A Better Pig Accommodation

Two months ago, I finally got one of the pigpens rebuilt. It is Sow Number 3’s pen. I wanted better accommodation for her when she farrows around the last week of August. The old pigpen has a leaky nipa roof and the fences and door serve as aperitif for Number 3. Several times Number 3 escaped from her old pen and terrorized the village. 😉

The old pigpen with the new pigpen being built around it.

I came up with the design of the new pigpen based on observations and interactions with Number 3, studying pigpen housing standards and designs on the Internet and discussing the design plans with Trevor and the carpenters Kelly and Jessie.

The real test of the new design will be when Number 3 farrows. We will put the metal barrier and light for the piglet creep space into the pen soon. The pigpen has a total area of about 25 square meters, a comfortable space for one pig. My ideal is a large pasturing area, but we don’t have that much space. This is the best we can do!

The new pigpen allows more air and sunshine with a higher roof. It is certainly more durable than the old pen which was built using bamboo and wood. Such a pen is fine if we were keeping a pig for fattening, but a sow is a strong and powerful animal weighing up to 150 kilograms.

There will be two more large pens to be re-designed and built (for Sow Auntie Brownie and Pinky Boar) and two smaller pens for fattening a pig or two. The old pens are still usable but they are falling part and require much maintenance. I am hoping construction will be push through in September. The new farrowing unit will include an escape hatch for piglets (so they can enjoy the garden while they are up to 3 weeks old and give their mother a chance to relax).

Later, Trevor and I will look into developing the gardens (and possibly a pond or rain garden) around the pigpens so the area will be cooler, more productive and provide forage for the pigs.

Our foreman Kelly and the finished pigpen!
Lots of space for Number 3!
The feeding trough can be filled up from the outside of the pen.

 

First Farrowing for 2017

This is our first farrowing for 2017, also Auntie Brownie’s first parity. She is probably considered a late bloomer (at 2 years of age). The boar is a year younger, Brownie Boar (born and raised here as well). We decided on selective in-breeding, pigs are aunt/nephew relations. I was quite nervous about this but genetics of both pigs are very good so it was worth the try.

Auntie Brownie gave birth to 11 piglets. A 12th piglet – the last – was born dead. We decided on a no-intervention policy during farrowing. She started nest building at around midnight then farrowed at 8AM until 9AM.  I watched her farrow from a distance.

On the fourth day after farrowing, we had to go to the city for our weekly shopping and left the sow and piglets to a caretaker – with bad results. When we returned in the afternoon, the sow was stressed and kept crushing her piglets. The next day, one piglet died of crushing. Another piglet was found dead after 2 days apparently from crushing as well. The caretaker had stressed the sow by going into the pen and making a lot of noise and fuss. Because of this experience, we decided not to leave the sow and piglets to other people even for just a second – at least until the piglets are strong enough not to be crushed – about 4 weeks old.

The piglets escaped into the garden before they were 7 days old. This allowed the mother to relax. We will incorporate such an escape hatch for piglets when we re-design and re-build the pigpens. By foraging in the garden, the piglets get exercise and try exploring and eating a range of vegetation. This helps make them stronger and wean them naturally.

As usual, we did not mutilate the piglets – we did not cut their tail or their teeth. However, buyers demand that the male piglets be castrated. We will keep one uncastrated male piglet for ourselves. We have proven that there is no boar taint in intact male pigs not beyond 6 months of age.

Two Farrowings in December 2016

We had two farrowings in December 2016. Sow Number 1 (second parity) and gilt Number 3 (first parity). Number 3 gave birth to 4 piglets on the evening of December 25. Number 1 gave birth to 11 piglets on the evening of December 30.

Both Number 3 and Number 1 were serviced through artificial insemination by Ogie from Corella. It costs PhP1,500 per AI. Number 3 was inseminated with a Large White boar while Number 1 was inseminated with a mixed Pietrain boar.

Number 3 had only 4 piglets so they were exceptionally large, she had a bit of a hard time delivering them (roughly 30 minutes between each piglet). She successfully reared all of her 4 piglets without supervision, no crushing incidents. The piglets – 3 males and 1 female – were sold at weaning age of 6 weeks for PhP2,500 each. The males were castrated by Bebe at PhP50 each.We prefer not to castrate the piglets but buyers insist on buying only castrated male piglets. Because of this, we have opted to keep 1 or 2 males from a litter to keep for ourselves, un-castrated.

Sow Number 1 showing all her teats!

Number 1 crushed 4 of her 11 piglets. She also had enormous troubles farrowing, perhaps a kind of sow hysteria. We kept the piglets away from her throughout farrowing until she was able to relax and lie down to allow the piglets to suckle. The piglets were sold at weaning age of 6 weeks for PhP2,500 each (actually, buyers keep asking for discounts so we sold the piglets for PhP2,400 each and the runt sold for PhP2,000).

