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:
http://duckduckbro.com/2017/08/a-better-pig-accommodation/
http://duckduckbro.com/2018/01/sow-and-piglets-in-an-alternative-farrowing-system/

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. 🙂

Update on Porcine Parvovirus

This is sow Number 3 with her piglets some 2-3 hours after farrowing. She gave birth to 9 piglets, no mummified fetus, no stillborn. This is great news because she was infected with PPV (porcine parvovirus) on her previous farrowing. We have a small herd of pigs and therefore do not follow a vaccination program. Furthermore, natural exposure to PPV is followed by lifelong immunity whereas vaccination wanes over time.

Parity 2: Porcine Parvovirus, August 29, 2017

From 8-9PM last night, Number 3 farrowed to 2 stillborn piglets and 6 mummified fetuses. Our suspicion is Porcine Parvovirus (PPV). The prolonged gestation period of 117 days was a sign that something wasn’t right. Note also that a few weeks into gestation, Number 3 had a slightly bloody discharge for several days. This could’ve been an early sign of  infection.

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The mummified fetuses are of varying lengths indicating that PPV is the infectious agent since the virus attacks one fetus at a time, progressively, and the first fetuses to be infected may be reabsorbed into the sow’s body. However, fetuses infected after 70 days gestation are able to protect itself from the virus. Immuno-competence of  fetuses start at 55-70 days.

Keeping an eye on Number 3 at the moment, hoping that she has expelled all the fetuses and the afterbirth, and that no severe infection will set in. She looks quite well, she is eating and drinking and walks about and rests peacefully. But she is very tired, and infection will surely set in, and her teats will become painful in the absence of suckling piglets. She has had oxytocin and penicillin. We don’t use these (or any) drugs in normal farrowing.

Number 3 appears to grieve the death of her piglets. She looks at them and makes gentle calling sounds. She lies down and grunts to call her piglets to suckle. She snuggles her snout close to the dead piglet while she sleeps.

Although we are no stranger to livestock loses, we are hoping that Number 3 will recover. We will breed her again when she is ready. The good news is that pigs exposed to PPV often remain immune for the rest of their lives.

Where did the PPV come from?

Our first incidence of possible PPV infection was with sow Number 1, her second parity of 11 live piglets, 1 stillborn piglet and 1 mummified fetus. This was on December 30, 2016, just 5 months before Number 3 was serviced by boar Pinky.

Our suspicion is that PPV was transmitted to sow Number 1 via artificial insemination on her second parity. She had no PPV infection on her first parity via our boar Bootleg. Number 1 gave birth to 11 live piglets and 1 stillborn, the stillborn possibly due to prolonged farrowing. There were no obvious signs of PPV infection. Boar Pinky was from this first litter.

However, since boar Pinky stayed in close proximity to his mother he could’ve been infected by PPV and may even be an immuno-tolerant carrier. Boar Pinky may have infected sow Number 3 during service.

As a gilt, Auntie Brownie stayed in close proximity to sow Number 1 and boar Pinky. We are hoping that this has exposed Brownie to PPV and has developed lifelong immunity. Her first parity of 11 live piglets and 1 stillborn on June 24, 2017 showed no obvious signs of PPV infection. We are hoping that her second litter, due January 21, 2018, will be protected from the disastrous effects of PPV infection.

Update (January 19, 2018):

Auntie Brownie farrowed on June 19, 2018 to 10 live piglets. No stillborn piglets and no mummified fetuses.  This means Auntie Brownie is most possibly immune from PPV.

It is becoming more clear that the PPV came from artificial insemination (from a farm in another municipality). Since she was a gilt, Number 3 is housed separately (about 12 meters/40 feet away) from Auntie Brownie and boar Pinky, thus, she was the most susceptible.

Number 3 is about 2 months pregnant and is due on the first week of March. If she was indeed infected with PPV, she should no longer have any problems with the virus. Fingers crossed!

Update (March 9, 2018):

From 12-1:30pm, March 9, 2018, Friday, Number 3 farrowed to 9 live piglets. No stillborn piglets and no mummified fetuses.

Sow and Piglets in an Alternative Farrowing System

This documentation is intended to study the behaviour of a sow (Auntie Brownie) and her piglets in a pen of size 240 square feet (22 square meters or 26 square yards). Auntie Brownie is 2 years and 6 months old and this is her second parity. The first parity was in June 18, 2017 and the second was in December 19, 2017.

