eat soil and vegetation. It becomes their routine to go out and play after nursing. This gives the mother the chance to rest and relax inside the pen. Later, we built a fence around this area where the piglets can escape and eat, away from the mother.

Number 3 produced a lot of milk at farrowing. By 7 days of age, milk production became insufficient because I continued giving her only gestation feeds and the lactation feeds have not arrived. When piglets fight and ask the mother for more milk that is a sign there isn’t enough milk production. I tried to rectify the problem by giving Number 3 some papaya fruits and leaves, and by giving her lactating feeds once it became available. This solved the problem in 2-3 days.

However, because of the early scarcity in milk production, fighting among litter-mates became somewhat established and piglets also developed the habit of drinking water from the mother’s trough. Piglet behaviour is developed early on and can be difficult to change. So it is important to start with good conditions.

Number 3 tries to adjust her position during nursing so all piglets have access, except when she is too tired or too relaxed to notice there is trouble amongst piglets. Number 3 also gives special attention to weaker piglets, allowing them to access her teats or continue suckling while the others are asleep.

Above Video: 3-day old piglets fighting. This is Puzzles (black and white spots) and Brownie. These piglets are next to each other at the teats and will continue to fight at the teats until weaning. The mother disciplines pigs that fight.

Number 3 disciplines naughty piglets. When there is fighting at the teats and Number 3 gets hurt, she growls, gets up and nips the piglet that is causing trouble. She actually knows who is being naughty.

Video Above: On piglet discipline, relevant behaviour is in the first 15 seconds of this video. Piglets are 17-days old in this video. In the past several days there has been much fighting at the teats because of one or two very aggressive piglets. Notice the third piglet from the left fighting with the second piglet. Number 3 gets hurt, growls and gets up, then looks for the naughty piglet and nips her. This is how Number 3 disciplines her piglets – she actually knows who is at which teat and who is being naughty. Despite much fighting such as this, Number 3 never savaged any piglets and continued to nurse them. We don’t cut any piglets teeth.

On Crushing/Laying Over

One piglet was crushed accidentally on Day 3. This was a weak piglet, perhaps unable to nurse well on the first hour of birth. The accident was partly my fault. I gave Number 3 a small bath near the trough which motivated her to lie near the trough and nurse her piglets there. That area is a dangerous place for piglets, particularly when the mother gets up for feeding time. This was the same area where the weak piglet was crushed.

Above Video: Number 3 lies in the distance, then calls her piglets to suckle. This is a great technique, reducing risk of crushing or laying over. Piglets are 9 days old here and although Humphrey has already established attachment to his teat, he still likes humping over everybody!

Since a piglet was crushed, the rest of the litter have become more wary of the mother and they try to be more careful and alert. They actually try to avoid sleeping near the trough. The mother also discipline her piglets to keep them from going between her legs or under her teats while she is about to lie down. It is obvious that the mother is aware of the dangers of crushing/laying over. Interaction between sow and piglets is crucial for them to establish communication.

Caring for a Slow, Under-Developed Piglet

One piglet we call Panda is different from the others. He is of normal size but has a somewhat bulbous head, arched back and very slow in response and perception. Initially, he had a weak suckling reflex although he does attach tenaciously to his teat.  He doesn’t have the same gait as his siblings and has difficulty getting up.

Above Video: Here is Panda at 10 days of age. He has a somewhat bulbous head, a rigid gait, an arched back, and he doesn’t run around as actively as the others.

Above Video: Here, Panda has difficulty getting up while everyone else is already drinking milk!

Above Video: While piglets actively explore the garden, Panda seems to have difficulty. However, the excitement of the outdoors kept his spirits high and was daily motivated to get better. In the next couple of days, Panda progressively became better, catching up fast on his litter-mates.

Panda received Iron Drops like all his litter-mates. We don’t intervene during nursing and leave him to find his teat and develop good suckling reflex. Drinking water is provided for all piglets in an outside creep-space we call the “Piglet Restaurant.” All piglets are allowed to go out into the garden and eat soil, vegetation. Panda was the weakest but he always looked forward to going out into the garden. The outdoor exercise and abundance of soil and vegetation had a strong positive psychological influence on Panda. In fact, despite his ‘disability’, Panda was quite fierce in defending his teat from the other piglets. In 2-3 weeks, Panda is nearly as active as his litter-mates.

Above Video: 20 days old. Humphrey is a very playful piglet since the beginning. He is parallel to Panda at the teats. Early on, he developed the habit of humping Panda (and other litter-mates), thus his name. In this video, he harasses Panda and Panda squeals. The mother hears this and calls. Humphrey hears the mother and stops, to Panda’s relief, and pretends to have not done nothing wrong by rooting the ground.