Overall, we consider the 2 farrowings a success, with a total of 11 piglets raised with no problems. Their tails and teeth were not cut, they were not injected with any vitamins, supplements or antibiotics. For iron supplement, which can be critical in some cases, I use instant iron drops instead of injections. We decide on much less intervention during farrowing next time.

Slowing Down on the Ducks

Here is a video from four months back. We had two ducks hatch eggs, a total of 12 ducklings. From this we ended up with only 6 ducklings. Mortality rate remains high. The fatalities were due to trampling by other ducks during fights and feeding, and savaging by pigs.

Good rearing behaviour in ducks seems to be inherited. Some ducks are better than others. One duck managed to keep 6 out of 8 ducks alive. While the other duck had all her ducklings killed within a few days because she insisted on bringing them to the boar. Not very smart.

Ducks have not been laying much as well. This may be due to two factors: first is insufficient nutrition and second is the disturbance caused by roof renovation from March until May. I have taken measures to provide better higher protein feeds although things have not completely settled down yet. One duck has started laying eggs.

I am not devoting a lot of time to the ducks. I spend more time looking after a boar and two sows. I am still hopeful that the ducks will manage – will learn – to look after themselves insofar as breeding is concerned.

Cooking them Old Ducks

duckbreasttonight1

This is duck breast – cooked in its own fat ala duck confit – then seared in a non-stick pan to crisp the skin. Instead of a soggy, bland stew, duck confit is – in my opinion – the best way to cook a duck more than 6 months old. At this age, the meat of the duck begins to toughen. By cooking in its own fat is it possible to realise superb tenderness and taste. Below I describe how I prepared this way of cooking duck.

duckbreasttonight2
Half of the duck breast served with rice and the Bohol-anon ‘law-uy’, simple foraged vegetable greens.
  1. For this batch, I use 3 large adult ducks, age 6 months to over 1 year. You must select duck that is very fat to produce the appropriate amount of fat. The dressed weight of the duck is 1.7 to 2.5kg. Better if you can get bigger than 2 kg.
  2. The duck is washed and cleaned. I rub the skin of the duck with salt to clean it thoroughly. Then I cut the duck into large pieces: wings, breasts, legs, backbone, neck. I cut at the joints and never break any bones.
  3. The fat and skin of the duck is removed and set aside as these will be used to render duck fat. However, DO NOT remove the skin on the breasts and legs. The skin on these portions of duck must be kept on to keep the meat moist, flavourful and to produce the crisp skin that is most sought after in duck dishes.
  4. The duck pieces are salted and rubbed with herbs and spices. I used thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, pepper. For each kilo of duck, I used only 1 tsp of salt. I did not use a lot of salt because this dish is not a way to preserve the duck for extended period of time. If your purpose is to preserve the duck, then you must follow the French way of making duck confit.
  5. I placed the duck pieces in a sealed plastic container and kept it in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour. You can marinate longer if you wish, for example, overnight.
  6. A good stainless steel or cast iron pot may be used, large enough to put all the duck inside. Begin by placing the pieces of duck skin and fat in the pot first. Next, place the duck wings, neck, and backbone. These are pieces of duck that has fat and skin and will be rendered. Keep the breasts and legs for later cooking. In the pot pour a cup of water.
  7. Start to render the duck fat by heating at medium high. Keep the pot covered at all times. When the water starts to boil, lower the heat to keep simmering. Keep the pot covered at all times. In my experience, the fat is fully rendered in 15 to 30 minutes! It is fast if you have a good fat duck and good pot.
  8. Transfer all the duck fat to another pot where you will cook the duck breasts and legs. I had enough duck fat to cover all the legs and breasts of 3 ducks. Place the duck breasts and legs into the oil. Place one head of crushed garlic in the pot.
  9. Cover the pot and cook over medium high heat until he oil boils. When the oil boils, lower the heat to maintain simmering. Simmer for 1 hour and turn off the heat and let sit – DO NOT OPEN THE LID OF THE POT – for another hour. The duck will continue cooking.
  10. Open the pot and inspect the duck meat.Use a fork to check if it is tender enough. Otherwise, simmer again in oil.
  11. The duck may be kept this way in oil in the pot and reheated everyday to keep from spoiling. The duck should keep well for several days but no more than 1 week.
  12. To prepare the duck, all I do is scoop out some duck fat into a non-stick pan. Then I place the duck breast/legs with the skin down and cook until the skin is brown and crisp. Place the duck breast/legs on a plate and garnish with vegetables or serve with stew.

The result is absolutely tender, absolutely delicious duck. It is not necessary to have young fattened duck for this way of cooking duck. Try it. Bon appétit!

Wildlife @home

I couldn’t sleep, it was nearly 2am, I got up to visit the loo and lo and behold, the reason why there isn’t a single rat running up on the roof!

