Catch the Cold

Behind the Mask

Catch the cold and keep it to yourself. I’m talking about biosecurity. Those masks aren’t to protect us from the animals – it’s the other way around. We’re protecting the animals. Pigs are susceptible to human cold viruses which can make the boars infertile resulting in reduced or lost litters. For this reason it is very important to protect your breeding stock if you catch a cold and to minimize visitor’s contact with your animals. Even feeder stock will be set back by a cold causing it to not grow as fast.

Thus the masks and gloves. We picked up a cold about two weeks ago. For as long as we have a chance to transmit it we minimize contact with the animals, try to prevent our coughs and our touch from spreading the virus to the livestock. This is a bit difficult with the piglets being born, needing weaning, moving sows into the gestation and farrowing areas, etc. We’ve also got young ducks and chicks that need care right now. Thus the masks and gloves.

We haven’t had a cold for 18 months. Maybe it is the healthy diet and good living. I suspect part of it is we stay outdoors a lot getting fresh air and have little physical contact with other people. The source of most disease is close human contact: Shaking hands, breathing closed in poorly ventilated spaces and worst of all, hospitals. A place that we may have picked up this cold is the doctor’s office when I went for my physical since I only had one other contact point. This is a bit of irony. I go to the doctor to check my health (no issues) and that is where we have most often picked up disease. The last two times we wore gloves and masks – we didn’t catch anything. This time I didn’t use the protection, shook bare hands (and used the hand gel) and I got something which I passed on to the kids. Holly was the only one who didn’t get it – perhaps she has had it before and is thus immune.

I’ve heard it said you should get the cold so you develop immunity. The problem is there are over 200 varieties and one must get every single one to develop immunity. Immunity to one cold does not confer immunity to another variant. The average person gets one to two colds a year. Children typically get four to six colds a year. This means it would take about 75 years or so to become exposed to all the cold viruses. In other words, the “get out and get colds so you develop immunity” does not work numerically – the average person dies first and the cold kills many of them.

Over the year’s we tracked where we’ve picked up illnesses. Sources of colds have been hospitals and doctor’s offices, meetings, hand shakes, indoor family gatherings, the laundromat, shopping at the supermarket. Interestingly we’ve never tracked one back to a restaurant or the general store. Wearing cotton gloves when shopping, doing the laundry, etc seems to solve the problem. Wearing a face mask at the doctor’s office seems to prevent infections there (17 sample points with mask/gloves). We have also never gotten sick from the dentist. Very interesting since the dental hygenist and dentist both wear face masks and gloves. Hmm…

In addition to face masks and gloves when we get a cold we also have our farm setup to minimize the impact from outside disease sources – basic biosecurity. Our driveway is designed to drain away from the animal areas. The pastures are up above the road. When we do have visitors they stay on the driveway and similar areas which keep them out of the pastures and back from the animals. Look but don’t touch. Visitor’s cars park down at the gate. Our farm itself is isolated fairly far from any other farms with a large buffer zone and we’re at the top of the water shed. This all helps to protect us from GMO pollen drift, pesticides and herbicides used by others.

Nothing’s 100% protection but these little things help reduce the chances of our livestock getting sick. The fresh air, good diet and outdoor living is probably the key. Healthy animals mean we don’t have to use medications on them, they breed better and they grow better. Everyone’s happier.

Outdoors: 41°F/24°F 2″ Snow, Cloudy, Rain, Snowing again
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/59°F

Daily Spark: Remember, government does not produce…it must be supported by the producers. -The Phantom

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Catch the Cold

  1. Jessie says:

    Walter, you are right that there are many strains of the common cold (and other viruses) so building an immune response specific to the virus that will be most common next year is unlikely. There is, however, some evidence that exposure to one virus can help keep you from catching a different virus. Perhaps it is like cross training for your immune system. I hope you all feel better soon! Jessie N.

