Monday, September 7, 2015

What?! No Piglets?

Seems like we learn something new with each new litter.

Miss Pinky Pie went through her pregnancy just fine. She created her nest, her water broke, labor began... but she had NO piglets!
Not even days later.
Not even dead ones.
There was a slight brownish discharge at one point, but that was all. She acted like she was all done with the whole thing, and a week later she came back into heat.

Weirdest thing we'd ever been through. What the heck had happened??

At first it seemed like it might have been caused by Porcine Parvo Virus, but thank goodness it wasn't that! The symptoms didn't quite fit for this common disease. Most piggeries worldwide, large and small, have exposure to Porcine Parvo - think of it like chicken pox (before we all got so freaked out by this common childhood virus) : you get it, you're done and most likely have lifetime immunity. If she had contracted this disease for the first time right after she was bred, either impregnation wouldn't have happened, or there would have been dead piglets at various stages of development. So, not Parvo - what then?

One telling clue was that her milk never did come in, so something hormonal must have been off. Once we started looking into various causes of false pregnancy in pigs, it became clear that the length of her cycle being a week longer than normal was another clue.

That's when things started lining up that it was "F2 Toxin Fungal Poisoning" that caused her to lose the litter in vitro. This F2 toxin is actually Zearalenone which is produced by Fusarium Graminearum, a fungus which is commonly found on grains worldwide: wheat, barley, rice, corn, etc, as well as soybeans. Again, this fungus is one of those things that's just out there, worldwide, all the time.

Normally, the presence of Fusarium isn't going to be too much of a problem. It's unavoidable, anyway. But when we ferment our grains overnight (to break down the phytic acid and thus make more of the nutrition available), it allows the fungus to proliferate which of course increases the amount of Zearalenone toxin.

Zearalenone toxin acts as a megadose of estrogen. (In fact, it is used in the treatment of breast cancer and hormone replacement therapies in humans.) Which explains Miss Pinky Pie's symptoms: longer cycles, false pregnancy to term but with no piglets and no milk production. It's interesting to note that, since we've been feeding this same mix to Mr Red, our young uncut male, it explains his lack of libido, so much so that he doesn't even notice when the sow in the next pen is in heat!

Using Korean Natural Farming inputs (IMO4, LAB, and OHN) during fermentation seems to have some kind of counter-balancing effect, either by introducing enough good bacteria that it overpowers the harmful Fusarium... or perhaps the good stuff actually breaks down the Zearalenone. Without expensive laboratory testing, we cannot know for sure just what is happening, but it sure seems to do the trick. We will definitely be adding these inputs every single time in future.

We had planned on keeping a couple of the gilts from this litter to continue our breeding program and the bloodlines we'd been working on since beginning our piggery... but alas, no piglets means the end of an era for us.

Mr Red was raised to fill our freezer. Now Miss Pinky Pie will join him. (This was her second chance; remember When Mama Sow Rejects Her Piglets? She's just been too hard to work with.) So, we'll get a bit of a break while we reconfigure the pens and prepare to start over with new wean-offs. Oh yes, we will begin again!

Stay tuned - we're not done yet!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mr Red

Remember that cute little red-brown piglet from our February litter? The litter with such a traumatic birth experience?

Well, four months later, he's still a cutie, but a LOT bigger! We're raising him up to fill our freezer. In a couple more months he'll be ready and at that time he should weigh about 200 pounds.

As you can see from the bedding in these photos, Red has been eating lots of coconut and sugarcane. The parts that don't get eaten (the husks and bagasse) become part of the bedding, full of IMO4, and they will break down eventually. If the coconut husks build up too much, we'll remove them. They are perfect to use as the substrate in another pen, or for mulch around the banana or 'ulu trees.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Update on Pinky's Piglets - - Piglets For Sale!

After such a troublesome beginning, we are so very pleased to announce that all 10 of Miss Pinky Pie's piglets have survived their piglethood! At five weeks old, they are just about ready for weaning. Pinky has turned out to be an outstanding mama-sow and it shows in her strong and sturdy offspring.

This litter is our fourth generation born and bred with Korean Natural Farming methods. We use all organic non-gmo feeds for optimum health in our animals (and ourselves!), as well as organic greens, sugarcane, coconuts, bananas, etc to add variety and nutrients to their diet.

The piglets weigh in between 30-35 pounds and will be ready to sell by next weekend (March 21st). There are 4 males and 5 females available. The price is $150 each.

The males have not been castrated. Both males and females would make excellent breedstock. These piglets are mostly Landrace, with some Berkshire, Hampshire, and a little Duroc on the maternal side. The boar semen we used came from UH-Hilo's Panaewa farm.

