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.

First Farrowing for 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Two Farrowings in December 2016

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

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

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

Sow Number 1 showing all her teats!

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

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

Bootleg’s Piglets

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

More about Bootleg:

Piglets, Finally!

Number 1 farrowed June 18 and her piglets are weaned and ready to go. These are all Bootleg’s piglets too. We’re keeping Pinky and Brownie 3, both male piglets, and the rest can go. Folks here are starting to buy piglets for fattening for Baclayon town fiesta in December. If you’re interested in buying our piglets, please come and visit us. Piglets in our village sell for PhP2,500 each.

Here’s a video of the piglets with Number 1, taken when the piglets were about 6 days old. This is Number 1’s first litter and she has proven to be a wonderful caring mother!

Here’s a video of the piglets enjoying the garden. They are about 3-4 weeks old here, learning to root and forage for the first time.

Their father, Bootleg is half-duroc, and the mother, Number 1, is a mix of Landrace and Large White. There’s probably some Pietrain or Philippine Native Pig mixed in there too. Our attempts at cross-breeding and keeping pigs in natural environment has been quite successful. These pigs are strong and hardy, able to enjoy the outdoors. They are never mutilated (no castrating, ear notching, or tail docking, etc). They are also never injected with antibiotics or supplements. I’ll post more about our pig breeding experiences later.

We hope to have piglets more next time! 🙂