Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Honky Needs a Job

entente cordiale with the dogs
Honky Tonk is a 5 week old piglet who was rejected by her mother at birth. She then developed scour and had to be nursed back to health for the first 3 weeks of her life. She had to re-learn how to walk. She had been immobile for so long she seemed paralysed and at first I thought she had had a stroke due to dehydration. But slowly she recovered beginning to push herself up into a sitting position for her bottle. Then she began to stand on all four very wobbly legs, usually with temper when I washed her. Then she staggered a few paces towards her bottle.

Sitting up for her bottle

Outside completely helpless

Her first steps towards her bottle
She learned that the ping of the microwave means food
She soon rejected her piglet bed in my sun porch deciding she was more comfortable stretched in front of the stove in one of the dog's beds. Gradually I got her moved out into the kitchen with the dogs and then out into the downstairs bathroom. Mopping up the inevitable every morning was becoming very wearing. I tried to put her out in the makeshift run with her siblings during the day but they bullied her unmercilessly. Then I allowed them outside their run with some electric fencing but she just darted under the fence to get away from them.

Loubie Lou not impressed at her taking her bed
Last night as her siblings had been moved, she slept outside in their house in their run alone but with her dog bed and blankets on a big bed of straw. I went out to check her and she was warm and snug. Success but then when I opened the run she was straight up to the patio doors demanding to be let in, honking loudly. When she comes in she greets the weird cat and each dog individually with a quacking noise that we have come to realise is her "happy" sound. She tries out each of their beds individually, evicting them as she decides which bed she will settle in. Then she sleeps off her morning bottle for a couple of hours.

Honking to be let in with a mucky snout
An expert at making herself cosy
Now here is the thing. Honky needs a job. Honky will not become rashers and sausages. I couldn't bear to sell her or slaughter her. I could breed from her but our boar is her daddy and I have no intentions of feeding another boar. She needs to earn her keep.

Honky is used to dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, children and adults. She thinks she is one of the dogs. She robs their nuts out of their bowl when she thinks I'm not looking. She robs the chicken food. She knows her name and comes when she is called. If you lock her out one door she goes to the other.

Robbing chicken food as chickens look on

So come on anyone? A job for Honky? Film, TV, advertising, education.........

Can a piglet join Equity?

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Ten and Honky Tonk

The Kells 12 are one month old today. The 12 are now sadly 11. Well 10 and Honky Tonk. (When my mother was a child her uncle when asked how many children he had always answered 9 and *Frankeen.)

I lost one little boy to the scourge that is scour. He literally melted in front of my eyes as he dehydrated and lost so much weight. I did my best to save him but despite rallying initially he just gave up. I was so sad because I have fed all of them from the day they were born and can tell them all apart and know their personalities.

I started them on solid food at two weeks old mixing organic chick starter with their milk. I couldn't get organic creep feed from my supplier despite them making loads of calls looking for it. The chick starter is 21% protein and it was what I used for the last litter. Initially they fell over it, walked in it, basically did everything but try to eat it. But then lo and behold on the second day the penny dropped. I am still giving them a bottle first thing in the morning and last thing at night because losing one so suddenly worried me. He had obviously not been eating although he had been having his milk in a bottle. I figured the last lot were with their mother eight weeks so it is no harm to keep it up. It actually doesn't take long as they all gulp down a bottle in jig time almost sucking the bottle inside out. Now a few of them have got really heavy for lifting and holding I'm not sure how much longer I can keep it up.

The sick boy and Honky Tonk

Lady Hope aka Honky Tonk
Lady Hope now known as Honky Tonk because of her continual honking and also because when we commented on it one night, The Rolling Stones song of the same name just happened to come on the radio. She has recovered completely from scour and is back walking and running and generally terrorising every animal species in the place. I tried to put her back in with the others but they bullied her. She refuses to eat solid food and has a melt down if she doesn't get her food in a bottle. I reckon she's about 2 weeks behind the others so for now I am humouring her. Needless to say this is one little piggy who won't be going to market!

After feeding time they love to climb all over us
Oly loves to sit with me when I'm feeding them

The first born and biggest male

The one who lost her tail 
Honky Tonk makes herself cosy in the dog's bed
Long ago sows were put in farrowing crates in the belief that they lay on their piglets and squashed them to death. I'm sure this happened and also that plenty of sows rejected their piglets, but I hate the idea of pinning any animal into a crate. However, next time I intend to put her into the stable a couple of weeks before her litter is due. And if she rejects them, I will use a crate for a couple of weeks just to get them started. It's no joke trying to feed 12 piglets and cow's milk is for calves not piglets.