Typical sow nesting behaviour (above). Dry banana leaves are the preferred nesting material in the tropics.

Auntie Brownie began expressing the need for nesting materials by pawing the ground (soil and wood chips). We gave her the dry banana leaves earlier collected for the purpose. She picked them up, placed them in a corner of the pen and shredded them. Nesting behaviour may take place between 6-12 hours prior to farrowing, other pigs may take as long as 2 days. Auntie Brownie took only about 5 hours. Then lay down and started the farrowing process.

In this video (above), the first two piglets born are vigorous and struggle to detach themselves from the umbilical cord and reach their mother’s teats. It takes a while for the piglets to attach to a teat, maybe between 5-15 minutes. Auntie Brownie lay down on the nest she built in a way that allows access to her teats.

 

In this video (above), eight piglets are born and Auntie Brownie is up moving the nesting materials around. This appears to be the mother’s way of “training” her piglets of her presence. In succeeding videos, Auntie Brownie commences nursing by moving nesting material about, signaling to the piglets her intention to lie down so that the piglets are aware of this and may avoid being crushed. Good sow instincts are supposedly indicated by nesting behaviour, pawing and moving the nesting materials about.

 

Here  (above) are the eight piglets born within 2 hours (two more piglets were born at a later time we were unable to observe). Auntie Brownie is aware of a good lying position that allows access to all her teats. The piglets take their time to establish teat order.

 

Here (above) are all ten piglets at 16 hours of age. Teat order is established amongst seven of the piglets while three piglets are still unable to attach to their corresponding teats and therefore engage more in fighting. These are smaller piglets in the litter. Larger more dominant piglets often don’t engage in fighting during nursing. One large piglet on the right has mild milk scour. We notice this in a few piglets in previous litters during the first few days.

 

The piglets (above) call for milk and Auntie Brownie, obliges. The piglets are 7 days old in this video and have already been trained by the mother not to go near her side as she prepares to lie down. The safest place would be at her head or a good distance away.

Auntie Brownie tries to lie down carefully but she still lands heavily on her side (she was much more careful when the piglets were still unable to coordinate their movements with her). Notice one piglet on the left seem to have difficulty interpreting its mother’s call, it would’ve been crushed if it was closer to Auntie Brownie’s side. We usually call piglets like these “the wind-up toy” because they go oinking about before finding the mother’s teats. They usually grow up fine, catching up on the others. Some fail to thrive and die or are unable to move quickly and get accidentally crushed by the mother.  Some piglets want more milk and one goes to the mother’s head to complain. Auntie Brownie decides they have had enough and she lies on her teats, pushing everyone off without hurting them. If a piglet gets trapped and it manages to squeal, Auntie Brownie will adjust her position. If a piglet is unable to squeal, then fatalities occur. If we see what has happened we can help and try to coax the mother to get up and move so the piglet can run away. Sometimes there is fighting during feeding and the piglets bite their mother’s teats with their sharp needle teeth.

Luckily, Auntie Brownie is a very patient sow: she growls when she is hurt and she will move to push off the piglets so she can adjust her position. This allows better teat access and fighting stops. After feeding, the piglets go out for a stroll in the garden, to poo and pee, and to play. This is when the mother can rest and relax. We made a piglet escape hatch on one side of the pen.

The following day, the second to the smallest piglet died, apparently of crushing in the night.

 

(Above) Auntie Brownie lies down a distance away from her 10-day old piglets. She calls the piglets and when they arrive, she adjusts her position to accommodate them. This is a much safer way of nursing piglets with less risk of crushing. The piglets sleep a distance away from the sow, in this case, the piglets have learned to sleep in the creep space provided. The creep space is attractive to the piglets not so much because of the lamp but because of the piglet escape hatch — the piglets are always excited to go out of the pen and into the garden for adventure. The “heating lamp” we are using produces bright light which distracts piglets. We will have to replace this with infrared heat lamps next time, although heating is really only needed when it rains during the cold season (December-March).