  2. gillian says:

    We never get sick except for when we go to the doctor, (or when my son touches the Thomas-the-Train set at the library,) so I think you are right about catching your cold there. Did you know that germs can live on surfaces for three days? You are doomed at the doctor’s office. I always blame the doorknob, as I sign in with my own pen and pay with exact change…

    Enjoyed your calculations….Hope you all feel better soon!

  3. Tim says:

    Walter, your post brings a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin to my mind.
    “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

    I’m certain you know how important it is to get plenty of rest with a cold. Now unless you are a very early riser (2:27 am), you’re a bad, bad boy, and Holly is going to skin you alive when she finds out. ;-)

  4. Nance says:

    40 some years ago I cut a newspaper article out of our state capital’s daily newspaper. It was in regards to catching cold. I was 17 or 18 years old and so it was interesting to me that more people caught (and passed on colds) playing cards — in comparison to kissing. Somewhere in this 40+ yr old household, I still have that newspaper article.

  5. Walter, Walter and Holly Holly, I will attempy to comment without being too harsh cause I respect what you all do so much BUT as a nurse with lots of years behind me , it is my opinion that avoiding all bacteria causes more harm than good. Rather it is best to strengthen yourself from within via your own immune system. For example, each time you make deliveries your van comes home coated with viruses, bacteria, and generally ickiness and unless it also is wearing tire coverings , each time you pull into your drive you are bringing in the worlds bacteria with you. Each time you open
    a piece of mail you are smearing about the germs of your mail man, the gal at the post, the girl in the mailroom where the junk mail originated. My point is this. It is IMPOSSIBLE to avoid all the germs in the outside world yet it is very possible to strengthen our defense against them.

    To your good health !

    PS. You are right about doctors and dentists. MD’s are the worst handwashers in the world and dentists are always the best. Research has shown this over and over.

    • We’re not trying to avoid all bacteria and viruses. In fact, since we’re out in the dirt we probably have extra strong immune systems as has been shown by many studies. But what we’re trying to avoid is specifically the cold and such which can cause infertility in our pigs as well as lost work time for us. The cold is specifically spread by human-to-human contact and really has no benefit. By the way, speaking of the mail, Holly and I were just discussing yesterday that our mail is another place we’ve never traced disease back to. Since Holly is the only one who routinely goes off the mountain it is actually very easy for us to track the sources of colds and such.

  6. mellifera says:

    Thanks for not buying into the “more colds make you not have colds!” line. The actual research that the media warped that into relates to… intestinal parasites. Researchers were trying to figure out why autoimmune diseases don’t happen in poor countries but are rife in rich ones– looks like it’s because people in rich countries don’t have worms. Rather than a wham-bam-thank-you-host fling that bacteria have with their victims, worms have to work out a 1 to 5-year-long relationship, so they have to do some long-term downregulation of the immune system. Really! I saw it in a meta-analysis of medical research abstracts on PubMed. Anyway….

    I’m puzzling over the biosecurity thing a bit since we’ll probably have lots of customers, interns, volunteers, visitors, etc. A lot of your farms are promoting their farming methods as being so frickin’ wholesome that they don’t have to think about biosecurity (Joel Salatin!) but I just don’t believe that. It won’t be fun to have to spend the first 5 minutes of every single farm tour deprogramming people who’ve been told that nice farms don’t have germs. Everyone please wash your hands and face and walk across this scrubby thing please; flu and GI tract victims please stay in the sale barn; and smokers, don’t you dare touch anything because I don’t want tobacco mosaic virus all over my farm. And then they’ll think “Wow, that farmer lady sure is a nasty @#$(.” Thanks, Joel Salatin.

