Ellajac on the Fiber Improves Sow Welfare post Monday asked about cutting needle teeth and other interventions with piglets. We don’t cut the needle teeth, dock tails, do shots, etc. The reasons are:
- Toweling & Iodine – Some people towel off and iodine the umbilical cord of new born lambs, piglets, etc. We did that at first. However we quickly discovered that it wasn’t necessary. Trying to catch the births is a lot of work without much return. In fact, there is the argument that it is best to let nature take its course so that over time you are selecting evolutionarily for animals that farrow (pigs) and lamb (sheep) without aid on pasture. In the long run this is better – survival of the fittest. My wife did insist on going to the hospital though…
- Heat Lamps – We are very cautious of heat lamps. My biggest reason for not doing it initially was fear of fire. We’ve found that it isn’t usually necessary though so we rarely ended up going the heat lamp route. Time to time I have experimented with them and with heat pads. In extreme weather we sometimes setup heat lamps but generally lower power 100 watt bulbs as they don’t over heat as easily. The key we’ve found is simply to protect the animals from wind and wet. An open shed with its back to the wind, a deep bed of hay and their mother is what they really need. For the new born piglets, their mother’s body heat is key – she’s 103°F. A creep with a low roof and foil bubble foil makes a great hover.
- Cutting Needle Teeth – We don’t cut the needle teeth on piglets. The reason I’ve read for doing it is to prevent damage to the sow’s teats and to keep the piglets from hurting each other when they tussle. I’ve only seen a cut on one teat on one sow in our herd of thirty so I don’t think this is necessary. It would be a lot of work and I could see it causing problems for the piglet when teeth are broken (cut). The only damage I’ve seen from biting is suckling on tails and cutting needle teeth (fangs/tusks) would not help with that – suckling is done with the tongue and upper front teeth which are not the teeth being clipped.(Note that the needle teeth a.k.a. wolf teeth are baby teeth so cutting, clipping and pulling them will not effect the adult boar and sow tusks which are adult teeth.)
- Tail Docking – This is done in confinement situations (e.g., factory farms) for pigs to prevent tail biting in grower pigs. I’ve not seen this behavior with our pigs to any degree that I would think it necessary to do. Occasionally a very young piglet will suckle on the tail of another piglet during the first few days and that will cause a docked tail so we do have a few short tailed pigs. This happens most in very large litters (>10) as there are fewer tits to find. At this time we have three full grown sows who were from a large litter and all have short tails due to this ‘self-docking’. I would not bother doing docking though as usually they grow nice long tails which are handy for them to use in the warm weather for swatting.
Update 20091224: Since I wrote this I have come to recognize that this short tailedness is a simple genetic trait. We see this at times. There does not appear to be any infection or contagiousness and it doesn’t appear to be tail biting or sucking either. The correlation with larger litters is more likely simply chance because some of the sows that happened to carry the genes are also superior mothers. The short tailed trait seems to be highly inheritable and doesn’t appear to negatively affect the piglets other than their tails shorten. Based on watching it over the years it appears to be a simple recessive trait. One of our boars, Archimedes, appears to have brought the trait in along with one of our original sows, Big Pig.
Update 200140901: As of the late summer of 2014 we have not seen any piglets with short tails in the last over 200 piglets weaned. Through selective breeding we may be close to eliminating this recessive trait from our herds. This is not a major trait but I prefer pigs with long tails as it avoids confusion in the market place that might make people think we dock tails – we don’t. Ironically, this gene that we are eliminating is one that Big Ag might pay handsomely for since it would save them the job of cutting tails if their pigs had short tails.
Docking is also done with sheep due to issues of fly strike. We have both docked and not docked our sheep. The lambs do not like having their tails docked, even with the banders. I have a neighbor who doesn’t dock so I tried it too. I’ve seen nothing ill of the undocked sheep. Perhaps in another climate docking for the sheep might be more necessary. One shepherdess told me that when sheep are on whet grass they have runnier poops and more need of docking. I’ve read that this is more of an issue in the south.
