Friday, January 16, 2009

First the people, then the pigs

After a winter of sick children, spouse and a month of fun myself (including a brief bout with pneumonia) no I have a pig who's sick. Oh joy. Daphne showed up with what looked like a stomach bug a few days ago. A flurry of research, calls to the vet and more research led me to conclude that she has...a stomach bug.

There is not a ton of diagnostic information about GI issues in pigs. Most of the literature I have found is focused on nursing or recently weaned piglets, who can expire rapidly from scours. Scours is just a fancy farm name for the "green-apple-quick-steps." Well Daph is not little anymore, she's about 130lbs.

So I sent the Mrs. down to check her temp (I was at work, or I would have done it myself) the day after symptoms arose. She trucked down, did the deed and the result was103F. For a pig her size this is no great shakes. And she's still moving around and is not "lame" as the farmers say. Still, Tuesday was the last time she trotted out to the trough for the evening meal. Heather saw what looked like some vomit in the hut that evening. Never good news. Not at 3 AM with my kids, and not at 4 PM with my pigs.

As of Thursday morning she did not appear to be losing fluids anymore. So at this point I think re-hydration is the important (only?) task. After some fiddling around I have found a way to get her to take fluids with a Turkey baster. Works like a champ. First we tried a mix of things (Molasses, Apple Juice, Salt, etc.) but she didn't seem interested. My technique was probably the problem. I tried using a baster to get the stuff in her mouth. Next I tried mixing it with feed in a pan. Daph actually tried nosing the mix out of the hut. Strike one. But I'm not one to quit easily.

Next, I fed Daph about a pint of apple juice Thursday AM, as my basting technique improved. This morning I came down with fruit flavored Pedialyte. She drank almost the whole bottle. I will repeat the Pedialyte dosing until she is up and around again.

On the whole...Thursday was the scary day. Daph was laying like a lump in the rear of the hut at lunch time and I honestly expected to find out she had expired. However, she was warm and breathing. I think she just feels like junk. That time she never even picked up her head. Thursday night was not much better. She had moved to the front of the hut, but still did not acknowledge my presence. I was not hopeful.

My worry is two fold. She is a somewhat pricey pig. Lots of time and effort went into getting her home. More importantly, I am quite attached to my swine at this point. I realized how much I appreciate them coming up the get pets and belly scratches after the evening meal. In fact all of the members of both hers whine and grunt untile they get the old post feed loving.

So what next? When my oldest and I went down to try some Pedialyte, I warned her that Daph might be dead. Even with fluids, I figured it was 50/50 at best. We were pleasantly surprised!Not only did Daph take fluids from the baster greedily, but she picked up her head when we came into the hut. And when I scratched and rubbed her belly, she rolled over immediately.

I think Thursday was "turning the corner" for Daph. Well see. Hopefully she gets better, and I am preparing myself for the other ones to come down with the bug, as I have not isolated them from Daph. Why? Am I crazy?

I don't think so, I think keeping these hogs together is the best strategy. All of the pigs have been huddling together, Daph on her own might get cold on top of being sick. Moving pigs is stressful on them when they are healthy, doing it when they are sick is an even worse idea. Finally I think the most likely candidate for diagnosis (other than a random GI bug) is TGE (Transmissible Gastro Enteritis). Several papers I have read mention that exposing the other pigs to the infected animals (helping them develop resistance to TGE) can help prevent TGE from becoming Chronic in a herd. Here are a few useful links about TGE. You'll notice that most of the concern is related to little ones.

TGE on thepigsite
TGE on Prairie Swine Center (PDF)

In any event scours (regardless of cause) appears to generally non-fatal in larger pigs. I have consulted a vet, but have yet to receive a call back. Local swine knowledge is limited but I have an ace in the hole (buddy of mine) if I think I am over my head. No matter where the scours comes from, the treatment recommendation seems to be hydration. Fluids and rest, just like people.

Hopefully Daph will be up on her feet and messing with Maggie (gilt from our other herd of 4) at the fence line again...soon. When I look Daph in her eyes, she has the same look my kids did when they were sick. I think she just feels like crap.

Breaks my heart.

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