Above Video: Here, the piglets are 16 days old, enjoying the garden. Panda is doing much better here and being able to go out into the garden and play has given him great psychological motivation to get better.

Some Observations on Post-Weaning

We separated Number 3 from her litter when the piglets were 45  days of age.  All the piglets remained active and playful and eat well. Scour began to set in at Day 2-3 of weaning and remained up to 6 days so I decided to intervene with probiotics. The scour is grey, watery, projectile of various degrees. All piglets remain active and eat well. Piglets were also given green banana leaves. There was some improvement but scour remained. So by Day 10 I decided to give Apralyte treatment, an anti-scour formula, for 5 days.

Day 2 of anti-scour treatment, piglet scours are thicker and not as watery as before and the appetite of the piglets increased immediately.  Day 3 of anti-scour treatment, the piglets began to get bigger as well. By Day 4-5, piglets are all back to normal, except for Humphrey who was the last to get rid of his scour completely.

Next time, I must include probiotics in sow/piglet water at least a week before weaning. Although the pigpen has been sprayed with Lactic Acid Bacteria solution, that didn’t seem sufficient. This batch of piglets also had less green forage because of the early provision of piglet crumble feed. We have had better cases in the past wherein piglets did not develop scouring as bad as this and they did not receive any piglet booster or crumble feed. I think next time I should implement early addition of probiotics in piglet diet before, the abundance of green forage and the late addition of any protein-rich feed (piglet booster, crumble, etc) in their diet.

Although we can look after piglets after they are born, I am getting more interested in how to make the piglets healthier while still inside the mother’s womb. Iron deficiency is one of the biggest hurdles. While I am still studying how adjustments to the mother’s diet may help, it is also possible to provide Iron rich forage and soil that piglets can nibble on as early as the first 3 days of life. The pigpen floor has more sawdust than soil, so while the Piglet Escape Hatch into the garden is crucial, I will need to put some clean soil into the pen for the piglets.

Some Observations on Extended Lactation/Nursing (up to 3 months)

Above Video: This is perhaps somewhat embarrassing but Ihid does not care! Here he is still suckling at nearly 9 weeks of age!

We allowed the runt Ihid to stay with Number 3 until he was 90 days of age. Ihid continued to suckle and the mother allowed him to do so but less frequently. Because Ihid was unable to eat well in competition with his mother he has not put on as much weight as his siblings. He developed no scouring.

However, after weaning, Ihid developed scouring after 3 days, so Apralyte treatment was given by day 5, for 3 days. Improvement is observed quickly. An acidifier, citric acid, is also added to Ihid’s water. This is now also given regularly to the adult pigs, ducks and chickens, to lower their gut ph, improve digestion, and reduce effluent. Less messy effluent also means minimized odor and easier management.

Above Video: Ihid the Runt finally weaned at nearly 3 months of age. He misses his mom. We are deciding to keep 2 piglets next time so the pigs don’t become too lonely.

Piglet Weights at Post-Weaning (55 days): 25-16 kilos. The females weigh less than the males. Panda weighed 22 kilos.

Four piglets were sold to two neighbours  and three piglets were sold to an orphanage in Dauis. We keep Ihid the Runt. Although we have done this many times before, I still miss the piglets every time! I love each and every single one of them! 🙂

Pigs in the Village

Back in 2015, we had a stroll around to visit some of our neighbour’s backyard piggeries.

Backyard Pigs in San Roque

Above and below are two photos of Amboy’s backyard piggery. He has two sows. One sow farrowed the other night and have 12 piglets. He works with a technician from Breeders in Tagbilaran City who administered the Artificial Insemination. They do not not give antibiotics after farrowing unless absolutely necessary. Breeders helps with piglet processing – teeth clipping, tail cutting, castration and iron injections. Amboy has one gestating pen and one farrowing pen. He has an improvised farrowing crate that he built himself. The wooden structure prevent the piglets from being crushed by the sow but Amboy and his mom still need to keep an eye on them for the first couple of days. Since the pens are very near their house (about 5 meters), they are able to constantly monitor the sow and piglets. Because the improvised farrowing crate is put together with screws, it can be dismantled so that the concrete stall can be used as a fattening pen.

I asked Amboy about hernia cases since we had one case of hernia the first time we started pig breeding. Amboy said he has had hernia cases in a previous litter with another sow. All of the 8 piglets had hernia, indicating it may be hereditary. Five piglets outgrew the hernia while the other 3 didn’t. He said he just had to control their food and water intake to prevent a rupture. All the piglets were for fattening.

We bought five of the piglets shown in the photo. We selected all the spotty ones. Three of the spotty ones became our sows (we currently keep two sows). One was a castrated boar which we sold to someone in Laya when it got bigger. The other was a female piglet with umbilical hernia which we fattened for meat.

