March 25, 2020 – After our 14-day self-quarantine, I finally managed to go to the big city of Tagbilaran. We often go there to get items not available in our Municipality. These would be such things as German whole wheat bread (only white bread is available locally), cheese (real cheese, not “processed cheese”), milk (fresh milk, not powdered and fortified milk), butter (margarine is often what’s locally available), and that beef I’ve been so long wanting to get my hands on. The fresh vegetables and fruits are available in the local public market. Fresh pork and fish are also available in the public markets on certain days and hours.
I booked a tricycle to bring me to Tagbilaran City and back. We often use a tricycle for transport and I’ve been saving the driver’s names and mobile numbers over the past several months. It can be a very difficult getting transport where we live, especially in an emergency. Usually, we walk about half a kilometer to the highway where public utility jeepneys are available. But it isn’t easy these days with the entire island is on enhanced community quarantine and social distancing imposed. This means only 8 passengers in a jeepney instead of the usual 16 (or more!), and only 1 passenger in tricycles. No more ‘habal-habal’ (a popular local transport – back ride on motorcycles) for now.
When I arrived at 8:30AM, Tagbilaran’s streets were quite deserted, few people and vehicles. A few businesses still open. Cyber cafes are closed, some restaurants are closed. People 65 years old and above, below 18, are not allowed out unless absolutely necessary (i.e. medical, emergency etc). Barangay officials (local council or district) will soon be handing out Quarantine Passes.
I wore a mask. In Bohol, everyone is required to wear a mask when going out in public. I also wore simple, easy to wash clothes and tied up my hair. When I got home, I washed my clothes and had a bath before touching anything… And while I was at it, I decided to clean the bathroom as well … 😉
April 7, 2020 in San Roque, Baclayon, Bohol —- We finally did it! Our butcher Yokyok and his assistant Noel came at 7 in the morning. This was Jenny’s pig. Jenny is our next-next-door neighbour. I bought her pig and asked Yokyok and Noel to butcher. I took the meat we need and shared the rest with people in our village. It is very good meat, amazing red colour because Jenny fed the pig banana stalks, scrap fruits and vegetables from the market, kangkong, kamote leaves, and various forage.
I gave the pig’s head, blood and internal organs to Penny. She used those to make a fantastic blood stew for sharing with neighbours. Her husband, Bebe, cooked the head into cracklings, soup and other such things and shared as well. I asked Noel to share meat with people up the hill. Plenty of people, uphill and downhill, benefited from one pig. Imagine so much meat from just one pig. Although our village is transitioning to urban ways, I hope that we will never be prevented from raising our own food. Having a pig or goat, chickens, ducks or a cow should continue to be a way of life here. For us, this is better than buying food from Magnolia or Ligo or Purefoods or San Miguel. Money spent on buying our food stays within our community instead of going to someone who doesn’t know or care about the way we live. Why buy from a big company just so their CEO can go yachting or buy another ski resort?
This is more fun too. Today was also like fiesta except that there was social distancing and Penny and Noel wore a mask when they distributed the meat and meals. Well, this is the closest we can get to fiesta since all fiesta celebration is cancelled now.
Jenny is not rich. There are 3 families in their little un-finished house, there are 9 children in total and a new baby coming next month. The men in the family are small-scale fishermen. But Jenny can raise pigs in their backyard, feed them vegetable and fruit scraps from the market and forage from the surroundings. She still has 2 more pigs. They were intended for sale during fiesta when demand is high. But there will be no fiesta because of COVID-19.
Backyard pig raisers are having a hard time for several years and now COVID-19 has made things worse. Fiesta celebrations are cancelled because of COVID-19. No more school graduation parties either. In both, pork and roast suckling pig are mandatory. So pig raisers are stuck with fatteners that should be ready for slaughter in March-May. Also, the live weight price has gone down 90 pesos/1.78US$ per kilo from the usual peak season price of 130 pesos/2.57US$ per kilo. The price of pork remains high at 240 pesos/4.75US$ per kilo. So buying the whole pig is actually cheaper.
But Jenny’s system is a closed-loop that benefits her and the people around her. It is efficient, low-cost and nothing goes to waste. It may not be pastured pigs but it is a far cry from factory food. The pigpens are homemade from wood gathered from the hills. The butcher slaughters in situ so the pig is not subjected to the stress of transport. The pig is slaughtered very quickly, there is no squealing. The backyard plants are mostly banana, taro, kangkong, sweet potato, coconut. All these plants are human edible, animal edible, and the non human edible parts of the plants, such as banana trunks and leaves are fed to the pigs. The pigs were purchased as weanlings from a more rural municipality 2 hours away where they are cheaper. Transport of pigs are limited now because of COVID-19 (and ASF). There are local breeders (like us) but we are more expensive because we are closer to the city (only 8 kms to heart of the city). I sell piglets at prevailing price but add more value by selling fully weaned piglets weighing 15-25kg, free consultation and medicine if piglets get sick or need castrating (we offer free castrating if buyer wants to castrate).
