Turbatrix aceti (Vinegar Eels)

Some five years ago, I got involved in fermenting coconut water and overripe bananas to make vinegar. If you make your own vinegar, and prior to pasteurisation, you’d have these free-living (non-parasitic) nematodes swimming near the surface of the vinegar. I took a video under the microscope.

Popularly known as vinegar eels, Turbatrix aceti feed on the microbial culture of vinegar and other similarly fermented foods. They are non-parasitic and harmless. After several hours, the vinegar on the slide began to dry up and this happened to the Turbatrix aceti.

Vinegar eels are also harvested and fed to fish fry. If you are interested in using vinegar eels this way, there’s good information at Living Food Cultures.

Number 3 Farrows 4th Parity

Note: Although this was Number 3’s third successful litter, we had to clip the piglets’ teeth because she  got angry while nursing. We had the same issue with Auntie Brownie who farrowed on July 29, 2018, during a hot and humid season. Humidity is particularly high, which is more difficult for gestating and farrowing sows. There were 13 piglets in this litter, which is one of our highest, and thus a higher incidence of crushing was expected. Our sows seem to want to keep only 8 piglets per litter.

Gestation 115 Days
Serviced by Pinky Boar June 30, 2018.
Farrowed October 23/24, 2018.

Nest Building

Nest building started at 5:45PM, October 23. Number 3 took some time building her nest, spent a lot of time just standing in the middle of the pen, looking around, assessing the nest and environment. There might’ve been insufficient nesting material. Must take note of the quantity and quality of nesting material next time.

Farrowing

Farrowing, October 23, 2018 at 11:44PM

Farrowing went on until around 3:30AM October 24. At around 4:10AM, Number 3 got up and lay on a piglet for a minute. She must’ve known she was lying on a piglet so she got up, rooted the nesting material and lay down again, letting the piglets nurse. When piglets are unable to squeal when laid on, the mother is often but not always unaware of what has happened.

Lactating Period

October 24 – Around 6AM I noticed one dead piglet, a large male, most probably due to crushing. In the night, Number 3 had already crushed 2 piglets including this one. The second piglet was hidden underneath the nest and I discovered it only 3 days later.

In the video above, Number 3 is very tired and overheating. Trevor tries to cool her down with some water. In hot and humid climate, water might increase humidity. We are installing a fan to correct this problem.

In the video above, the piglets are 1 day old. Number 3 lies on the nest, reluctant to nurse. It is in the early morning and she is panting as the heat and humidity builds up. October and November are hot and rainy months.

Fighting amongst piglets during nursing begins by 12:18PM and Number 3 gets upset by this. Although Number 3 does her best to adjust her position whenever there is fighting, as well as getting up immediately when a piglet squeals, the situation worsens as Number 3 gets more exhausted and stressed  by the heat and the pain from piglets’ teeth whenever they fight at her teats. By noon-time the following day, we decided we need to cut piglets’ teeth.

October 25 – Teeth clipping done at 3PM. Nursing situation is much better after teeth clipping. During this time, we saw a piglet had an injured front leg but this got better over the next several days. This piglet remained very active and became one of the largest in the litter despite the injury.

In the video above, day old piglets have discovered the piglet escape hatch and explore the ‘Piglets’ Restaurant’ where fresh soil and green forage is provided. The piglets sample the soil right away and this is their source of iron when iron supplements are not available.

October 26 – While rescuing a smaller brown piglet from crushing, I found a dead piglet, one of the larger ones, crushed during fighting perhaps or during heat stress at high noon.

In the video above, piglets are 2 days old. Video was taken at night. Piglets’ teeth have been clipped so the mother no longer gets angry during nursing. However, the mother still feels very exhausted and may be suffering from heat stress. She is lying and adjusts her position, pushing the piglets with her hindquarters. This and numerous movements make it appear as if the mother is careless. She also doesn’t get up immediately when a piglet is overlaid or stepped on. Note the piglet with a limp. This piglet’s foot was probably stepped on by the mother. Piglets recover well from these types of injuries.

 

October 27 – I found a dead piglet in the nest in an advanced state of decomposition indicating it may have been crushed on the first day or may have been stillborn.

In the above video, piglet are 4 days old and quite active after teeth clipping and no iron supplements. Soil was spread in the creep space and ‘Piglets’ Restaurant’ which the pigs eat since day 1.

November 2 – I found a piglet crushed, a large male piglet, 9 days old. This is very disappointing. Hot and humid, Number 3 is panting heavily, and the crushing might be due to heat stress. We are implementing some changes which we hope will reduce heat stress and the incidence of crushing.

Weaning

We separated Number 3 from her piglets on November 28. Piglets were 35 days old but already eating solid food. We had no serious scour problems. Piglets were sold 10 days later.

The Problem of Crushing

For 2019, we are implementing changes which we hope will reduce the incidence of piglet mortality due to crushing. See Piglet Crushing Management.

Here are some videos of Number 3’s piglets

In the video below, while her piglets are out in the garden, Number 3 plays in her pen. I get very nervous when such a big pig starts running like this with little piglets around her. So it is good that piglets are able to go out so the mother has the chance to relax.

Auntie Brownie Farrows 3rd Parity

Note: This is the first time we had to clip piglets’ teeth because Auntie Brownie, now on her third parity, got very angry whenever she nursed her piglets. No teeth cutting was needed on first and second parity. The months June-July were very hot and humid. I think this aggravated the problem of mastitis, making Auntie Brownie very sensitive to piglets’ teeth. This time, we also had a high crushing number of 4 piglets, with 12 live born piglets.  8 were weaned successfully.