If you are interested in some of the best domestic pig available on the Big Island, natural-farmed all the way, healthy and strong and of good conformity, be sure to contact us asap.
You can send an email to <mike at myhawaiianrental dot com> .

Sunday, February 15, 2015

When Mama-Sow Refuses Her Piglets...

Pinky Pie was due to farrow on the 7th. Her due date came and went. On the evening of the 9th, she finally began to show signs of early labor: nesting, contractions, loss of appetite, swollen pink vulva, and a little milk could be expressed from her teats. We were ready and excited that it was finally happening. Mike checked in on her at bedtime and decided it would be a few hours yet. He set his alarm for two hours and we tried to get a little sleep.

At midnight, he woke me with the news that Pinky was deep in labor. I dressed quickly and walked out to the piggery just in time to see one piglet already born and the second on the way. Mike was in the pen to assist with making sure the sacs broke away from the newborn's nose and to give mama a few comforting scratches now and then. This very minimal assistance is our usual mode of attending birth.

Suddenly something snapped in Pinky's brain. One piglet made a little squeal when Mike wiped its snout. Pinky jumped up and turned on him, driving him to the edge of the pen. Then she turned on her babies and attacked them with bites and stomps. It was horrifying.

The rest of the farrowing - from just after midnight until 4:30am - she was very restless, anxious, and aggressive toward her piglets. As each one was born, we'd hoped that her mothering instincts would kick in and she'd start taking care of her little ones. But instead, she'd turn to attack each one, biting and stomping and driving it away. Mike had to go into the pen with a shield of sorts (a piece of plywood) to retrieve each piglet and bring it to safety, away from mama.

There were ten piglets in all. They were safe for the time being, in a makeshift "nursery" pen. Pinky still would not accept them at all. Interestingly, she kept burrowing her head into the bedding of her pen. We'd noticed in the past that our pigs do this when they are not feeling well - the IMOs in there help them get better. Obviously, Pinky was in some distress.

But our main concern right now was that those piglets needed the colostrum (the "first milk" that isn't really milk but is full of antibodies) from mama-sow in order to survive, and there was a time limit to get it to them... somehow. But how? While allowing Pinky an hour to sleep and rest - maybe she would feel better with a little recuperation time? - we frantically looked online for information about this problem that we had never experienced with any of our previous sows and were totally unprepared for.

Later, after dawn, we started making phone calls: to the Agriculture Extension agent we often work with... to a pig farmer friend with more experience... and to the State Department of Agriculture veterinarian. While they each sympathized with our plight, it was the latter, Dr Kim Kozuma, who gave us the information that finally worked.

Things we tried:
Letting mama-sow rest an hour without her piglets "bothering" her;
Four bottles of good beer, mixed with some feed, in hopes of mellowing her mood and to help stimulate milk production (since she wasn't letting the piglets do this by suckling);
Soothing belly rubs (with a 4-foot stick - no way were we going into that pen again until she settled down!);
Moved her to a different pen, so she wouldn't feel like the piglets were "invading her territory"...

Nothing was working, and the piglets were not jostling each other with as much enthusiasm as before. They were dozing more and more. We were running out of time. At this point, we felt at risk of losing the entire litter.

Desperate enough to try anything, we took Dr Kim's suggestion and built a sort of "nursing crate" to restrain and restrict the sow's movements. We coaxed her into the chute (you cannot make a 500-pound sow do anything - you have to convince her she wants to do it) with coconut pieces and eggs, two of her favorite treats. Once she was in, we slid boards behind her so she couldn't back out of the space. She didn't like it one bit - this is a pig who has never been confined - and it took her a while to settle down. She did have access to water the whole time she was in there.

About an hour later, she finally lay down - more boards were placed to keep her from rising again - but she was on her belly. It took another hour to coax her over to her side. At that point, finally finally, her babies could safely nurse, five at a time since there wasn't enough room for her to turn far enough to expose all the nipples.

Pinky growled at first, but seemed to settle down fairly quickly. Maybe that beer had finally kicked in. Even better, the hormone oxytocin is released with nursing. That's the one associated with tender mothering feelings (also with strong uterine contractions; another placenta was released during this nursing session). Dr Kim had suggested that once the oxytocin flooded her system, Pinky might turn into a good mother after all, since that has been one of the main traits we'd been breeding towards. And she was right! Once these little piglets got their fill, we marked the tops of their heads and placed them back in the nursery pen.

Pigs don't nurse on demand like many mammals. They can only let down their milk once every hour , and then only for about a minute. All the suckling that happens before and after helps stimulate milk production, but the babies aren't getting more than a few drops until the milk lets down. A trained ear will hear the difference in the sow's grunts and you can see the piglets stop jostling each other and concentrate on sucking hard while the milk is flowing. Then, just like that, it's all over until the next session an hour later.