The above photo is of Jun-Jun’s backyard piggery just about 25 meters away from Amboy. He has two concrete pens with five fattening pigs. The piglets are purchased from a breeder in Corella and other places. These will be sold for fiesta in August.

The photo above is from Gunding who has over ten years experience pig breeding. She has never experienced a case of hernia. She has six concrete stalls. One stall is empty – this is where she puts piglets in. She used to use artificial insemination from outside but now she has purchased one young boar to service four sows. She had a sow with 12 piglets – two died by crushing, ten survived. Five have already been bought and five remain here, kept in a separate pen with concrete floor and a wood and bamboo fence (photo below). She fattens pigs and butchers them to sell to people in the village.

Gunding does not use farrowing crates. When a sow farrows, she and her helper take turns looking after the piglets. This means keeping the piglets in a separate pen nearby with a warming light. When the sow calls her piglets to nurse, they pick up the piglets one by one and put them in with the sow. When the sow stops nursing and she lies on her teats, they take away the piglets and put them back into the separate pen. Usually, this is done not just every time the sow wants to nurse her piglets which is normally every hour, sometimes even every half hour. Instead, this is done at times set by Gunding, often with 2-3 hour intervals between nursing. This needs to be done for at least a week until the piglets can be left alone with the mother with minimal danger of crushing.

There are two more backyard pig breeders around us but we were unable to visit them.

Backyard  Pigs on Pamilacan Island

We visited Pamilacan Island in 2015. The island is part of our Municipality and is about 15.7 kilometers from the mainland. We went there with a friend visiting from Slovenia and he was the one who took these photos.

There was a pigpen near the beach. It was made of concrete, with concrete flooring. The pigpen had a septic tank. Since the location is quite near the beach (maybe about 50 meters) and near some cottages rented out to tourists, the pigpens were required to comply with sanitation ordinances.

So we went into the interior, to the center of the island. We wanted to see how people kept pigs on the island.

Above is a photo showing a sow tied to a tree with her piglets in the distance. There seem to be 9 or 10 piglets. The sow is tethered to prevent it from going to other people’s backyards and destroying their crops. The sow is not confined in a farrowing crate.

In the photo above, there are 14 piglets freely rooting around. The sow is partly visible on the right. Like in the previous photo, the sow is tethered to prevent her from going to other people’s backyards. The piglets stay closely to the sow. The piglets also don’t cause too much damage as an adult pig would.

Here (above photo), I am touching a black piglet that is about 2 months of age. It is quite small. Many piglets look rather stunted, possibly because of excessive in-breeding on the island.

In the above photo, a pig is tied to a stump and has created a wallowing mud pit. Typically, this pig would be moved to another location as the mud pit becomes deeper.

Piglets are allowed to roam free on the island. They feed together with the native chickens.

Here (above photo) are pigs and goats kept under the house. All these animals are tethered and will be brought out to pasture/forage every morning.

And finally, here (above photo) is what is dubbed as The Oldest Sow on Pamilacan Island. I took this photo in 2007.

Our Piglets in their New Homes

In 2016, we started selling piglets. Here are some photos of how people kept the piglets they bought from us. These are all just from around our village of San Roque.

The three photos above are concrete pens with gates made of welded galvanized iron pipes and corrugated galvanized iron roof. The pens are attached to septic tanks. This design of pigpen is the most conventional in backyard settings.

Here (above) are three of our piglets in another concrete pen built in the same way as the previous pen.

In this photo above, two of our piglets have just been transferred to their new pen at a neighbour’s who lives uphill. There is a larger separate pen where larger pigs are kept. They plan to keep one of the female piglets they got from us as a sow.

In the above photo, the piglets we sold to the same neighbours in the previous photo are now large fatteners. They are in concrete pens that are cleaned with water twice everyday. This is very typical of all conventional concrete pigpens.

Below are photos showing how people have kept our piglets in their backyard without building concrete pens. Usually in such cases, the pig may be tethered or may be placed in a pen with wooden fencing and non-concrete flooring. Building a fully concrete pen with concrete septic tank is too expensive for non-commercial, domestic pig keeping.

We do favour pigpens that allow the pigs to root the ground and have sufficient space to move about and play. In our experience, pigs kept this way are happier, stress free and are healthier and grow better. A lot of the people who come to buy piglets and see our pigpens are often surprised. They often say that they have not thought of such a pigpen design since they have never seen anything like ours. We hope that as awareness spreads, people will begin to consider pigpens that afford more comfort and welfare for their pigs.

More about pigpens in the links below:

PS. The banner photo above was taken in 2017. It is a photo of the garden with Pinky Boar, then 7 months old, luxuriating under a mahogany tree. Can you find him in the photo? 🙂 He is a brown spotty pig. 🙂