Our piglets cost 2,800 pesos/55.56 USD and the cheaper piglets cost 1,200 pesos/23.81 USD. While ours weigh a minimum of 15kg, the cheaper piglets weigh a minimum of 8kg.
I know the pigs are kept in not very ideal conditions. This is a low income family with small space (about 500 sq meters). Men in this family are small-time fisherfolk and they don’t even own their boats. Land rights and ownership is an issue in places like ours because of the drastic policies made during many colonial periods (from16th century to early 20th century), taking vast tracts of land away from people. Our own property is not so big either (only about 2000 square meters). There are larger parcels of land around us that are being converted from agricultural to residential and being subdivided. City life is quickly creeping up on us. But I am documenting how important it is that we remain able to raise our own food and make the case to local government before it is too late.
Life of urban poor is much worse because they can’t grow or raise their own food. This is luxury compared to urban poor.
Nonetheless, most backyard pigs kept here are friendly. They are not afraid of approaching strangers. This means they are well looked after by the family.
I also try to encourage people to give their pigs more space, allow the pigs to socialise, and express their natural behaviours. Our backyard farm serves as example when people come and visit. But I also continue to yearn for more space to pasture some (native) pigs. I hope in the near future.
If you have access to coconuts locally — coconut milk makes a fantastic creamer for tea, coffee and cacao. It tastes incredibly good with all types of tea, coffee and chocolate drinks. Add a dash of cinnamon and it’s perfect! It’s so much more delicious and nutritious, easier to make, and so much cheaper than rice, soy, oat or almond milks.
Fresh coconut milk is the best. Although coconut milk is available commercially as liquid or powder, you can go to your nearest public market or supermarket, buy a mature coconut and ask them to grate it for you. Most markets selling coconuts have electric graters. Then you can squeeze out the milk at home. Often, with fresh coconut milk, the problem is shelf life. Even if kept in the refrigerator, coconut milk may spoil in just 3-4 days. However, if you pasteurise it, it will last much longer. Mine lasts for about 10 days, sometimes much longer. I use a quick pasteurisation process: put coconut milk in a stainless steel pot, heat gently to around 70-80 degrees Celsius, below simmering, for about 15-20 seconds. This process will destroy pathogens and spoilage organisms. And that’s it! But don’t let the coconut milk boil. All you really need to do is warm it up to below simmering temperature. But since pasteurisation is not sterilisation, you will need to refrigerate the coconut milk after pasteurisation.
Number 3’s Fifth Parity Serviced by Pinky Boar March 1, 2019 Farrowed June 25, 2019
May 29, Number 3 was transferred to the Maternity Pen. She ate plenty of pineapples. She looked happy and comfortable. By evening, she started that characteristic grunting sound, as if calling piglets to suckle. This could be a sign of hormonal changes.
June 7, Number 3 was given an anthelmintic (Levamisole Hcl).
June 8, Number 3’s vulva was swollen. She had this problem several times before but not this close to farrowing. I notice that she never had this problem during lactating. I wonder if this was a sign of hormonal problems or more serious health/reproductive problem. The vulva becomes swollen and there is bleeding. Often, a boil or pustule is visible which becomes enlarged and bursts, reducing in size. However, this time, if there was a boil, it was discharging from the inside. The discharge was a mix of blood and clear liquid. I often use Hexa-mide cream (Hexachlorophene Sulfanilamide) which clears the wound, swelling and irritation.
June 17, Number 3’s vulva looked normal and no discharge visible.
June 24, nest building started at 5:30PM.
June 25, Number 3 was given her usual feed at 6AM and 4PM while she continued nest-building. She started farrowing at around 9PM. Number 3 gave birth to a small litter of 7 piglets.
June 30, Number 3 accidentally stepped on a piglet and killed it. The accident was at the trough where the ground gets wet, slippery and very hard. That area needs to be re-designed.
Observations: The small litter size is probably due to the condition of the boar. I decided to reduce the boar’s daily feed to reduce his weight. Unfortunately, this actually meant he wasn’t as strong and agile and thus kept falling off the sow during mating. When I started giving the boar the usual feed, he was much better. We didn’t need to cut piglets’ teeth. Perhaps because of the small number of piglets, although there was fighting at the teats, it wasn’t aggressive enough to upset the sow and disrupt suckling. Piglets were weaned at 35 days.