Update: A week later, one of our neighbours captured a python and placed it inside a plastic screen cage. They wanted to sell it to a zoo in Loay. As far as I know, this is illegal. The zoo refused to buy it and instead instructed them to return it to the wild. However, the people who captured it were too scared to set it free, so they left the python in the cage on an empty lot near our home. I found this very upsetting – they left that snake to die. I emailed the DENR and asked them to come immediately to get the python and release it into its appropriate habitat. The next day, they arrived!

Bootleg’s Piglets

So here are Bootleg’s piglets, Pinky and Brownie. They were born June 18, 2016. They are getting quite big now. They escaped from their pen this afternoon and spent some time rooting in the garden. These piglets remind me a lot of Bootleg. Since these are going to be breeding boars, it is important that I let them get used to me. They may not be as friendly as Bootleg, since I raised Bootleg by hand since birth, but I am hoping that these piglets will have Bootleg’s gentle temperament. At the moment, Pinky is more affectionate than Brownie. Brownie tends to be more nervous and gets startled easily, but he is getting better. 🙂

More about Bootleg:

Good-bye, Bootleg

So, Bootleg finally did it, he finally decided to say good-bye. His tumour had a small eruption two days ago, then he fell ill yesterday and died this morning. It all happened very quickly. I feel sad but also in a way happy that he spent 16 months with us, making such a difference in our lives. The gilt Brownie was with him, which I think is very important, so he never felt alone.

Bootleg is buried next to his mother, Miss Piggy, who died July 19, 2015. Bootleg has two piglets here, Brownie and Pinky, so in away, Bootleg is still with us. 🙂

PS. The background music in the video is from our neighbour’s loud sound sytem, playing “Words” by the Bee Gees

“This world has lost its glory 
let’s start a brand
new story now, my love
Right now, there’ll be no other time 
and I can show you how, my love…”

Umbilical Hernia in Pigs

Our first encounter with umbilical hernia was with Bootleg, now a 16-month old boar. It was at the age of two and a half months that I noticed something was wrong: Bootleg’s prepuce was getting considerably large. After some research online, I confirmed that Bootleg had umbilical hernia.

Bootleg at 3 weeks old. Umbilical hernia not readily apparent.
Bootleg at 3 weeks old. Umbilical hernia not readily apparent.

 

Generally, decisions are made on a farm as to whether to cull or keep an animal with hernia. If it is the latter, a policy of treatment is developed. I have no previous experience in these matters but I decided to keep Bootleg and find a way to repair his hernia.

Bootleg at 6 weeks old. It is still hard to tell if that is just the prepuce or hernia.
Bootleg at 6 weeks old. It is still hard to tell if that is just the prepuce or hernia.

Surely, I noticed that Bootleg’s hernia became bigger after some vigorous playing and landing on his side. I came to understand better that an umbilical hernia is a tear in the abdominal muscles, where for some reason or other (genetic or environmental or both) the muscles in that area are weak. Stress and other such activities may cause the tear to become bigger.

At 9 weeks it is clear that Bootleg has umbilical hernia.
At 9 weeks it is clear that Bootleg has umbilical hernia.

I rang up the Office of the Provincial Veterinarian looking for someone who can repair umbilical hernia. I was advised that hernia is generally untreated in slaughter pigs. However, because I insisted, I was brought into contact with a veterinarian who could perform the hernia repair surgery.

Umbilical hernia repair surgery on site.
Umbilical hernia repair surgery on site. The two tumours are visible on the prepuce.

The surgery was performed on site. I administered all post-operative treatment with care. Bootleg was kept in a fairly large pig pen that had a soft dry bedding. I monitored his food and drink and for the next two months, fed him small amounts at frequent intervals. In the first two weeks, the hernia appeared to become larger. This should cause no alarm because this is actually swelling after the surgery. In three to four weeks, the hernia was considerably smaller.

Bootleg a day after surgery.
Bootleg a day after surgery.

During the surgery, the veterinarian noticed the presence of two tumours about the size of quail eggs. His prognosis was not good. He did not remove the tumours worrying that they may be cancerous and could spread if cut.

Bootleg 3 weeks after surgery. The swelling has subsided.
Bootleg 3 weeks after surgery. The swelling has subsided.

So, while Bootleg’s hernia did not continue to grow in size, it was the tumours that became bigger. As he matured, hormonal changes in his body triggered the growth of the tumours, both located in the prepuce.

Bootleg, a boar nine months old. Tumour at the tip of prepuce is getting bigger.
Bootleg, a boar nine months old. Tumour at the tip of prepuce is getting bigger.