  7. Beth says:

    Our exposure to viruses was much lower when my children were homeschooled. Since the older one entered the germ-breeding ground of public school, there have been a few more colds and other viruses in the home. It seems that people who are frequently sick, or who have children who are always ill, develop an casual approach to it. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who will take an obviously sick child to the library or playground. We see it daily here. I’m into not getting sick, and many of the “little bugs” around are not benign. My sister, who works in the PICU at Maine Medical sees plenty of RSV go wrong, as well as all kinds of other bugs that result in serious illness or premature death. So, no – we don’t avoid every social setting, but we also take more precautions than most people. Not getting sick is a money-saver, too! I’ll have to keep this biosecurity thing in mind with my chicks and other animals – I didn’t know a chicken could catch a cold! Sounds like the opener to a joke! Do the boars stay infertile or is it only when they have the cold?
    My mother, who is also a nurse and never gets sick, wonders if people were healthier when more of them washed dishes by hand. Interesting thought!

    • The boars lose fertility for about a month to six weeks. However, they pass it to everyone since pigs like to kiss when they meet another pig. That is to say they touch noses. A prime way to pass a cold. This results in it spreading throughout the herd. Then you have to get out little handkerchiefs, boxes of tissue, lots of fluids and bed rest for 300 pigs. All that coughing, sneezing and moaning makes it hard to sleep. Imagine what it sounds like when a 1,600 lb boar sneezes. You can hear him for a mile as my neighbors would probably tell you – they’re one mile away as the crow flies.

  8. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Toddlers in contact with other small disease vectors are probably why my son’s household seems to have one or more colds every month. Now that their mother is school nurse to six campuses it is worse. And these are kids whose diets, exercise, hygiene, and outdoor time are aggressively implemented. Agree with you, Walter, from experience, that the rural lifestyle, contact with soil and animals, makes for strong immune systems. However, there was the case of the Boers, during the Boer War, when Britain invented the concentration camp. Those folks (excuse me, “Volk”) died like flies in the camps because the suites of bacteria and other mini-menaces they’d immunized to were specific to their own widely separated homesteads and congregations. Thanks for your making the case for minimizing exposure of stock to human ills. I’d always thought only farm vehicles and footgear should be kept away. I learn something every time I visit your blog.

  9. mellifera says:

    Don’t know why this bugs me, but for the record, rounding up wartime/political enemies and treating them like garbage was most certainly not “invented” out of thin air by the Brits special for the Boer Wars. Witness the Confederate POW camps during the US Civil War, or Spain on Cuban citizens during the Cuban war of independence. Not sure if you have some kind of special connection to the Boer Wars or if it was just an offhand comment, but anyway, that’s what firsthand records tell us. Incarcerating political enemies is pretty much just an indispensable part of brutality any way you slice it.

    So, back to biosecurity….

  10. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Mellifera: I know about Andersonville and other horrors, of course. Was just, honest, purely for discussion of biosecurity, referencing the British use of what were for the first time called “concentration” camps, where they put entire families, to remove the agricultural and other support the very mobile Kommandoes, horse riding long distance riflemen, were receiving in their guerrilla resistance to the British military. Those poor people had very casual hygeine, and because of the distances between their holdings and difficulties of transportation, had been biologically separated from each other far more completely than, say, modern home schooling families from the general population. The histories I have read suggest strongly that it was their biological vulnerability that caused such a high mortality rate. Their captors provided, apparently, adequate shelter, food, water, and at least primitive latrines.
    Woudn’t want to irritate a lady whose tag suggests a stinger!

  11. mellifera says:

    Lol! No problem, I guess we’re just living in the Deep South and we run into lots of people who hold to… erm, very very wrong versions of history to explain why the world is supposed to work the way they want it to. Got a bit of a twitchy trigger finger as a result. Sorry for the inconvenience!