- Vitamin Shots – We don’t do do this one either. What I have read is that pigs kept on concrete need the shots or they need to be fed fresh greens. Sounds like a dietary issue. Our pigs are out on pasture where they get plenty of greens and sunshine. During the winter they get hay which replaces the pasture. Pigs, unlike people, make their own Vitamin-C. A healthy diet is better than a shot of vitamins.
- Mineral & Iron Shots and Supplements – Another thing we don’t do for piglets born on dirt – pigs are very good at getting the iron and other minerals from the soil, if you let them. If you are raising pigs on concrete then give them a shovel full of good dirt and that is enough to give them what they need. Personally, I suspect the pigs prefer to root than have you shoot them full of supplements. In the dead of winter is when this makes the most value. Kelp is a good source of minerals – something to try if your soil doesn’t have all that is needed. Get a soil test. So what about winter piglets? If you can, give them dirt. If you notice you’re having iron deficiency problems, which are more likely to crop up in the winter, then give iron shots as needed. A good mineral supplement is kelp and there are even organic sources. See Mineral Deficiencies.
- Vaccines – I do believe in vaccination as preventative medicine. We vaccinate ourselves, our dogs and our kids. When I buy chicks I get them vaccinated for Merks Disease. I have not found it necessary to vaccinate the pigs as heavily as the literature suggests. Part of this may simply be that we are fairly isolated as well as the animals being outdoors in a low stress environment. For the sows I use FarrowSure Gold B or similar. If there were a disease outbreak in our area, I would vaccinate them as needed. Check with your state department of agriculture to see if there are any specific concerns. Rabies is the one I worry about as that is present in our state but our vet said not to worry about it for the livestock unless there is an outbreak here. Part of our dogs’ job is to keep off rabid animals – the dogs have the vaccination protection and thus protect us and the rest of the livestock.
- Deworming – We feed whey, milk, garlic, cayenne all of which are natural anthelmintics, that is to say dewormers. I generally do not routinely deworm with commercial chemical wormers primarily because the chemicals end up in the soil and killing off good invertebrates, like beetles and earthworms, that live in the soil. I want our soil to improve in quality – adding toxic chemicals is not the route to better gardens and pastures. I also don’t like the idea of adding the chemicals to the animals we’ll eat. We also have harsh winters which kill off parasites – in a warmer climate worming might be more important. More importantly, we use intensive rotational grazing which breaks the parasite cycle by leaving them behind. That means healthier animals, healthier soils, less chemicals and less cost. All good things. If I had a sow that was having a worm problem I would use a dewormer if necessary. Better to avoid that if possible through good management – Healthy animals generally don’t have an issue with parasites.
- Ringing – We do not ring pig noses. Rooting is minimal with managed rotational grazing and the chickens knock it down when they follow the pigs.
- Weaning – We average weaning at about six weeks but this varies with the litter and season to some degrees within a range of four to eight weeks. Weaning is generally in two week old cohorts. If we have a small pig we may hold it back into another younger group to give it a chance to catch up. Weaned piglets go to weaning, taming and training paddocks where they learn about fencing and the sows go to dry for three days and then to the boar herds for rebreeding when they’re ready.
- Castrating – We don’t castrate.
I will castrate boar piglets if customers request it. I charge $10 for the castration.[I no longer offer this ‘service’ and almost nobody asks for it anymore.] The piglet does not like the process and neither do I. So why do a few people want it? There is the fear of ‘boar taint‘, which is a real thing in some pigs of some lineage. Unfortunately, it is hard to know if a pig has taint until you cook it. I have yet to find it in any of our test boars. I have heard through personal communications with Douglas L. Greger, PhD, Research Director, Templar Research and Development that some people can’t taste it but I’ve served boars to thirty[many thousands of] people so I don’t think that is the issue. He also mentioned that lighter colored pigs tend to have less of the boar taint. Other research has said that some lines of pigs don’t have it and that even some females have the taint, which is “due to the presence of high levels of androsterone and skatol.” One key the research talks about is that slaughtering pigs at a young age, the normal market weight of around 6 months, means they don’t have high levels of these chemicals and thus no boar taint. Pigs are normally slaughtered then so castration may be unnecessary at normal market sizes.