So, an hour later, the other five piglets got their turn at the life-sustaining colostrum. After that, we brought all the babies over. Pinky was allowing them to climb all over her head and face which is important for bonding. We carefully removed the restraining boards... then one side of the confinement pen, so that mama could once again move freely.

Happy pig family at last, and a chicken visitor come to pay her respects!

At 3:00pm we finally got a chance to breathe our sighs of relief and exhaustion, still mixed with some apprehension as to whether or not this was all going to work out. At least we knew we had tried every single thing possible. (There are some veterinarian drugs that might have helped. We tried to get some, but they were not available on the island at the time.)

I am so relieved to report that this story has a happy ending. For quite a while there, we weren't sure if it would. After such a harrowing start, Miss Pinky Pie has become a careful and attentive mama-sow. She has not lost a single piglet yet - so far, all ten are still alive. Of course, they are the cutest things ever!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Miss Pinky Pie

Representing the third generation of pigs born and raised on our farm, is Miss Pinky Pie (our grand-daughter named her).  Her first litter is due this weekend.

We tried breeding her earlier, but Hurricane Iselle dropped in just a couple days after - we think the stress of that caused her to not "take". The next heat cycle came, and so did the lava flow - this time we were too stressed. So, she's quite a bit older than we usually aim for with a first litter.

Pinky has all the characteristics we've been working towards: good size and conformation, sweet temperament, excellent instincts... and her siblings made some mighty fine meat pigs. Won't be long now when we get to see how Pinkie does as a mama-sow.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Taking a Break

You may have noticed a dearth of posts lately. Well, we're taking a break, as much as one can with a farm to run. In the meantime, we've actually been quite busy. Read on to see some of what has been occupying our time these past few months.

There have been several farm tours, some of them quite good-sized groups. That's always fun for us and we often make contacts that keep in touch afterwards. We get quite a few customers that way as well. But the main purpose of the tours is to disseminate information about Natural Farming and tropical feed crops, and to give folks a chance to see it all in action.

We're waiting for Pinky to mature enough for breeding. She is from the third generation born at Hubbell's Hog Heaven. She has just come into heat again, so next time we will try to catch her on time and get her bred.

We've learned how to slaughter and butcher our own pigs so we no longer need to transport them to Hilo for that. There were two main reasons for us taking this step. One, it allows us to be sure we are getting back our own quality meat. And two, we can be sure the animal is not traumatized just before (or during) slaughter. They get to stay in their own familiar surroundings the entire time. Truly, it is more traumatic for us than for them! So, we have been reducing the herd by culling the older mama-sows and turning the remaining meat pigs into some of the most delicious, nutritious pork you have ever tasted.

Another thing that has been taking a lot of our energy and focus lately is the acquisition of a larger piece of land. This is going to allow us to expand into pastured beef, pork, and chickens. The land was once an old homestead and a banana plantation, but has been neglected for many years. We will be using cattle and pigs to help bring the land back into productivity and health. We plan on utilizing the mob grazing technique of Integrated Pasture Management while still incorporating Korean Natural Farming methods, this time in an open space rather than in an enclosed area. In our minds we can see this marriage of ideas working well, and we are willing to test our theories in the real world. It will be a little while yet before we can get the cattle - still working on perimeter fencing... then cross-fencing... then cattle.

Two more meat pigs to go... We'll be doing them in pretty soon. They sell for $5 a pound liveweight, and weigh about 300 pounds. Yes, we know it comes to a lot of money all at once, but for quality organic non-gmo pork, it's a bargain! And they are delicious!

We also sell roasts and stew meat for $7.50/lb, bulk breakfast sausage for $8/lb, cured and smoked bacon (very limited supply) for $9.50/lb. We have some other assorted bits for varying (lower) prices: big meaty soup bones ($3/lb), half heads, pigfeet, fat for rendering lard.

And, there's the other aspect of our farming business that's not usually mentioned here on the "Pig Blog": Liz's Happy Hens and the lovely organic non-gmo eggs they lay.

Honestly, there is never a dull moment on the farm, regardless of whether things get posted here or not!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Front Page!

A couple weeks ago we had a couple visitors to the farm who write for the Big Island Weekly, a local newspaper. They took lots of notes and a few photos... and well, here is the resulting article:

Nice, huh? We even made the cover, or rather our chickens did! The other woman mentioned in the article is a fellow longtime Natural Farmer in the area. We got some of our first sugarcane and bananas from them. If you are on-island, I encourage you to take Jackie's classes (mentioned in the article) - you will learn a lot and have some real hands-on experience to take back to your own farm or garden.

It's always nice to be noticed for the good we do, and even nicer that Natural Farming is catching on in a big way on the Big Island!