At the age of nine months, Bootleg successfully mated with one of our gilts, Number One. Because of the size of Bootleg’s hernia and tumours, I had to assist him in mating. The result are eight beautiful healthy piglets. I continue to monitor these piglets for signs of hernia. So far, only one piglet, Pinky, appears to have umbilical hernia. It is something that I noticed upon birth – the umbilical cord of this particular piglet showed a light colour flesh protruding where the umbilical cord is attached to the abdomen. This makes me wonder if in this case, umbilical hernia is genetic. Or perhaps while in the womb, Pinky’s umbilical cord got tangled with another pig and got pulled, tearing and weakening the abdominal muscles. Certainly a possibility.

Bootleg at 15 months. His hernia has not grown perhaps it is the tumours that are growing. At times the tumours get a bit smaller.
Bootleg at 15 months. His hernia has not grown perhaps it is the tumours that are growing. At times the tumours get a bit smaller.

Bootleg continues to be a very active and happy boar. I would not consider him to be of the best of health but he is considerably happy despite his conditions. The tumours in his prepuce are quite enormous now and mating is impossible. I cannot assist in mating anymore because the weight of the boar as well as the weight of the tumours is just too much for me.

While Bootleg is no longer useful as a breeding boar, he serves the critical purpose of a teaser boar. He stays with two gilts and one sow and through him we are able to know if the pigs are in standing heat. If there is standing heat, we call Ogie to administer artificial insemination. Through Bootleg, we are also able to have boar exposure for the gilts and the sow, enabling oestrus.

Blackie at 6 weeks, the umbilical hernia is already obvious.
Blackie at 6 weeks, the umbilical hernia is already obvious.

A second experience with umbilical hernia was with a female pig called Blackie. I bought Blackie from a neighbour and noticed at the age of 5 weeks that Blackie may have umbilical hernia. You can determine this by palpating or feeling the belly of the pig with the palm of your hand. If you feel that there is a lump there and that when you press with the tip of your finger, you can feel that there is a small hole, then that is most likely umbilical hernia. I find that it is easier to determine this in female pigs than in male pigs.

Blackie at 8 weeks. We tried binding to keep the hernia from getting bigger. Not successful.
Blackie at 8 weeks. We tried binding to keep the hernia from getting bigger. Not successful.

This time, we opted not to have hernia repair surgery. Since Blackie is female and there is not the prepuce that will get in the way, we decided to stop Blackie’s hernia from growing by using a binder. We devised a wide variety of binders – from duct tape to corsets. All of that failed. All binders quickly wore out. In fact, I feel that the process of lifting and restraining Blackie has caused more harm. The stress would have cause the hernia to tear even larger.

Blackie at 3 months. Binding has not helped and the hernia continues to grow as she grows.
Blackie at 3 months. Binding has not helped and the hernia continues to grow as she grows.

We decided to separate Blackie from the other pigs so as not to cause an accident that could damage her hernia. If that happened, we would have to deal with treating wounds which could become infected. Not wanting Blackie to be completely isolated, we kept her in a fenced area inside Bootleg’s pen. This was what we called The Hernia Ward.

Blackie and Bootleg together. We continued to separate the pigs to prevent damaging the hernia.
Blackie and Bootleg together. We continued to separate the pigs to prevent damaging the hernia.

It was an excellent decision. As Blackie matured, she encouraged Bootleg to mature as well. This sort of exposure enabled Bootleg to become the unrelenting but gentle boar that he is today.

Blackie’s hernia continued to grow, at least, it didn’t grow so much that it touched the ground. Again, that would be disastrous since friction against the ground could cause wounds and infections. Although her hernia was huge, Blackie didn’t seem to mind it too much. She wormed her way through small gaps in the fence and through holes dug in the ground, to be with Bootleg.

Pinky at 3 weeks old.
Pinky at 3 weeks old.

Our third hernia case is the male piglet, Pinky. Pinky is now three months old and his hernia is considerably smaller than Bootleg’s or Blackie’s hernia at two months old. Perhaps this is because of good management after previous experiences. I don’t feed our pigs large amounts of food and instead try to provide forage material such as coconuts, fruits and vegetable trimmings, cut forage crops, banana leaves, etc. This is beneficial for Pinky so he does not gorge and his guts will not fall out of and get trapped in the hernia hole. Pinky also gets plenty of exercise so as to strengthen his abdominal muscles. Pinky stays with his brother Brownie, which is important since pigs are social animals and become depressed if they are isolated.

Pinky at 5 weeks.
Pinky at 5 weeks.

With these experiences, I think that it is best for us to adopt a no-intervention policy with regard to umbilical hernia in pigs. But this is not mere no-intervention; this should be accompanied by a conscientious feeding program and the provision of a healthy environment and social life for the pigs.

So yes, there’s life after hernia. 🙂

Introducing Bootleg

A couple of weeks ago I made this simple video of my dear boar, Bootleg. This introduces Bootleg’s story, which I will write about in greater detail later. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy! ❤️