 

(Above) Auntie Brownie lies down and 10-day old piglets converge around her, waiting for the signal as to which side she will be lying on so they can coordinate their movement. Larger and more daring piglets now tend to access the teats before the mother could lie down, ignoring the mother’s attempt to get them to converge at her head by moving nesting material about. At this point, the role of nesting material in the nursing pattern is less important.

 

Auntie Brownie’s piglets, now 2 weeks old, playing (above). Pigs get excited whenever big rain comes. Notice the little piglet on the left – he’s a little bit slow and gets overwhelmed by the others quite easily, but is managing OK – he is the runt in the litter. Everyday, the piglets are allowed out to play in the garden but not today because of bad weather. They miss their garden adventure but are happy enough playing indoors instead!

 

Piglets here (above) are 18 days old. Auntie Brownie lies down very carefully. As mentioned earlier, piglets are now more daring and access the teats even when the mother has not yet laid down. The runt on the right side is unresponsive to the mother’s position or grunting calls. This is when crushing occurs. Since Day 1, the runt has had some troubles establishing good feeding regime with the mother and litter mates, although teat order has been established. The runt also seemed to have problems digesting its food, its belly was contracting rapidly and even if it had teat access it abruptly stops feeding and walks away slowly.

The runt died the same day this video was taken.*

 

(Above) Lying down and nursing behaviour well established, but sometimes Auntie Brownie changes her mind! 🙂 She has started to teach her piglets to sample solid food. The largest piglet began sampling mother’s food by age 5 days. Piglets here are 19 days old.

We hope this documentation is useful for those considering alternative gestating/farrowing systems. This system does not address group housing because we are only micro-scale.

* The piglet mentioned above died within an hour after drinking water with a small amount of molasses. Up to two-thirds of the sugar content in cane molasses is sucrose (glucose and fructose) and more in beet molasses. Sucrose is toxic to young pigs under 7 days of age. Since our piglet is 18 days old we considered it safe. However, this piglet may have health problems from the beginning as observed from its developmental condition since birth.

The problem with sucrose toxicity arises when there is low activity of intestinal sucrase in the intestine of young piglets. With fructose, the problem is that young piglets cannot effectively process (phosphorylate) fructose in either intestinal cells or liver. It is possible that the little runt has not developed properly in time to process molasses. So it is advised not to give molasses to young or compromised pigs.

Boudin Blanc de Bohol

Boudin Blanc fried in butter, served with fried vegetables.

For me, this is a different way of making sausages. It contains quite an amount of milk, the mixture is almost runny and then the sausages are poached after stuffing. To serve, the sausages are grilled or fried. This is my first attempt at making Boudin Blanc – in its simplest most basic form – and I love the result! I will definitely be making this sausage again with variations using locally available spices.

The meat and casings are from our very own backyard raised pig, the runt in a litter which I looked after until 5 months old, totaling a carcass weight of about 75 kilos. The pig was un-castrated and did not possess any “boar taint” at 5 months old.

To get the fine flavour from such a simple Boudin Blanc recipe, it is important to use a good quantity of white onions and the onions must be fried until transparent, not crisp or brown, and must be fried only in good French butter (salted). It is also important to use pork belly in this simple version – not pork shoulder or lean meat.

To get a deeper flavour, I cut up the meat and mixed with the fried onions, butter, salt and pepper and allowed to marinate in the fridge overnight before grinding and stuffing.

When stuffing, do not prick the sausage casings. The mixture can be quite runny and the juices will come out of the sausages during poaching (remember, the sausages are poached not boiled) if the casings are pricked. I have opted for a coarser texture so I mixed the milk and ground pork with a spatula. For finer texture, use a whisk. It is not necessary to overly whisk the mixture since this will result to a rubbery textured sausage (unless of course this rubbery gummy texture is what you want).

After poaching, the sausages can be kept in the fridge for a week or kept longer frozen (although this might alter the texture of the sausage) – or preserved in pork fat.

To serve, the sausages are fried or grilled, and they go very very well with Dijon mustard and a dash of cayenne. 🙂

The sausages after they have been poached.
The sausages after they have been poached.

The Recipes

You can find the simplest Boudin Blanc recipe and variations via the links below. The recipes are from the Meats and Sausages website, a truly amazing resource.

There is also a version from Liege, the Boudin Blanc de Liege.

The French Boudin Blanc is not to be confused with the Cajun Boudin.

