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 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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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.
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!
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. 😉
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.
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.
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.