Grim times as our boar goes lame

As I was feeding the pigs this evening, I noticed our Berkshire boar, Gus, had a slightly humped spine  just above his hams.

I spent some time watching Gus walking around, noting other indications that all is not well with him.

His back legs are straight, instead of having good angulation between the femur, fibula and tibia; he’s walking on his toes; and he swings his legs from his hips.

After giving him some barley, I probed along his spine and down over his hams. There was no heat or swelling in his joints but they were clearly sensitive to the touch. He doesn’t have a raised body temperature.

Gus’s condition resembles that of Graham, our previous Berkshire boar, when he was diagnosed with osteochondrosis in 2009.

If it is OCD, it is a consequence of selecting animals for fast growth and increased muscle mass. Berkshires are not as heavily selected for this as modern commercial breeds but they are among the fastest growing traditional breeds.

Two other possibilities are mycoplasma hyosynoviae or arthritis as the result of an erysipelas infection, but I’d expect Gus to have a raised body temperature and swelling with those. He’d also have diamond shaped lesions if he had erysipelas.

The best means of differentiating between the causes of his lameness is to treat him with appropriate antibiotics for the infective diseases. If he responds with 24-48 hours, his condition was caused by infection.

If it doesn’t, it’s OCD.

In Graham’s case we treated him with anti-inflammatories and had another 18 months from him. I can’t see that happening with Gus as the overwhelming majority of potential customers now demand lower prices at a time of ever increasing costs and we can’t justify spending on veterinary costs that we won’t be able to recover.

Similarly with replacing Gus with another boar. There are no reasonably local sources of good quality Berkshire boars and we won’t be able to recover the costs of driving down to the Scottish Borders or northern England to buy one.

So if Gus has OCD, then it very much looks as if we’ll shut the herd down and cull the remaining breeding stock. It’s simply not cost effective to do anything else.

14 Responses to “Grim times as our boar goes lame”

  1. Have just read your post and my heart goes out to you. Hopefully some anti-biotics will do the trick. Regarding the cost of getting stock up from England, it may be worth chatting to Robert Waddell at the Scottish Pig Keepers Association. This is something they may be able to help bring the cost down for. You could also consider AI. However, I have my fingers crossed it won’t come to this for you x

    • We’ve gone over the costs several times in the past few months and, increasingly, it no longer looks viable to keep pigs. Of the 33 potential customers who’ve contacted us this year, 28 expected prices of £35 or less for a 30kg, 10-week-old weaner with most expecting prices below £30. Our cost per weaner is sitting just under £65, without factoring in the most recent spike in cereal prices, the costs of buying new breeding stock (particularly fuel costs) and so on.

      For comparison, the price for commercial weaners at 30kg—and weaned 5-6 weeks earlier than ours—has sat between £43-46 since January. Our potential customers with their expectations of prices below £35 would not get a commercial weaner for that money, but they still insist we should give them what they want.

      The farm insurance will fall due next month and it’s bound to jump again—last year it rose by 15% even after shopping around for the best deal. We need to replace fencing, but the price of steel and timber means materials are much more expensive than last year or the year before. The croft buildings need to be repointed, three years after we first identified problems.

      No, I think that if Gus has OCD then we’ll probably cull the herd. We also have a sow that’s had her last litter, too. If people were prepared to pay the cost of extensive, traditional breed production we might have a chance, but they aren’t. All that matters is getting something that’s “cheap as chips”.

  2. Sorry to hear that, Stonehead. I hope things work out.

  3. Hope the antibiotics work for you.

  4. So sorry to read Gus is lame! I’ve been reading your blog ever since we got or two Berkshire-cross (75% Berkshire, 25% Hampshire) gilts in 2011. I’ve really enjoyed your posts about breeding pigs, and they were a useful source of information when we decided to breed a litter of piglets ourselves this year.

    And I almost can’t believe the prices you’re asking for weaners; we’ve sold 2 young gilts for €150 each, and 2 young boars for €100 each. And they aren’t even pure bred Berkshires, just Berkshire-cross x Bentheimer piglets! If we had purebred Berkshire piglets we could probably ask double that price. Unfortunately there aren’t any over here (Netherlands), we’d have to import them. Maybe you should consider exporting, you might get a decent price ;)

    • We’d like to be able to get cost plus 8-10% margin. However, the customer base has shifted from a majority of people wanting outdoor reared, traditional breed pigs with provenance with a view to producing their own high quality, high welfare pork to a majority of people wanting ultra cheap pigs to get pork that’s cheaper than the supermarket budget lines. Of course, it’s not possible to produce pork to that price point without going extremely intensive, indoors and off-shore but there’s no point telling people that.

      We have had a few inquiries from people wanting to buy pigs for export, but it’s a complicated and expensive process. Some producers have done it from England, but they’re bigger than us and have better access to transport, quarantine, veterinary services, etc.

  5. Sorry to read about Gus. It will be sad if you have to stop producing pork, but given your ongoing struggle, I can´t say I´m surprised. Will you be concentrating on the poultry?

    Thank you for being a wealth of information.

  6. sad to hear this. What are your alternatives if you do cull the herd?

  7. Another prospective customer this afternoon. Expected to pay £30-35 for a 10-week-old piglet, would have preferred organic, all their previous suppliers have quit.

    • Where do people get their pricing ideas from!? I would expect to pay between £50 and £75 depending on whether for pork or breeding, registered or a mixture. £5 per week of life is what I was always told for a meat weaner.

  8. Andy in Germany Reply 7 July, 2012 at 20:03

    Hells bells, that’s all you need: I’m really sorry to hear it. Please keep us posted on what happens and what you decide.

    At the risk of sounding like I’m offering empty words, from what I’ve read here you are a remarkable and resourceful family, and you will have ideas for the future whatever happens to Gus now. I’m (genuinely) looking forward to hearing what you do next.

    I’m also very grateful for the honesty, which will help us when we finally move into our own smallholding: we’ll know it isn’t about sunny days with flowery meadows…

    • I haven’t had more than five or six days off in the past eight years and haven’t had a holiday since the summer of 2000. If the pigs go, I might be tempted to give livestock a break, chickens aside, until at least next spring and take it a little easier for a few months. Of course, I’ll still have a lot to do but all four of us might even be able to take a family holiday for the first time.

  9. so sorry to hear about Gus … I always thought OCD = obsessive compulsive disorder !!

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