Friday, December 14, 2012

Things We Learned From the Latest Farrowing

First off, a little catch up.

Our piggery currently consists of 5 finished pens housing 18 pigs of various ages. It sounds like a lot, and it certainly is, although 13 of them are new piglets.

Hammy, who weighs in at 180 pounds, will be filling our freezer soon.

His sister, Freckles, is 170 pounds and almost old enough to breed, but we may just sell her instead.

Penelope is our other gilt. She has come into heat once, so she'll likely be bred soon... or we may sell her too. She weighs 245 pounds and is cousin to the other two. She's a little older, and therefor a little bigger than they are. (Sorry, no pic of Penelope at present.)

Big Mama and Spot were both bred last August and just recently they each had their second litters. Recently... as in November 26th and 28th, respectively.

Okay, now for the lessons we learned from this last farrowing.

1. Don't do the AI too early (or too late). We think this is what happened with Spot, as she had only 5 piglets. Seeing that this was her second litter, we expected many more than that. On the other hand, they're sure growing fast without much competition for milk.

2. Don't breed the sows at the same time. It makes for a heck of a lot of work at farrowing time and hardly any sleep for us. Mike says the reason he did it this way was to pay less for the shipping of the semen, and for the potential cross-fostering of the piglets. Unfortunately, because they ended up having their litters 2 days apart, the cross-fostering thing didn't work out. (We tried.) It works best to do this within the first 24 hours or so.

3. NO fresh wood chips. We thought we were doing a favor to prep the pens for birthing by giving them a nice clean layer of fresh chips. WRONG! Warm, wet wood chips that haven't yet been inoculated with IMO's harbor the bacteria that causes mastitis. We learned this the hard way. Both our girls, one after the other, got sick with high fever, inflamed udders, loss of appetite. They just lay in misery, ignoring their piglets because they were so out of it with fever. Mike had to go out to the barn every hour, night and day, to prod them until they rolled over to nurse their piglets. Sadly, Spot lost one of her piglets during this time. Mastitis is serious stuff. We had to give the sows penicillin injections, spray them and their pens with lacto, spread IMO4 all over the bedding like crazy... and in a few days they were back on their feet, eating, and nursing well again - thank goodness!

4. Don't wait too long to assist birthing. I think we could have possibly saved a couple of Big Mama's piglets if we had gone in to assist sooner than we did. She would have had 12, but 2 were born dead. Next time, we won't wait as long.

5. Restrict feed on the due date. Pigs are reliably prompt with their due date. We did give Big Mama less feed that morning, but apparently, it was still too much. Poor Mama was throwing up with every contraction. Since Spot was a couple days later, she benefited from her sister's experience and got less feed on her due date. That seemed to help.

All in all, we are a little disappointed in having only 15 piglets born. Since it was the second litters for these sows, we thought there would be more. But we can see where circumstances may have contributed to the lower birth and survival rates, and will correct them for next time. I should mention, we lost one more piglet to internal injuries due to being stepped on, poor little thing. Thus, there are 13 piglets left to sell at weaning time.

Still, all thirteen piglets are thriving under the excellent attentiveness of their mothers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Second Litter of the Season

The waiting time is over!  Spot had her babies last week.  Eight more healthy piglets!  This time it was 7 males and 1 female, just the opposite of Big Mama's litter.  The birthing went well.  Spot was restless at first but after a while she finally just lay down.  Only two required a little help from us.  We sprinkled extra IMO in between babies to help keep the flies down.  The whole thing only lasted about 5 hours.  Way to go, Spot!

These were from a Hampshire-Yorkshire cross boar, so two of the piglets are mostly black, with white forefeet.

Mama Spot and all eight piglets are doing really well.  Looks like we finally have the good mothering instincts we were looking for.  We will keep two of the gilts from the first litter to increase our breeding stock.  The rest of the piglets will be sold off at weaning time, at about 6 weeks of age.  This means that the first litter is ready to go now, and many of them have already been picked up and headed off to their new homes.  These little new ones will be ready in another 5 weeks.  It's amazing how fast they grow!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Announcing the Second Generation Natural Farmed Pigs!

The piglets are here! Eight healthy piglets were farrowed May 16, 2012 by our sow Big Girl. (Those who have read past posts may recall that Big Girl was born here last year, on the 4th of July, in the first ever litter of NF pigs!)

Farrowing began at 1:35pm and continued all afternoon until about 7:00pm. After the first five, there was a pause of an hour or so before the other three came out. The placentas were all delivered easily and buried with a sprinkling of IMO4. No smell, no flies!

This litter has 7 females and only 1 male, so we won't have to do any castration this time. Normally, we would do this at 7-10 days old.

Big Girl, now Big Mama, is an excellent mother with her natural instincts intact and an ample milk supply. We couldn't be more pleased about that! All the piglets are thriving, even without heat lamps or creep area. There is enough room for mother and babies in the pen, and Mama is responsive to the babies so no worry about her squishing them.