*Frankeen is the diminutive of Frank from Irish.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

What They Say

Courtesy of Marie McKenna
They said it couldn't be done.

When I was a child my mother met my teacher in the local supermarket. She told my mother I was an average student, I would never get more than 50% . I was in primary school. My mother came home and told me. I got thick. I got mad. I decided to prove her wrong.

I got oodles of advice about rejected piglets. I listened to it all. I did what I usually do and made my own mind up. To date this has served me well. I have 12 piglets alive and kicking but I'm not counting my piglets...... just yet.

The things I have learned.

1). If you suspect the sow is rejecting her piglets, she probably is.
2). Remove them and keep them warm.
3). Go get colostrum. Sheep, cow anything is better than nothing.
4). Cow's milk is lower in fat than pig's. I added a glug of cream initially.
5). Feed on demand for first week.
6). Don't listen to people who know about Landrace pigs (pig breed raised intensively).
7). Listen to old people who raised pigs long ago.
8.) Vets know little about pigs.
9.) Rare breed pigs can survive outdoors without a heat source. They just need shelter.
10.) Go with your gut feeling always.

For the first week you need to feed at night. After this feed as late as possible and they will go through the night. As they get older they reduce the number of feeds but they take more at each feed. They will get *scour (very watery diarrhoea). Watch out for it. Be ready to intervene if they show any signs of listnessless or sleeping while the others are jumping around. Remove affected piglet and make up a solution of 1 pint of warm water and add a teaspoon of sugar and salt. Syringe drops into piglet every half an hour. Have a sachet of Sulpha 2 from the vet on hand to dose just in case. Use the tip of a teaspoon and add to 100ml of water. Give 20 ml per 250ml bottle twice a day.

(*Scour can either be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. It can also just be caused because you are feeding them milk meant for a calf and they need time to adapt to it. The bacterial/viral one tends to be foul smelling. Don't panic. I did initially and when I saw them with it, I dosed the lot. I calmed down and just noted which one had it and watched them. Generally the next day they were back to normal. As long as they are drinking and active it won't do them any harm).

You will get very good at noticing piglet pooh!

Get them out onto soil as quickly as possible. They need to root and nudge in soil and they will even eat it. This prevents iron and B12 deficiency and helps combat scour. It also balances their intestinal flora. Try to keep their bedding area clean and dry.

If you have rejected piglets and you need advice feel free to contact me. I know from experience you are on your own. And don't listen to people who tell you it can't be done. It can, it just takes patience, and a lot of stubborness. And I am writing this from my own observations. I am not saying they are right. I am sure loads of intensive pig farmers will disagree with it. However, rare breed pigs are a very different type of pig. They are hardy and used to being outside and they have a thick coat of hair to keep them warm.

I am hoping to start weaning this week. I have ordered chick starter as I couldn't get any organic creep feed. I used this for the last lot and they thrived.

I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Pig Tales

Trying to squish into a dog bed in my sitting room

This day last week all hell broke loose. I had three pigs booked in to my local abattoir. I had arranged everything to run smoothly (so I thought). The trailer had been put in the field so they would get used to it. They were to be fed in it every day for a few days so they would not get stressed when the time came to load them up. Stressed pigs like all animals produce bad quality meat.

The first day the trailer was reversed in, I decided to walk up the ramp shaking a bucket to see what would happen. I was almost knocked over as the three of them scattered up the ramp. Job done. If I wanted them to load that fast they would have avoided it like the plague. Having said that, these pigs were bred here; they were used to people, machinery, noise, activity. So maybe it wasn't surprising. 

Well anyway, I went out that Monday morning, called them as usual. The three muskateers were already waiting as was their daddy, Laertes the boar. No sign of their mother, Lady Lavinia. I fed them and called the sow. I saw her come trundling into the field. She had a few mouthfuls and then allowed Laertes to bully her and take the rest. I watched her turn and waddle off. She was due on Wednesday, two days later. Something made me grab a bale of straw and follow her. When you are with animals all day long every day you develop an instinct. She went over to the hedge not towards her house. I walked slowly over, I could hear squeaking. She had given birth to two piglets in a nest she had made in the field. The day before it had rained incessantly and the grass walls she had built were sodden. The two little mites had managed to scramble over the edge and were tumbling around in the cold, confused and crying. I picked them up to move them over to their house thinking she would follow me. She did not. I stuffed a load of fresh straw into the house and put them in the middle so they would be warm and went back to the sow. I was all in a tiz, should I leave them in the house alone or move them back to her in the nest. I decided to move them back to the nest and I backed away.

