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).

Improvements
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.

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!

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:
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.