Big Mama's appetite came back the next morning, and she is now getting extra feed to accommodate her extra nutritional and caloric needs during lactation. We divide her feed so she gets her usual amount in the mornings and an extra feeding in late afternoon. She has been sprayed with LAB a couple times to help prevent disease. We don't give inoculations, but rather, let the IMO's keep the animals healthy. The entire pen was sprinkled with IMO4 and sprayed with LAB, both before and after the birth. So far, so good. All the piggies are healthy and thriving!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Almost Time!

Found this useful chart and thought I'd post it here for reference. It's from Purdue University, and though the photo at the top of their page is just about the opposite of our Natural Farming methods, there is valuable information about farrowing well worth saving and sharing. 
(The link is below chart.)

Big Girl is showing many of these signs already... about to the middle of the list. Won't be long now!

Approximate time before delivery
Sow characteristics/ behavior
0-10 days
Mammary glands enlarge and become firm
0-10 days
Swelling of the vulval lips
2 days
Mammary glands become turgid and tense and secrete a clear fluid
12-24 hours
Mammary glands begin to secrete milk
12-24 hours
Overall restlessness, nesting behavior
6 hours
Abundant milk secretion
30 minutes-4 hours
Increased respiration
15-60 minutes
Sow quiets and lies down on her side
30-90 minutes
Straining, passage of blood tinged, oily fluid and meconium ( fetal feces)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Time to Catch Up, Part 2: The Pigs

Our original two sows, Lola & Suey, made delicious additions to our freezer and our diet. Not being one to waste food, or a life, I have learned to make use of as much of the animals as possible. I make bacon with the belly meat, render beautiful healthy lard, and we've ground some of the meat into breakfast sausage. Pig trotters make a lovely addition to stew and broth... but I have yet to tackle head cheese. There are a few other choice bits still in the freezer, for future use. The bones, after being boiled for nutritive bone broth, are picked clean by the chickens, then charred to make Water-soluble Calcium Phosphate, one of our Natural Farming inputs.

Last fall, we had a big mahalo lu'au to thank everyone who helped us get started on our pig-raising venture. Hulihuli was delicious!

We kept Suey's two biggest daughters, Big Girl & Spot. They have both been bred via artificial insemination. We've been using semen from the boars at UH-Hilo's Panaewa research farm. Big Girl is due next week! Spot has another 6 weeks to go. We keep getting asked how long a pig's gestation period is. The answer is a fun one to say: 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days.

You can read about the pen preparation in the previous post. Here, I will tell about what we are currently feeding our pigs. Every morning, each sow gets 4-1/2 lbs commercial pig feed. (NOTE: This is why we are working so hard on raising our own crops, to replace this commercial feed and still maintain the proper protein, amino acids, and nutrient levels. We're getting there, but not there yet. Mostly, we're waiting for the plants to grow bigger, and of course, planting more crops.) To this feed, we add a handful of IMO4. They also get at least 1-2 lbs of fresh greens -- honohono grass is a current favorite, or whatever else we gather that morning. And they get a half a coconut each. Sometimes, later in the day, as a treat, there is papaya, avocado, kabocha, or whatever might be in abundance. We don't feed these fruits and vegetables exclusively though, as many hereabouts do, because pigs need protein and fats to really thrive, and that's what we're aiming for -- their long term health.

When the sows start nursing, their diet will change to accommodate their increased needs to ensure a good milk supply. Their feed increases to 5-6 lbs commercial feed each, plus another 1/2 lb per piglet she's nursing. More greens will be added, too.

 When Big Girl lays down these days, we can see the babies inside moving around! It's so amazing! Her teats are getting huge and all the signs of birthing preparation are beginning to show. But she has yet to begin digging her nest, so we have a little time still. I'll let you know when the piglets are born. Won't be long now!

Time to Catch Up, Part 1: The Piggery

The piggery is almost complete: only one pen left to fill.

The other pens could use a topping off since they have settled a bit due to decomposition. The IMO's are proliferating to the point where we hardly have to add them to the pens any more. We do add a small handful of IMO4 to the pigs' feed each day, to keep them healthy and with the added benefit that it makes their poops break down super fast. Hence, no bad smell!

You can see by the above photos that we added about a foot of wood chips to top off the sows' pens a while back. We wanted to make sure the pen was well-inoculated before birthing begins, so we did a one-time sprinkling of IMO4 and sprayed the surface with Soil Prep Solution. We also added LAB (lactic acid bacteria) to make sure there would be a proliferation of beneficial bacteria before the piglets are born.

Other than that, the daily pen maintenance consists of simply raking smooth the soil, and once in a while, picking up any extra coconut husks that didn't get shredded. Mostly, we just get to hang out with the girls and give them pets and attention, which they absolutely love!

We have hosted many groups who want to learn more about Korean Natural Farming, and want to see it in action here in Hawaii. Some of the officials we visited in South Korea returned the favor and visited us last October.

Several classes from UH-Hilo have come through, as well as individuals and smaller groups from all over the world. Many of our vacation rental guests have chosen to stay with us specifically because of their interest in Natural Farming, and the opportunity to see it first hand.

And some young friends opted to help us with planting 4 Samoan ulu (breadfruit) trees to increase our capacity to produce our own food, both for our animals and for ourselves.  Mahalo nui to all who have helped us come this far!