Monday, November 9, 2009

And Then There Were Three

Five piglets were born in early August. All were healthy at birth, although one was a runt. Now there are three.

American Guinea Hogs are incredibly easy to raise. Feed them a little bit every day so they'll come when called. Give them a bit of pasture or woodlands to forage in, and they'll take care of the rest. No antibiotics, no worming treatments, no worries.

At 8 weeks, we weaned our piglets from their mother. They turned 12 weeks old this weekend, and we were planning to castrate the males on Sunday morning - something that is best done when they are young. We woke to find 5 sickly piglets in the pen Sunday morning, and decided to put the castration business on hold.

We usually give the pigs (adult and juveniles) slops from our table, but we'd been gone the previous weekend, and I'd gotten out of the habit. It had been a week since I'd doled out slops, and the food at the bottom of the bucket was pretty ripe. I didn't give it much thought though as I've watched our adult Guinea Hogs eat a week old rotten snake and thoroughly enjoy it.

I dished out the leftovers on Saturday around 11am, and the baby pigs ended up with the oldest slops because I fed them last. By Sunday morning two babies were extremely sick (vomiting and staggering) and the rest were lethargic and showed little interest in food. It hit me that the slops may have been somewhat fermented, and we wondered if the piglets were just drunk. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. By 1pm the largest male was dead and our big female looked horrible - really bloated, very uncomfortable and exhausted. We crated "Easter" and took her to the house to keep an eye on her. Scott autopsied the pig male and found a healthy, but very gaseous pig - no worms or parasites at all, but the piglets innerds had a strange odor and his bladder was very full.

A little internet research gave us our answer - foodbourne botulism. It attacks the nervous system (thus the staggering) and eventually shuts down the respritory system leading to death. It also shuts down the bladder's ability to void, leads to constipation and gas. "Easter" lasted a good 12 hours longer than her brother which allowed us to watch the botulism progress. If she stood up, she staggered, and she stood very little. She threw up once (and it smelled horrible), but in 12 hours she never voided her bladder (although she did drink) and only had one minor bowel movement. She never had a fever and just seemed to fade out slowly. She died around 1am in the morning.

At first light we checked to make sure the remaining three little pigs were okay. All ran out of the pen and proceeded to pee like mad - a very good sign. All were very hungry too. The adult pigs that are penned next door (and got some of the same slops) never showed any signs of illness, so my guess is that they were never exposed to the botulism. Although the three smallest piglets were obviously exposed, they must have injested much less of the toxin. I guess being at the bottom of the pecking order isn't always a bad thing.

We are bummed today, but are taking the lesson learned to heart - fresh slops only from now on.

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