We also noticed that the fan seemed to affect the piglets. Since the fan was directed towards the center of the pen, the piglets stayed away from it and instead stayed in the creep space which was not reached by the force of the fan. So the fan seemed also a good way of guiding piglets away from certain areas, reducing the risk of laying over or crushing by the sow.
Gestation 111 Days.
Serviced by Pinky Boar on November 10, 2018.
Farrowed March 1, 2019.
Electric Fan Installed in Maternity Pen
To reduce heat stress, we decided to install an electric fan in the maternity pen.
We transferred Auntie Brownie to the Maternity Pen at around 3 weeks before farrowing. I turned on the electric fan to test at 10:00AM while Auntie Brownie was busy drinking at the trough. She stopped drinking and looked up at the fan. All day, she avoided the fan and rested near the gate of the pen. However, by 5PM, she got used to the fan and slept right next to the creep space where the fan was directed. A tarpaulin was installed along the south side of the pen to provide shade from the heat of the winter sun.
By 107 days gestation, Auntie Brownie’s teats looked bigger. She also made louder grunting noises while resting, as if calling piglets to suckle. When she was feeling hot, she would point her nose to the fan, so I turn it on.
Sow’s Mothering Instincts
Two weeks before farrowing, Auntie Brownie’s mothering instincts became more and more apparent. She made grunting sounds prior to lying down, she was more alert and suspicious of sounds and movement in the environment, she shredded dry coconut leaves as if they were nesting material (our sows’ preferred nesting material are dry banana leaves), she pawed the ground prior to lying down, etc.
Twitching Leg of Sow
I noticed that while asleep or resting, Auntie Brownie’s rear leg twitched. This happened several times. I’ve associated this with uterine contraction and hope that it is not a sign of chronic reproductive illness.
Farrowing Day March 1, 2019 Friday
It rained in the early morning, so it was cool, a bit humid. Nest building started at 2:35PM. I’ve added Amovet (Amoxicillin Trihydrate) to Auntie Brownie’s drinking water to help ease the effects of MMA (infection). She ate some feed, some nesting material and 4 chicken eggs in the morning. She lay in the nest. She started farrowing some 6 hours later. I didn’t go near the pen, I just stayed in the house where I could look into the pen, some 20 or so feet away. We have a non-intervention policy during farrowing.
At 8:53PM Auntie Brownie adjusted her position on the nest a few times. She seemed to be in early labor. I could smell blood all of a sudden and knew that she has farrowed. Pinky Boar, housed some 25 feet away, responded with his typical ‘huh’ vocalisation. Pinky Boar always responds when farrowing begins.
At 9:13PM I could see movement in the nest. I could hear piglets fighting. Auntie Brownie chose to farrow along the lower south side of the pen, her teats facing the wall. Because of the fighting, Auntie Brownie got upset and rose, moved nesting material and I could see active piglets underneath her. She lay down and piglets squealed. Pinky Boar responded to the squealing.
March 2,2019 Saturday
9:00AM Observation: A very active litter of piglets. I am not yet sure how many piglets there are. Auntie Brownie nurses frequently, in 30 minute intervals, sometimes shorter. This is an advantage since she seems to have a large litter. I could see 10 live piglets and 2 dead ones. I had the fan on at 9:45AM. By 10AM, the piglets sleep away from the mother. There is fighting at the teats and the mother growls at times. When the mother gets upset, she lies on her teats to prevent the piglets from suckling.
At 5PM, 4 dead piglets collected from the pen. It was not clear whether they were stillborn or born alive and laid on by the mother. 12 live piglets observed.
March 3, 2019 Sunday
2:40AM I got woken up by the sound of a piglet crying. The black and white piglet had gone out through the escape hatch and couldn’t find its way back into the pen. I opened the pen gate and let the piglet in. This piglet remained the most adventurous in the litter.
6:30AM A dead piglet found in the nest, apparently laid over by the mother.
2:00PM A small piglet got caught between the mother’s legs after nursing. It was a very weak piglet that had difficulty finding its teat. It was fighting through its sibling at the back teats. The mother seemed aware that she was crushing a piglet between her legs and did not move. The mother had to be encouraged to move so the piglet could be rescued. We decided to hand-rear the piglet because leaving it with the sow and litter-mates will almost certainly kill it.
Another small and weak piglet was observed. We decided to let it stay with the mother for the next 12 hours and see if its performance improves. Otherwise, we will hand-rear it.
Several times, Auntie Brownie got hurt nursing. She growled and got up. So we decided to cut piglets’ teeth.
Teeth-clipping quickly done at 3PM. At the same time, iron drops were given to all the piglets. Teeth clipping made nursing events much more peaceful.