I have been taste testing boar meat from our pigs for a couple of years now and am up to boars of
14 months old8 years. I’ve not found any taint yet – everyone I’ve served the boars too have exclaimed at the quality and excellent taste. But, no guarantees on pigs from another lineage. This is one of those things where your mileage will vary with the pig. I’ll continue to do progressively older boars, all in the interest of research of course… For more on castration, read this article and this article links to research. [Update 2013: We haven’t been castrating for over half a decade. See taint.] [Update 2020: We haven’t been castrating for closing on two decades and thousands of boar pigs raised to size for meat. See taint information.]
Another question on castration is temperament – are castrated male pigs, barrows, calmer than boars? We have had several dozen intact boars and all of them have been fine. I have heard stories of mean boars – I would make a meal of them right quick. I don’t want to be breeding boars for bad temper – it is only the nice that survive here. Same for all of the livestock from roosters to hens to rams to ewes to sows to boars, etc – Cull for the traits you want.
Occasionally I get asked about castrating the females. Girl pigs, gilts, are not spayed, except as pets perhaps, and we don’t do that. With girls it’s all internal and it would take a vet to do the job. It is only the boys that have something easily accessible to lose but they hold it tight – With lambs you can band but with boars it’s the blade.
Hmm… That sounds like a list of don’ts. So, what do we do? Check out the Pig Page…
Outdoors: 10°F/5°F Sunny
Farm House: 55°F/44°F six logs
Tiny Cottage: 50°F/38°F no work – van died
We are new to raising piglets in Vermont. We are following your husbandry techniques and are saving money and have healthy piglets. We agree with your post. We feed, water and watch the pigs on a daily basis – no other interventions needed. Our tamworth pigs have access to pasture, round bale, whole grain bakery bread, and occasional dairy – no grain. Pregnant gilts/sows are given a section of the hoophouse to farrow in. Liberal amounts of mulch hay, feed and water are all we provide the mother and we have been greeted on 4 accounts with healthy piglets this fall and winter (34 and counting). We also don’t castrate the males.
exellent walter another one of your great info articles
I got rid of my Hampshire boar to a guy who wanted it for mixing with venison for kilbasa. He said he was pretty tainty. I guess he was about 21 months and had bred a couple of sows. I am confident if you try hard enough you will find the upper limit on no castration. It is an intrigueing idea though to not castrate ones who will be eaten before maturity. Do you find any difference in growth rate?
I too suspect there may well be an age when the taint appears. I have two boars, ages 18 months, who are my next experiment. I plan to do one of them soon and then the other later. Unfortunately, I can’t eat enough pork to scientifically prove anything – I just won’t get up to a statistically significant sample set size any time soon.
On the growth rates, I have read that boars grow the leanest and fastest, barrows about 10% slower and a a little more fat, gilts the slowest (again 10% down) and the fattest. However, realize that those are averages. I have twice had individual gilts within a group who outgrew both their castrated and uncastrated brothers. I’ve never seen a barrow outgrow the largest boar in the group. Again, I don’t have a statistically significant set but my observations seem to fit that research other than the occasional exceptions like our two sows Big Pig and her daughter Australia.
I don’t know much about pigs, but i used to work with a woman that raised pigs that were kept in a pasture with horses and cows. She said there meat has very little fat in it, even he bacon. Do you find this to be the case also?
First I wanted to tell you how much I admire what you and your family do, and the lifestyle you’ve created. I aim to shop locally here in Alberta, and support local farmers much like yourself by buying meat in bulk and veggies at the farmers market.
I’ve got a bit of a naive question for you. I’ve never spent much time on a farm or raised animals, and I want to know if it’s at all difficult to raise animals for slaughter. I am a huge animal lover and would find it hard to not get attached to them to a degree and eventually say ‘ok billy, let’s go die now’. Especially when you butcher a pig yourself. Maybe I read too many horror stories of people seeing a pig slaughtered for the first time and almost passing out from the sounds/screams? and sights.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad there are people willing to raise animals humanely and give them a good life while they grow, but when I try to picture myself doing what you do, I inevitably think I couldn’t do that. Unless I was starving. Really starving. And then I understand why Indians back in the day would pray over their kill – it seems like a proper and solemn thing to do when you take someone’s life to feed your own.