Sausage Recipes

Currently practising making sausages again, getting ready for Christmas! Here are three sausage recipes that I’ve tried and tested and would like to share with you. These sausages use either natural hog casing or collagen casings. These are fresh sausages that don’t use artificial preservatives, nitrites (prague powder) or phosphates (accord powder). Instead, the sausages are mildly preserved using coconut vinegar or anisado wine (such as Green Perico available here in Bohol) or bread (which ferments with the meat). In all cases, the sausages are considered fresh and therefore hung to let the casing strengthen a bit only for a short period of time (2 hours in ambient tropical temperatures of 25 to 32 decrees Celsius; sausages containing salitre, saltpeter or prague powder may be hung to dry for 2-3 days). Then the sausages are stored in the freezer where they can keep for longer: 3 months frozen uncooked, 4-5 days in the refrigerator uncooked.

 

sausages1

SWEET LONGGANISA (Mildly Sweet Sausages)

1 kilo ground pork with fat about 30%
2 tbsp Soy Sauce
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp Anisado wine
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
1/2 cup garlic, minced
2 tsp freshly crushed black peppercorns
2 tsp Spanish paprika or smoked paprika powder
Hog casing or collagen casing and butcher’s twine/string for tying

newsausages1

LUCBAN LONGGANISA (Oregano Spiced Sausages)

1 kilo ground pork with 30% fat
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
1 1/2 tbsp dry oregano leaves, ground
1 1/2 tbsp dry basil leaves, ground
1 tsp dry laurel leaves, ground
1 1/2 tbsp Spanish paprika powder or smoked paprika powder
1 tbsp freshly crushed black peppercorns
1 tbsp vinegar
Hog casing or collagen casing and butcher’s twine/string for tying

newsausages2

ENGLISH SPICED SAUSAGES

1/2 kg ground pork with 30% fat
50 grams breadcrumbs
1 onion, grated or finely chopped
1/2 lemon rind, grated
1/2 nutmeg, grated or 1 tsp nutmeg powder
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp thyme
1 tbsp sage
1 tbsp fennel seed or dry coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tbsp ground white pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Hog casing or collagen casing and butcher’s twine/string for tying

GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
  2. Cover and put in the refrigerator to allow the meat and spices to marry and to firm up for 2-4 hours or overnight.
  3. Before stuffing sausages, you may wish to test the taste of the sausage mixture. Get a small amount and shape into a patty and fry in oil. Adjust seasoning as needed.
  4. Prepare and clean fresh hog casings, soak in a bowl of cold water. If using collagen casings, read the instructions on use. Generally, collagen casings are used dry and should not be soaked in water.
  5. Keep a bowl or pitcher of cold water nearby for rinsing sticky hands. Start stuffing the casings with the cold meat mixture. It is easier to stuff sausages when the mixture is cold. Use sausage stuffing machine or sausage stuffer (funnel).
  6. If not using casing, you can also roll the meat mixture into balls or shape them into patties or for making “skinless sausages”. Use wax paper or plastic food wrap to prevent patties or skinless sausages from sticking to each other. Keep cold or frozen or cook immediately.
  7. Carefully but firmly tie sausages in desired intervals. Prick sausages with a clean pin or cocktail stick to remove air bubbles. Hang up to dry and strengthen the casing for 2 hours. Sausages may be cooked immediately. Keep in the refrigerator uncooked for 4-5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

COOKING SAUSAGES

  1. To cook English Spiced Sausages, dip in beaten egg white then dust with small amount of flour. Cook in small amount of oil, 5-6 minutes on each side for 24mm sausages; cook longer for thicker sausages. Serve immediately.
  2. To cook longganisa, hang the sausage to allow to warm up to room temperature. On very low heat, put 2 tbsp water in a frying pan and the sausages. Keep on LOW HEAT so the sausages will not burst and you will not need to prick the sausages. Depending on the thickness of the sausages, for 24mm sausages, cook for 5 minutes on one side, turn over and cook for 5 minutes on the other side. Add 1 tbsp oil and cook on each side for 3-5 minutes more until brown. Serve immediately.
  3. Alternatively, you can poach the sausages before frying. Prepare a saucepan with water and on medium heat. When water is HOT BUT NOT BOILING, put the sausages in. Cook for 5-8 minutes. DO NOT BOIL or the sausages will burst. Bring out the sausages and finish off by frying in a small amount of oil over medium heat on each side until lightly brown. Serve immediately.