I am disappointed that we still haven’t solved the problem of the sow getting hurt by piglets’ needle teeth during nursing, a problem we didn’t need to deal with in our first parity. I thought that managing MMA early and providing a fan to reduce heat stress would solve this problem. But it hasn’t.
March 4, 2019 Monday
6:25AM Found a dead piglet, a large black and white male. This wasn’t the weak piglet observed yesterday. It seems that crushing is quite random, until the optimal number of piglets are left. In our sows’ case and history, we learn that this is 8 piglets. There are 9 piglets left with the sow, so we will definitely need to remove a piglet from the litter and hand-rear it (we already have one piglet in our care and she is doing well). In retrospect, we should’ve done this yesterday, which might have arrested today’s crushing incident.
4:00PM During feeding, while Auntie Brownie is busy eating, I took away the weakest and smallest piglet in the litter, leaving 8 piglets for the sow. There are 2 piglets in foster care now, which is better since they motivate better feeding through competition and they keep each other warm during the cold evenings.
Now 3 days old, the piglets have discovered the escape hatch and have been exploring the soil and vegetation in ‘The Restaurant.’ Piglets fight over teats much less now and nursing events are peaceful and successful. Temperature ranges are very comfortable for the piglets, boar and sow, but not so for lactating sows. The electric fan helps in this regard.
March 7-9, 2019 Thursday-Saturday
This is Day 6-9 from farrowing and Auntie Brownie is lethargic and irritable perhaps because effect of antibiotic has worn off (she was given Amovet for 4 days). Amovet recommends 3-5 days for pigs.
March 16, 2019 Sunday
A (Non-Fatal) Crushing Incident
Hot and somewhat humid day because of rain at 1PM. After afternoon feeding, I gave banana leaves to Auntie Brownie and she started eating it with her piglets. I walked off to give water to Pinky Boar and Sow Number 3 when I suddenly heard Auntie Brownie grunting (nursing). I thought this was too soon when she was just eating banana leaves with her piglets. So I had a look, piglets were nursing. I counted only 7 piglets so I looked where the 8th was and found it. Its head and front legs were buried under Auntie Brownie’s backside. I managed to get Auntie Brownie to get up but the piglet wasn’t breathing. I hit the piglet a few times with a broom (made of the fine midrib of dry coconut leaves) and after a couple of seconds, it woke up and jumped. It walked away dazed, frightened. After an hour or so, it looked better and joined the litter fighting over teats.
This crushing event was very disheartening. This was a 15-day old piglet, a rather large piglet, which could’ve been killed. I suspect these types of incidents have taken place before, but the sow got up after several minutes (for example, after nursing which takes 2-4 minutes). The chances of a piglet being able to breath again after being crushed (suffocated) for several minutes is quite high. But a weaker piglet could’ve been killed. I must’ve noticed this pattern before because I always look whenever I hear the sow nursing.
March 28, 2019 Tuesday
Day 27. Auntie Brownie still has this intermittent trembling/twitching leg syndrome while sleeping or lying on her side. I wonder if this is a sign of reproductive disorder or other? She has no other obvious symptoms.
April 7, 2019 Sunday – Piglets are 36 days old. We separated Auntie Brownie from the piglets. Auntie Brownie growls a bit and paces back and forth her pen whenever the piglets call for milk. By April 9, she no longer does this; she rests better and rests quietly. Her only distress is the build-up of milk in her teats, thus we feed sows much less when weaning so there is lesser milk production.
April 11, 2019 Thursday
Auntie Brownie is back in heat. We don’t mate our sows immediately after weaning. We usually wait till 2-3 more cycles, when the sow is in better body condition.
Update on the Hand-Reared Piglets
The two female piglets were 2 and 3 days old when collected for hand-rearing. The first piglet had milk scour at 7 days of age for about 4 days. Perhaps because of the cold evenings (23-24 degrees C). I provide hot water bottles for them to lie on at night.
Piglets are given foster milk every 2-3 hours. For the first 4 days, a small prescribed amount of Amovet was added to their milk. Once a day, the milk is mixed with egg and a small amount of citric acid to acidify the stomach and discourage bacteria colonisation.
I started adding piglet feed to the milk at 6-7 days of age. I dissolve the pellets in the milk and the piglets readily consume that. By 2-3 weeks of age, piglets are fed every 4 hours. They eat solid food by 2 weeks They are also given fresh leaves to eat, ripe bananas and papaya When their siblings are weaned, the hand-reared piglets are placed in the pen to root in the soil. The 2 hand-reared piglets are smaller than their litter-mates but they are active and eating well. I’m very happy that we’re successful in hand-rearing piglets this time, unlike our depressing failure in May 2015, mainly due to lack of experience and reliance on unsuitable information from others.
Below are videos of the two piglets we hand-reared.