Pigs are fairly intelligent animals, which would likely make it harder, but smart or not, they all want to live and I just want to know how you come to be in a place where you can do what you do and not be full of thoughts of death and life all the time. Is it easier if you grow up around it and it becomes settled in your mind as you grow up? Seems like if I tried to farm myself I’d have deep struggles for a long time and probably ending up with a great vegetable garden. : )
I know you won’t get many questions like this as most of your readers already have their answers but I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on death and animals with me.
DragonFly, yes, I do find that pastured pigs are leaner than confined pigs. I have not raised confined pigs but some of the piglets we sell have been pen raised and I’ve had the opportunity to taste test. Those that get commercial rations and are confined are the fattest. It makes sense, a pastured animal gets more exercise. There is still about 3/4″ of back fat and plenty in the bacon, chops and hams. The butchers tell me that the pastured pigs we bring them have a higher quality meat, something they say they can see by the color and texture. I know I like the taste better. My personal favorite is pastured/hay with dairy. That imparts a sweet taste to the meat.
Hi there Walter! I found your blog through a homeschooling network since I was doing research for homeschooling resources. We also live here in Vermont (Franklin county area). This is my first time commenting but I just wanted to say how amazed I was reading about all the procedures that people tend to do with piglets are very similar to what people tend to do with (human) babies.
For example, we didn’t put alcohol on our son’s umbilical cord when he was born because we felt it wasn’t necessary. It fell off earlier than the babies of my friends who used alcohol to clean it.
We also decided not to circumcise our son because we felt it wasn’t necessary.
My son was born at home, without medical intervention. We did just fine, like your pigs did just fine on their own. ;)
Since my son was born at home, I had the option of giving him Vitamin K in liquid form instead of the shot. I honestly feel that babies get lots of vitamins through breastmilk anyway.
We also decided not to do any vaccinations for our son unless there is a local outbreak. Our pediatrician even admitted that the only vaccines she felt were necessary were the tetanus and percussis vaccines. We declined anyway. Tetanus, maybe we will do that when our son is older.
Anyway, I’m rambling but I just thought it was funny how your decisions with the piglets were parallel to my decisions with my son. ;)
Walter, Thanks! It’s because of your wonderful simple system that we’re even pig-owners, now. One other question: how dire is it to keep a ‘teenage’ gilt away from a boar of the same age? We have sibling tamworths, currently sharing space, just over 4 months old. I’m slowly working towards making another shelter and area for the boar, but they get along so well, and I’m sure sleep cozier at night together, and I feel bad to separate them. Do the risks of early pregnancy outweigh any benefits of leaving them together for the duration? And will the boar mature at the same time (or earlier) as the gilt? Thanks again.
Reply to City Girl:
Describing yourself as you did, I cannot stress to you enough that you will most likely become too attached to any piglet you try to raise for meat purposes, and it’ll tear your heart apart when the time comes to slaughter it.
Slaughter is inevitable because pigs continue to grow, and the more they grow, the more they eat, and the more expensive they become to keep around. You just cannot keep them as a pet due to their size and appetite — it’s simply not sensible or feasible. Have you ever seen a 1000+ lb. hog? It’s scarey.
After a certain point in their life, they also can become ‘pushy’ and can knock you off your feet, not knowing their own strength and power. You show up with a slop bucket, and after a while you can’t outwit them to get into the pen and get that slop bucket dumped out into their feeder fast enough! They can intimidate you with their low throaty growling noises, too, when they are waiting to be fed, eyes fixed on you. I speak from experience.
On the flip side, once fed, they have the most loving personality and curiosity of all barnyard creatures. They are eager to learn and can be trained to do simple commands and thoroughly aim to please. I read that they are considered the “sweethearts of the barnyard”, and I agree 100%. They love affection, human interaction and vocal communication, scratching, they run to greet you faster than a dog, they are extremely fast ahoof and agile, they will wait patiently at the edge of their pasture and recognize your voice before they actually can see you, and will answer back excitedly. They thoroughly enjoy a tasty slop bucket and a summertime wallow and playing in their water troughs, and they are extremely entertaining and will know their own names when spoken by you. They are happy creatures nearly all the time.