    Good point on the biosecurity tho’. : )

  12. John says:

    Walter I was hoping you might give me a little guidance. I having been raising feeder hogs for the last three years and it has been very enjoyable, rewarding, and delicious! You helped me with some questions when I was getting started. This is our fourth year and the first time I have had a health issue. I think one of our hogs has developed an abscess or cyst on her back leg. She seems fine and is eating, drinking, and acting well. We rotate them on a couple of small pasutres and supplement them with feed as we do not have a large pasutre area. Is this something to monitor closely as long as she is acting fine? Is there a chance it will resolve? Will it effect the meat/ham? Should I be considering a vet visit or only if she starts acting sick? I could not find a similar post so I thought this spot was as good as any. I also did not see a way to attach a picture so I will try and send you an email with an attached piture if I can figure it out. I would appreciate any input you might have with your years of experience.

    • The pig in the photo in the email you sent looks like it has a cyst. Sometimes these are from a puncture wound infection (look for the entry hole of the puncture, redness, heat, often hard or firm) but this one looks like it is just a subdermal cyst like the pig Cystine in this article had which were very soft.

      On the pig Cystine the cysts eventually vanished. I’ve seen this a few times out of thousands of pigs. It doesn’t seem to be genetic, just congenital and it has always cleared up. I can’t tell in the photo which your pig has but look for the symptoms above. I would monitor. You can drain it by cutting it open with a sharp knife at the bottom – may help if it is the infection type. If not an infection then I would leave it alone.

      In either case it is in the outer layer above the meat. The problem with harvest would be if the pig gets septicemia – blood poisoning. Not good to eat and may kill the pig quickly. If it is a non-infection cyst then it probably isn’t a problem for the meat.

      • John says:

        Thank you for your response Walter. I think that it is the same thing that Cystine had. She continues to act fine and the cyst is getting smaller. I certainly prefer monitoring a benign cyst and watching it resolve than trying to drain an abscess or watch a septic pig die. I appreciate your advice. It is nice to learn from those with experience and wisdom.

  13. Farmerbob1 says:


    I was driving and thinking the other day, and something dangerous happened. I had an idea!

    You breed and cull your animals for favorable genetics already. Disease resistance is at least partially genetic. You also seem interested in educating the public about sustainable farm practices.

    Have you considered trying to deliberately encourage the development of a disease resistant strain of your swine?

    Obviously, it wouldn’t be a casual effort. Biosecurity would require that you keep the new herd separate from the existing herds. The people who monitor the new herd would also need to be mostly separate from the folks tending the old herds.

    I imagine that if you were to separate out a few male and female weaners that passed the first couple passes of culling, and put them in a petting zoo at the edge of your property, you could encourage local schools to come visit and give your pigs exposure to diseases. Don’t restrict access, just allow them to deal with the diseases naturally. The pigs best able to resist diseases will breed. Those that do not resist will not.

    The next generation of weaners will be the new population of petting zoo attraction.

    Over time this genetic experiment should yield pigs with enhanced ability to deal with human diseases, increase your farm’s visibility to consumers, and educate the community about sustainable farming practices.

    I do understand that this might be a challenge beyond your current labor pool. However, it might be possible to simply give a few of your weaners to a nearby petting zoo or another farm that allows human visitation with the restriction that no other swine be introduced to the population. You could take back the adults every year for butchering, and your choice of weaners to keep the population constant. Or you could make an arrangement where the petting zoo or farm could sell some of the pigs to pay for their upkeep. As long as you eventually get to collect some of those disease resistant animals to improve your herd!

    Also, I am happy for your recent USDA success – can’t wait till you start shipping bacon!

    • “Have you considered trying to deliberately encourage the development of a disease resistant strain of your swine?”

      That is part of what we select for however there are limits to the ability to do selection on this criteria due to lack of exposure to certain things we simply don’t want to introduce to the farm.

      As to the petting zoo idea, realize it takes significantly sized sample sets to achieve good results unless you have already been breeding for luck (See the article about breeding for lucky pigs). That would mean I would need a lot of pigs in the petting zoo and a lot of humans to exchange diseases with them. It is easier to have good biosecurity for the same results. It would also mean doing something I’m not particularly interested in doing, being a public space.

Leave a Reply to mellifera Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.