 

Gestation 111 Days
Serviced by Pinky Boar on April 9, 2018.
Farrowed July 29, 2018.

 

During gestation, Auntie Brownie made loud grunting noises indicating call for bath. I gave her a few baths during high daytime temperatures. She also created a pit, cooled it with her urine and lay in it. Unfortunately, high humidity and dew point during these months didn’t help. We have changed feeds, employ wet feeding, installed an electric fan for Auntie Brownie’s next farrowing and see if we will get better results.

 

Nest Building

Auntie Brownie began building her nest a day before farrowing.

Nest building started a day before farrowing. I saw Auntie Brownie pawing the ground so I gave her some dry banana leaves. She took it and began nest building, then rested. She kept at this for the whole day, seemingly too lazy to build a satisfactory nest. This must be because of the heat and humidity.

Auntie Brownie with her 1-day old piglets.

Farrowing, July 29, 2018 at 10AM

The farrowing was without incident, 12 piglets born alive. However, within the first hour of birth, piglets started fighting which upset Auntie Brownie. Although fighting at the teats within a few hours of birth is not unusual, I found it unusual that Auntie Brownie got hurt so easily, and the fighting was frequent. I think that piglet fighting is an indication of poor milk flow. This may confirm the problem of mastitis or agalactia due to heat stress.

Piglets at 3-4 hours old, after nursing they sleep away from the mother and each other because of the hot and humid weather.

In the video above, Auntie Brownie is very tired and obviously having problems nursing her 1-day old piglets. Intervention is needed when this happens.

July 30 – 2 piglets were crushed to death and 1 was injured by overlaying. It seemed that Auntie Brownie was deliberately overlaying her piglets because she was hurt and upset by them fighting at her teats. Brownie’s teats seemed hard when I pressed them in the morning, but by late afternoon, her teats seemed much softer. It is possible that her teats were sensitive because of mastitis. I also wondered if the piglets’ teeth were sharper than the usual we’ve had before. I inspected the teeth of one of the dead piglets and I saw needle teeth that were thin and sharp, instead of the usual triangular shape with the pointed tip. Not all the piglet’s teeth are like that, and I am not sure if such teeth do make a difference.

July 31 – Teeth-clipping went well this morning, there are 9 piglets left. 1 piglet got crushed last night. Brownie drank water but did not eat. White discharge. Piglets went to the mother to suckle and the situation seemed better, although nursing is less frequent (every 1-2 hours); hoping later nursing will be on regular. I hope things progress from now on and that the mother quickly recovers.

August 1 – It is Day 3. Suckling is much more peaceful since teeth clipping. The injured piglet remains feisty and active. Piglets look forward to exploring the Escape Hatch/Restaurant/Garden after nursing, particularly brightens up sluggish piglets. The injured piglet seem to be the first to want to go out. Nursing was hourly and sometimes 15-30 min intervals. Brownie is drinking and eating well. She is getting Amoxicillin antibiotics in her water (for 3 days).

At 3 days of age, the piglets already know the way out into the garden.

In the video above, piglets are 6 days old and go out into the garden several times each day, particularly after nursing.

August 5 – Piglet got crushed this afternoon. We were unable to revive it. This was a 7-day old piglet, very active and was seen fighting with litter-mates just a few hours ago. I believe this is accidental crushing, which happens when the piglet is unable to squeal so the mother is unaware that a piglet is being laid over. The piglet may have been very tired and was deep asleep.

 

The ground in front of the trough has become tough and slippery and this area seem to be where crushing fatalities often occur. This area will need to be dug up and wood shavings spread to soften the ground and reduce slipping.

In the video above, piglets are 11 days old. The piglet with the injured leg fights for milk. She is also the first one to go out of the escape hatch to play in the garden.

Video above shows Auntie Brownie interacting with her piglets, very much aware that I am filming her. With 4 or possibly 5 piglets crushed by the mother, the piglets have developed a very cautious relationship with their mother who at the same time is their source of life and nutrition. Through ambivalent socialisation with their mother, the ability of piglets to develop this alertness at the first few hours of birth is crucial to their survival.

Weaning the Piglets

September 3 – Auntie Brownie separated from her piglets, now about 38 days old. However, we put the runt with her, the one that got injured by crushing. We usually sell piglets at 45 to 55 days old, or after all signs of scour, if any, are gone. There was some scouring in this litter starting on day 2-3 after weaning which was treated with Apralyte. Because of early treatment, scours were gone in a few days.

We separated Auntie Brownie from her piglets but we let the little runt, Limpy, stay with her. Here’s Little Limpy warming up on top of her mother.

The Problem of Crushing

For 2019, we are implementing changes which we hope will reduce the incidence of piglet mortality due to crushing. See Piglet Crushing Management.

Here are portraits of Auntie Brownie’s piglets.

A Food Forest Garden

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

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

Below are three photos depicting most agricultural practices.

Our Food Forest Journey

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

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

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

Piglets foraging in the garden.
Ducks in the garden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natural Housing for Backyard Pigs

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

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

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

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

The Penned Pig
We started with a small pen, about 8 square meters. It was made of strong bamboo and had nipa palm fronds for roofing. The flooring was just soil with some sawdust and rice hull mixed in. We kept a fattener in this pen. Later, we enlarged the pen to about 20 square meters. We raised our first boar, kept two gilts, had a sow farrow in this larger pen. We also kept 1-2 fatteners at a time here.

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.