I’m a country farm girl who’d never raised a pig before 2006, but have raised beef, plus help process (butcher) the deer my spouse gets each season, have cleaned many fish as well as raised chickens and had cats, horses and dogs as pets. (Walter makes raising pigs look too easy and their slaughtering emotionless–sorry, Walter..but you truly do!). Pigs also require twice-daily care, in my experience, so plan to be home all the time or able to find someone to care for them to your expectations if you take a vacation.
Slaughtering those two pigs was the toughest decision of my life, and I cried for weeks prior to the event and also when it was over. Even my spouse had become extremely fond of their comical antics. I couldn’t sleep, thinking that I’d befriended and also betrayed them. After their slaughter, it took me two weeks to be able to visit their barn where they lounged on their pile of fresh hay and shavings. I wanted to hear nothing about the slaughtering process (even tho it took place right at our mini-farm and was conducted in the most humane manner possible). Thank goodness my spouse was there to take care of the “remains” so that I wouldn’t see them (heads, gut pile, etc.). I couldn’t convince myself that I’d done the right thing, even tho I knew I’d given them a fantastic, pampered life while on Earth. They had been allowed to live unconfined and as natural and relaxed and happy as could be possible; they dug up the ground in a large pastured area as much as the desired; they covered themselves with mud from their wallow; they had the best of organic grain and foods and fresh water numerous times a day, and got lots of affection. I gave to them; they gave to me.
I cried on the way home from the smokehouse as I transported the pig meat in a cardboard box in the back of my car to our freezer. I couldn’t eat meat for about the same amount of time. (I have now come to terms with it a little bit, and I’m eating some of the meat, but I have to keep telling myself that this was the whole purpose behind raising them.)
I knew when I first bought the 2 pigs and brought them home that the intent was to raise them for our consumption, yet they became my most cherished and loved animals EVER. I knew that the outcome would be that they would have to be slaughtered eventually, but a part of me befriended them too much and refused to believe it.
I suggest you find a farmer in your area who raises pigs, have him/her raise the pig for you, and you simply pay the farmer and have him/her take care of all the details such as arrangement for slaughter and delivery to the butcher shop/smokehouse. You will get the quality meat you want, the animals will be raised in the way you prefer, and it supports the farmer.
I consider myself to be a somewhat tough ol’ farmgirl and should have been able to raise the pigs and not feel any emotional ties, but I’ve never felt such agonizing heartbreak in my entire life. I don’t know if I’ll ever raise another pig again because it was too easy to cross that fine line of pet vs. food. I will probably resort to buying pork from someone like Walter who has oodles of pigs, knows the boundaries of pet vs. food, and does it as means of supporting his family.
As one person said to me, “Never play with your food!”
CityGirl, That is a very good question. See where I answer it in detail in tomorrow’s post. Thanks for asking! -Walter
EllaJac, I’m not sure. I’ve read that gilts should be up to a good condition, 250 lbs and 7 months old in their second heat before breeding. But, I’ve had several gilts who bred at five months, had excellent litters (10 piglets), were good mothers and continued to grow themselves.
Mouse is my most prominent example – so named not because of her size but rather because of the Mickey Mouse birth mark on her right butt cheek and her left shoulder. If Disney gets upset about her using their trademarked symbol they’ll have to take it up with her. Mouse of Little Pig, also not diminitive, bred at 4 months, an early accident. She’s probably 600 to 700 lbs now and a fine sow.
So, if you keep them together there is a good chance of early breeding. Is that a problem. I don’t know – I’m still watching on that question.
Now, inbreeding is a whole ‘nother question and there is a fair bit of research on this as well as mathematics. At least for one generation it is apparently not an issue from what I have read for terminal line pigs. I would cull heavily, that is send to butcher, any resulting piglets who were not ideal rather than keeping them for breeding. But then that is always the case whether you are inbreeding, line breeding, crossbreeding or otherwise. You always want to cull towards your ideal.
“Never play with your food!”
Hmm… A good and interesting use of the phrase! I see the issue – I do feel regret and loss but I keep in mind the process and the goal. Still, I do play with my food. :)
You are right about sometimes letting someone else do it for you. I have had customers for our pork who say they would not want to look their dinner in the eye. Fortunately we can oblige both them and those who do. It is a big world full of options.
i would like to wallow in mud on your farm and be fed slop
Anonymous, unfortunately we don’t feed slop so I can’t accommodate you. There is some excellent hay and whey, you could mix them – sort of like shredded wheat with low fat milk. The wallow is a communal one and everyone on the farm is welcome to take a dip. Even dragon flies and frogs can be found in the pig pond. Cheers, -WalterJ
I would love to wallow in mud at your farm
I’ve had to chuck quite a few dinners due to boar taint, and scrubbing the grill is hard work as the stench just sticks. Once you tasted it, it really is hard to forget(it makes me retch just thinking about it, eww) and I now more often than not don’t buy pork anymore, it happens about 1 in 5 times that there is a tainted piece. It could also be that some people are more sensitive than others, which is why you’re not encountering it — my hubby only smells it if it really is strong. BTW, I LOVE eating pork, so I’m not too happy about it being a lottery nowadays as to whether I bought food for the plate or the bin! :(
Cinnamon, We’ve not had a boar taint in any of the great number of boars we’ve slaughtered. You are most likely dealing with a breed or line of pigs that have boar taint. Not all breeds and lines have it. In some lines even the females can get boar taint. Personally I would suggest changing breeds. The lighter breeds are supposed to have less to none. Our pigs have no boar taint. I’ve read that the Duroc have the boar taint along with some other darker lines. Read the article To Cut Or Not for and it’s followup for links to research and a lot more discussion about this. Cheers, -Walter
There is research that suggests a major cause of boar taint is the dirty crowded conditions at confinement feeding operations — eg factory farms. This is perhaps why Walter is not getting boar taint in his pigs since they live out on pasture. Specifically the research talks about the pigs in pens breathing and eating their own feces and dust which contain the chemical skatole which is a major cause of boar taint in all sexes of pigs. Castration does not help with this problem because skatole is produced in the intestines and has nothing to do with the testes. Even gilts and barrows, both of which lack testes, can have taint from skatole due to the dirty conditions they are raised in.
We’re now up to 30 months of age in a test boar without any sign of taint. It appears we don’t have taint in our particular line of pigs.
Question about pig tails.
One litter of 10 is suffering from what looks like chewed on tails right where the tail meets the body. Some of the piglets first had redness there and some now even have some scabs. I have not observed any behaviour that may cause this. Can you tell me from experience what it is, please, and should I be concerned? That litter of 10 is now being shared by the sister sow who only has 5. My gut feeling is that the piglets were hungry and were sucking on tails…
We have seen this. At first we thought the same, that this was being caused by tail sucking. After several years of observation we realized that it is genetic. Some pigs have a recessive gene for short tails that causes them to lose the tail. This was demonstrated by mixing litters that carried the short tail gene with those that carried the long tail genes. The piglets from the short tail lines still ended up short tailed and the long tailed lines still ended up long tailed – ergo it was not environmental or behavioral. I do not like this because it makes people think we do tail docking, which we do not do and I consider inhumane. So I’m working to breed this out of our herds. But it is a recessive trait and some of our finest sows, in all other ways, carry one or even two copies. Pigs do use their tails to swat flies so that is a good reason to have a tail.
No guarantee you have the same thing but that is what we observed.
Hi Walter, quick question, we have a piglet that just about 8 weeks old, he’s a barrow, the people who we sold him to wanted him castrated so we did at a little less than 3 weeks old, Everything went fine with the castration, all healed good etc., a couple of nights ago we noticed that his back end looked swollen, exactly where his left testicle should have been, I beleive it is a scrota hernia, have you ever had a piglet with hernia issue? I know you typically don’t castrate your pigs now, but thought you might have seen this issue before? Hes very healthy, eating and growing very well. The area isn’t sore or act like an infection, just looks swollen. thanks so much, really enjoy your site!
Did you remove one or two testicles? If just one then the other may have now descended. If you removed two then it could be a cyst or it could be a hernia of the small intestines into that area which is very bad. Cyst will be a harder mass. Hernia will be softer. We have seen this twice back when we castrated years ago and both piglets died. This was a big reason I worked to figure out how not to castrate – castration kills some pigs.
We removed both testicles, not sure what it is, he seems fine eating and growing as normal piglet. The area has surely gotten larger, about the size of two large testicles on a piglet, now its on both sides, Beleive its a scrotal hernia. Guess just keep him and see what happens? doesn’t seem to bother him at all at this point so I hate to kill him, maybe just wait and see what happens?
Good chance it is a scrotal hernia. As long as he is doing well I would simply watch him. The concern is a piece of intestine torsioning and then he will likely die of it. If he stops doing well, roaster time right quick. You would see his belly start to blow up as one possible symptom.
What do you recommend naturally to get rid of mites on pigs?
We have never had to deal with mites on pigs. What I have read is using oil. Some people talk of motor oil, petroleum based on the dates, but I would avoid that. Other people more recently have written of using vegetable oil, pouring it over the back of the animal and into the ear if necessary. My understanding is that it smothers the parasites, mites and lice.
I don’t know if chickens would help – mites might be too small for them to hunt. Not sure.
Walter, your blog gave me real comfort. So much heart mixed in with practicality. If only all farmers were as compassionate towards these living creatures as you! I have no connection with any farming or live-stock but came to this blog because of trying to find out the “Why?” of chopping off piglet testicles (and tails) and without any anesthesia or wound-care. I’ve been tormented by seeing a video taken in an industrial pig shed, about signing a petition to end gestational stalls, done by change.org. I was in tears watching it, those poor piglets shrieking in unimaginable agony, and couldn’t shake it from my mind for days. Reading here that it’s not necessary and can actually ADD cost, makes me hope for a day it will end as common practice.
What finally sent me to sobs in that video was how they destroy the little piglets that are “not growing well” or somehow deemed unfit. The man literally held them by their feet, swung them back over this head, then slammed their heads repeatedly into the ground. Tossed them aside in a heap, while their traumatized bodies still trembled. I wanted to ask: is that common practice too? Surely there is a *kinder way to extinguish life from these “inferior” little critters than bashing their brains in like baseball bats. * I loved where you ended your blog saying that creature’s deaths should be instant, clean and without seeing others killed first (because of the fear). Something that takes repeated hits, or leaves them suffering while dying, is just unconscionable, as you seem to agree.
You are a farmer “hero”,
Carolyn, see my detailed reply on the post “Cutting, Death and Disturbance”.
First off compliments on a great farm (i’ve been reading on/off as time permits for quite a few yrs now). In any case, curious about vaccines. You mentioned you don’t do any for piglets, what about sows and gilts? Does it make sense to skip the “standard/recommended” vaccines before breeding and/or before farrowing on a natural/pasture system as yours?
Thank you in advance,
A hopeful soon to be breeder
What you’re going to do for vaccinations should depend on what your exposures are. If you have exposure to diseases such as living close to other farms, traffic to the livestock auctions, shows or incoming livestock then I would suggest vaccinating appropriately. FarrowSure Gold B is a good one for breeders that covers a wide range of diseases. Check with our state department of agriculture to see what they recommend and then temper that with your knowledge of your exposures.
I think my exposures are minimal if not existent pig-wise. I got 2 gilts that came together with other 5 feeders on my farm. They all got rotated every couple of weeks on my farm thru their growth. Only other livestock they can potentially come in contact with are my sheep (essentially closed flock except for a ram every 1 to 2 years who get quarantined), my chickens (originally came as day old chicks from hatchery), and my rabbits (who came before the current pigs). I’d say they’re pretty exposure free (I disinfect my boots if visiting other farms in an almost paranoid like manner) . I can’t find any recommendation from VT, but am I crazy to think that I might be OK not vaccinating (i.e. I was considering the same product you mentioned).