She walked over to her nest and lay down. I left her alone as one started to suckle. A while later my son went out to check and came back to say she was over the other side of the field (luckily he wasn't working that day). I thought nothing of it as having been in labour myself knew it was easier to keep moving. He insisted she was rejecting her babies. From that on we were in and out as she moved between the house and her nest dropping piglets and moving on. Finally he came in distraught. She must have stood on a piglet and had almost dislocated it's tail at the base and it was hanging on by skin. The sharpest scissors in the house was a lethal little nail scissors which had to be used to remove the rest of the tail.

At this stage we decided to take the piglets in and keep them warm to give her space, get her head sorted and finish delivering. And we got loads and loads and loads of bloody advice. Do this. Do that. We were told lock her in the house with the piglets and she will calm down. We did this and hovered with baited breath thinking no squeals were good news. Then we heard monumental screaming. We ran out. She had bust out of the house leaving the piglets behind. The one who had had her tail dislocated had obviously been stood on and now had a deep slash across her shoulder. Cue a mad dash to the vet for stitching. That piece of advice cost me €60!

She delivered 12 in total. I was beside her as number 10 delivered. She did nothing. I had to grab the piglet and pull the amniotic fluid from her airways and rub her with grass to get her breathing, I even did the Call the Midwife thing of turning her upside down and gave her a tap on the back. Thank God for James Herriot, Countryfile and all the other programmes I have watched over the years.

Finally after trying to get her to sniff her babies and having her almost take my hand off we resigned ourselves to the fact that she had very firmly rejected them. Previous to this I had caught her trying to bite some of them in the nest and had to dive in and grab them. A big angry sow with big yellow teeth snapping at you is not for the faint hearted!

We got an old chest of drawers, cut the legs off it and stuffed it with straw. I dashed over to a my feed suppliers who rang their rep and asked what colostrum most resembled pig. At this point I realised I was on my own. Reps, feed suppliers, vets, farmers know NOTHING about pigs. Pigs are disposable. If you lose one you throw it in the skip and move on. They are cheap to produce, cheap to raise and they provide you the consumer with very, very cheap protein.

I bought sheep colostrum. I mixed up organic cows' milk with goats' milk and cream as none of the other mammals milk comes close in fat content to a sow's. I then realised to keep this up I would be broke. Organic cows' milk retails at 99 cent a litre, goats' at €2.75 a litre, I don't even know what cream is......

I just could not justify this financially so I went and asked a neighbouring dairy farmer could I buy milk from him. I am buying 9 litres a day, so buying it direct made way more sense.

I then had one little mite go down with scour. I had fed them all at lunch time and when I went in to check less than two hours later I saw her asleep and all the others trampling on her as they looked for food. I took her out and put her in a polystyrene box on a hot water bottle. She released a load of watery yellow diarrhoea on me and was frothing at the mouth. I cleaned her up and started syringing water with salt and sugar every 30 minutes drop by drop. This saved her. We dashed into the vet again and got antibiotic powder and did the crazy calculations for dosage by body weight. She was 754g. I gave up and got a teaspoon and picked up the powder on the tip of the spoon, diluted it and syringed it into her.

She recovered, is demanding food but is not able to get onto her feet. I asked the vet. I asked family members who are vets. None of them knew anything. I got told widely varying explanations and resorted to Google. Apparently pigs are very susceptible to dehydration and it can affect them very quickly. I think she was just starting to dehydrate and her electrolyte balance was off so she possibly had a seisure. Whatever happened has affected her balance.

In another discussion with my vet he told me to expect 6-8 to survive. To date and fingers crossed I have 12.

In all the chaos I managed to find out bits and pieces of information about hand raising pigs. The most important is to get colostrum into them. There wasn't a chance of getting it from the sow as she was not in the mood to even let me rub her head. She is normally a really friendly, placid sow so something happened that day. The other thing is to get the piglets out onto soil as quickly as possible. I was amazed when I carried them out, barely a day old when they actually started to nudge and eat the soil. This prevents iron and B12 deficiency. Also at that tender age they already tried their best to get out of their bed to pee. They are now trained to go on newspaper and have several favourite spots. If only it was as easy to train a puppy!

The little mite with scour

Pig transporter out to the veg patch

A big tree pot for shelter in veg patch

Looking for a feed

Passed out in the sun
Basking in a ray of sunlight

More anon. For pictures follow @foodborn on Twitter. Also MMG on Vine  and on Instagram as foodbornofficial.