Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Patching Piglets - Treating abdominal hernias

Pig farming is pretty difficult with respect to veterinary bills.  It's impossible to get a pig treated and then sell it at market price and make a profit of any sort, but I sure do hate to see them die young or have to put them down. 
This little female (the grey and white one at center) has an unbilical hernia.  It's a hole in her abdominal wall that didn't close up, and part of her guts -- probably her intestines -- are protruding out of her abdomen and pushing against the skin of her belly.   This is considered to be a genetic defect, and usually means that she'll be raised as a strictly slaughter animal, but the real issue is keeping her alive.  I spotted this hernia a week ago and used a livestock crayon to mark her so that I could find her in a group of piglets, and I watched this hernia to see what it was going to do. 
The skin covering it is getting bruised and has a scab on it, and the little girl is showing signs of being in pain, which means we've come to a decision point.  Either she gets treated or we put her down.  In this case, the hernia isn't very big, and she's still very young and pretty healthy, so we'll try treating.

Small hernia is worse
  It's not obvious, but small hernias like this are actually more dangerous to the pig than a big one.  The risk is that a small piece of intestine will get into the hole and then get pinched off or broken, causing the rapid death of the pig.  A bigger hernia means a smaller chance of something getting entrapped.  So small is one reason I'll treat her right now.

Here's the tools we'll use.  Half a tennis ball and a roll of duct tape. Cost?  About $5.   
First, gently restrain the pig and carefully and gently push the material back into her abdomen.  there's a bit of pressure back, and the skin on top is pretty sore, so slow, patient and gentle is the key here. 
Then using half the tennis ball, push it into the hernia.  The tennis ball will provide support for the abdominal wall while healing takes place.  The theory is that the hole will close itself it it's not being held open by the intestines intruding into it.  It's that constaint straining that is causing this pig pain, and preventing weight gain like her littermates. 
It helps to have someone give you a hand here.  After the first wrap of duct tape goes on we hold her by all 4 legs, and do a couple more wraps around the middle. 
And here she is after the procedure.  She's not really happy about the tape, but I watch her to make sure she's moving and eating and drinking, and I also move her into a pen with just a couple of buddies.  Eventually the other pigs will chew off the duct tape, but it'll take a couple of weeks.  I'll watch to make sure that she's pooping and that her belly doesn't swell from retained waste. 

And the next day she's out moving around with the other pigs, and moving more easily.  We'll see if she gets through this.  My survival rate using this technique is about 80%.  Without any treatment about 30% of them spontaneously get better, and then other 70% die in the next month or two.   With this particular pig she was not gaining weight and showing signs pain and distress, and it was time to intervene. 


Anonymous said...

Wow---great information. We had a gilt with an umbilical hernia this year, but she is growing fine (maybe a little more slowly than the others) and doesn't seem to be in any discomfort. We're going to eat her as a small roaster sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

You should give credit where it is due. This technique is widely used.

Bruce King said...

Nope, Anon. I invented it. I also invented duct tape and tennis balls. In fact, I hold the patent on the application of duct tape to pigs.

Stop being ridiculous.

Adam said...

Excellent post. Glad to see you are giving this piglet a chance to grow instead of cutting your losses.

Keep up the postings. Your blog is great!

Unknown said...

Thanks for info. I'm about to go out and give it a shot.

Unknown said...

Hi Bruce, wish I read this before. Just lost a 40 day old piglet after a one hour long surgery to correct her umbilical hernia.we thought maybe from overdose of sedatives and antibiotic.died 12hrs after surgery.
We'll certainly try this method if we ever encounter the same.

Bruce King said...

It's always a shame to lose a young pig. My success rate for this is about 70%; it doesn't cure the largest ones, mostly useful for hernias that are an inch or two. There are surgeries that can cure this, but I've never attempted.

For those that it doesn't cure we make a market in suckling pigs, so we can often sell them young, and sometimes hernias don't effect the growout much, so you can get them to finish even with a hernia.

Sorry about the loss.

K ASV said...

Hi Bruce, this is very good information. So, I'd like to share this with Korean swine farmers through my news website(www.pigpeople.net). Do you mind if I use your photos about how to treat umbilical hernias?