If you’re well isolated, won’t get any exposures and there is no existing disease condition then vaccination isn’t necessary. For example, if you start buying in hay or something from another farm with pigs or where the feed is fertilized with hog manure then you would have an exposure and want to start vaccinating prior to that. The only other disease issues to consider are rabies and erysipelas which can come in from wild animals. We vaccinate our livestock guardian dogs against everything because they are our first line of defense – they drive off or kill predators and pests. This makes it so we don’t have to vaccinate the pigs and sheep against rabies for example as the dogs will kill rabid wild animals since the rabid animals act strange.
I know you don’t do much with sheep right now, but I will say I considered not banding my lambs tails this year because they were so pretty (black with white tips and adorably wiggily), but then i had a bottle baby who kept scouring and with her long tail it would get on her tail, she’d wiggle her tail and now poop was all over her wooly butt. Keep that going for a day or two and her tookus would be caked in poop, twigs and straw. At the point I was washing her butt every day I went ahead and banded her tail to the length it is on a mountain sheep: just covering the vulva. Once her tail fell off she stopped covering herself in poop. (I also switched her from formula to enriched cow milk and her scouring stopped)
Just like curly tails on a dog long tails on sheep are nothing more than by-products of domestication. Wild sheep have tails that cover the anus and genitals, I try to copy nature. I think docking to no tail is cruel because it atrophies the muscles that were attached to the tail that helps the animal project refuse away from their bodies, increases the chance of rectal and vaginal prolapse and keeps their orifices exposed to air all the time meaning flies now have access to the ewes vulva. I’m sure that has an affect on her reproductive health, at the very least its got to be uncomfortable to have flies crawling on her hooha and not able to swat them away.
Pigs? they have tails the length nature intended, and they don’t seem to have issues with feces on their tails spreading it to the rest of their body. No reason to cut them off.
There are several farmers I know around here who don’t cut sheep tails now and they’re fine. However I was reading a couple years back that in hotter climates with more flies of a particular type it is more of a problem and also that when some sheep are grazed on certain forages they get more loose manure that causes a problem. The article suggested that the combination of the two (hot climate + too much of that forage, clover?) caused the problem for long tailed sheep. They said that sheep in colder climates and lower clover(?) levels had no problem. We have had sheep both with long tails and short tails which had no problem, but then we’re in a colder climate (and plenty of clover). Thus perhaps this is one of those things of adapting an animal to a different climate. On our sheep, and pigs, they use the tail to swat at flies. We don’t have a lot of flies though because of the chickens. Perhaps there is another solution to the problem.
So good to see someone raising animals naturally and not in those humongo buildings they call factories. Luv it!
How do you grab the piglets for vaccination when you pen or pasture farrow? It seems like the sow would bowl you over in anger if she wasn’t somehow restrained from you and her babies. Tie her up?
We vaccinate at weaning on pasture mostly. Piglets have been gathered and herded to the weaning paddocks far from the sows. There are some vaccines that one might want to use at an earlier age.
I’ve read that you’re supposed to vaccinate for atrophic rhinitus pre-weaning, but in a system where you don’t have a huge dusty room constantly being farrowed in by lots of sows, this may not be necessary.
There are a couple like this which is why ideally I would like to be able to vaccinate earlier than weaning age but with our pasture setup that hasn’t been feasible. We are working on a relayout of our pastures that may make that possible in the future. Since we haven’t had problems with these diseases they have not been a priority but if you were having a problem with the diseases that need earlier vaccination then make it a priority to be able to vaccinate earlier. The way I would do it is to separate off the sows at some point.
Well, my thinking is that I won’t put in the money and effort of setting up a system for vaccinating unless it’s a problem or unless I have strong reason to believe there will be a problem. For instance for you in a whey system, you’re particularly prone to erysipelas, since it’s water borne, so I would imagine not vaccinating for that would be somewhat reckless even if you hadn’t had a problem with it yet.
I had not heard milk and whey had anthelmentic properties. I would love more information on natural anthelmentics and their usage in hogs. Have you writen further on the topic or do have any valuable links? Thank you so much for aharing your experiences.
I have read that the acidification of the digestion from the whey may be causing the anthelmintic effect – e.g., fighting off intestinal parasites. Also see the article: Worms Au Natural.
Bullet point 3. Cutting Deedle Teeth? Probably mean “needle”
Yes indeed! Thanks for catching that. Fixed!
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