Natural Farming: Does it really work?

When we started breeding and raising pigs in a backyard setting, we decided to keep everything small-scale and as close to nature as our resources could allow. Ideally, this means pasture-raised pigs. However, we don’t have the luxury of the space. So we kept only a few pigs and provided spacious accommodation for them, roughly about 20-25sqm for 1 boar or 1 sow or 5 growers.

We built pens for our pigs that are large, well ventilated and get plenty of sunshine. The pens have grass, bushes and soil flooring, not concrete. Apparently, pigs love rooting and digging the soil, thus, the conventional pigpen designs with concrete flooring would be against our principles.

The natural principle also means giving pigs plenty of green forage, fruits, roughage and other organic materials to eat. Again, our limited resources make it impossible to give even a few pigs 100% natural diet. So we supplement with commercially-produced pig feeds in pelleted form.

To imitate the pig’s preferred natural habitat of the forest, we introduced plenty of organic material (mostly dry coconut leaves) which absorbs moisture and urine and at the same time provides soft bedding for the pigs. When a pig gives birth (or farrows), we provide plenty of dry banana leaves for nesting. Every now and then, we put wood shavings and rice hull into the pens to keep the flooring dry and provide entertainment for the pigs. Ashes and burnt pieces of wood from cooking are also collected and placed into the pens after we learned that ashes were good for piglets.

Perhaps due to the “lucky” combination of these conditions, our pigpens did not emit irritating odors. The only time we had an odor problem was when the roof of the pen started rotting and rain flooded the area. It seems that a large majority of irritating odor problems associated with pigs take place when the water content of beddings are over 30% and in the case of concreted floorings, when water, urine and manure are mixed, no matter the amount or proportion. This is why concreted floor pens need to be cleaned and washed with large amounts of water several times a day. Our pigpens never need cleaning.

We have had 4 farrows with no incidence of disease amongst the piglets. This is surprising for many who see the piglets amidst soil, rotting vegetation, manure, urine and mud, all widely perceived as unhygienic conditions. While we have had no problems after 2 years, we do think about the possibility of build-up of pathogenic bacteria in the pigpens after a longer period of time. This is why we are currently taking measures to rotate the pigs in different pens so as to enable the vacated pens to fallow and completely turn into compost before seeds of cover crops are sown over the area.

After 2 years, we seem to have established a system of pig-keeping based on farming philosophies more widely known as Natural Farming (pioneered by the Japanese Fukuoka Masanobu) and Korean Natural Farming (KNF, promoted by the Korean Han Kyu Cho). These are broad farming philosophies and principles that have numerous applications.

Although our own principles and practices are fairly successful so far, we are now experimenting with KNF, particularly, the role of the diversity of indigenous microorganisms and beneficial microorganisms in keeping healthy pigs in a healthy natural environment. We are particularly curious how the more focused and directed approach of microorganism production and harvesting would be most useful – not only for livestock, but for crops as well.

As part of our pig raising experiments, we have a smaller pen, about 2sqm under the house, where a 10-week old piglet is kept. The piglet is fed a high-density diet (crude protein of about 16%) and a small amount of fruits and forage materials such as trichanthera (madre de agua), banana leaves, ipil-ipil, papaya, etc. Odor events in this pigpen are more frequent and were greatly minimized by spraying the area with lactic acid bacteria solution (known in KNF as LABS, made by fermenting rice washing with milk) and fermented plant juice solution (known in KNF as FPJ, made by fermenting shoots and leaves of vigorously growing leafy vegetables and brown sugar). These are also added to the piglet’s drinking water. Occasionally, wood shavings are thrown over the manure then sprayed with the solutions mentioned above. Given the small space for this piglet, the results of using fermented solutions have been impressive. We are yet to successfully produce indigenous microorganisms (known in KNF as IMO) and introduce that to our pigpens and surrounding gardens together with FPJ and LABS.

While NF and KNF systems seem to work quite well for us, we will be regularly sharing results of our experiments in the near future. We do have a number of failures which we will share here as well.

In the meantime, below are some resources that might help those interested in learning more about natural farming. Good luck!

Websites:

E-Books

Books

YouTube Video Channels

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.

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: