Well, I guess you could say my weekend started off with a bang. If you’re just tuning in, I’ve been stressing over one of our piglets who has/had a hernia. I was able to tape him up Friday, but the tape had come loose by the time we fed Saturday morning, exposing a small loop of intestine. I was worried about a repeat of Friday, so we held off trying to catch him until after I heard from the vet. I was supposed to go pick up a new train table for Farmboy, but I needed to find out what was going on with the piglet.
The vet was originally scheduled to be here at 2:30, but he called me at 11 to let me know he was about 20 minutes away. He wanted us to go ahead and try to catch the piglet first, which I was kind of dreading. I was prepared to have to push his intestines back inside his body again, but my anxiety was rising at the same time. The good news is that Hubby has gotten really good at catching piglets, and the piglet was caught with very little stress or exertion. We did need to push the small section of exposed intestine back in and try to cover it with skin, so I gloved up and went to work with my Betadine and Elastikon. I didn’t need to be as thorough with my taping, so I did just enough to get it to stay for the 10-15 minutes until the vet got there. Then we put him in a wire dog crate until his surgery.
By the time we had cleaned up and put away our supplies from patching up the piglet, the vet was pulling into the driveway. At this point, I had planned to go ahead and leave to get the train table, but I wanted to meet the vet since this was our first time using him. Our regular livestock vet doesn’t treat pigs. I gave the vet a pair of booties we use for bio-security, and he started getting ready for the surgery.
The thing is, I’m a nerd. Once all of the shiny tools came out and there was a chance for me to learn something new, I should have known I wasn’t going to get that train table. Plus, Hubby really isn’t that good with blood, so I wasn’t sure how he’d do with the whole surgery. I’m definitely glad I stayed though, even if it ultimately meant we didn’t get the train table. I ended up finding a different train table and an Easy Bake Oven the very next day, but that’s a different story.
Once the vet opened up the piglet, we began to realize just how serious of a situation we were dealing with. First of all, the intestines had started to attach themselves to the skin outside of the abdominal cavity, which was why I wasn’t able to reduce the hernia when I tried to tape it. Our only option to repair the hernia at this point was surgery. At least I know that I wasn’t spending all of this money in vein, no other treatment would have worked. The vet also hadn’t realized just how much of the intestine was outside of the abdominal cavity. It was a full loop of the lower intestines, which is a lot. There were also signs of way too much stress to the bowel…too red and inflamed in some places…pale and lacking circulation in others…plus a couple of ulcers. Parts of the bowel felt cold. More than once, the vet said I’d probably end up having to shoot the piglet. There was really no reason why he had survived this long, there was even less chance he’d survive this surgery or the days after. Yet, the vet kept going. I began to question if we should even wake the piglet up from surgery. Why not put him down now so he doesn’t die a slow, painful death? I dreaded the thought of him going downhill in another day or two and me having to shoot him.
What surprised me more than anything was that the vet didn’t give up. He admitted the chances were slim. The surgery alone was risky…pigs don’t always do well with anesthesia…and now he was facing ridiculous odds in the hope that his intestine isn’t dead and will recover. It’s ridiculous. What animal survives something like that? Yet, the vet told me that we might as well give him a chance. The vet had finished the surgery, he just had to close him up. He told me that the body has amazing healing abilities and pigs are very resilient. And I thought I was hopelessly optimistic sometimes.
Of course, he also admitted that if this had been a horse, he’d already be dead. He had a point.
He gave the piglet an antibiotic, a pain med, and a tetanus shot, then we put him in a dog crate to recover. He was already waking up when we set him down and was back on his feet within seconds. He was talking and moving around not long after, which the vet took as a good sign. He had survived the anesthesia, now we just had to wait. The vet said that if he made it to Tuesday, then he would be out of the woods. He left me with another pain med to give him that night, and he left.
Sunday was very promising, the piglet was active and eating well. By Sunday night, we felt comfortable enough to put him back in with the rest of the litter. We also weaned the litter from Little Bit Sunday night. By Monday morning, we discovered Little Bit and Ophelia had busted their way back into the piglet pen. The little guy was still active, eating, and nursing. Late Monday afternoon, I watched him poop. I’ve never been more happy to see pig poop in my life. It was a good amount and solid too. We technically have another day before we can declare him out of the woods, but I’m taking this as a very good sign.
I’m still on pins and needles. I can’t help but feel like this is too good to be true. If he makes it through this, it will truly be a miracle. Looking at those intestines, he should not be alive right now. He should have gone into shock when I was shoving them all back in on Friday, let alone the surgery on Saturday.
I have learned a lot about this type of hernia through all of this. Inguinal hernias are very rare and only occur in about 2% of piglets. The inguinal muscle is part of the abdomen and is located directly behind the penis on pigs. It is where the testicles descend from the abdomen and go back to the scrotum. Rarely, that opening will be too large or will remain open and allow the intestines to fall through. It is a genetic condition. Will it happen if I breed Little Bit to this boar again? Maybe, maybe not.
So what do I do if it does happen again?
- I can try castrating and taping the hernia according to Dr. Groth’s protocol. Now that I understand the anatomy and the procedure a little more, I might be more successful. I just have to decide if I think the risk is worth it. I’d like to see someone more experienced perform the protocol so I’m not trying to play trial and error with a piglet’s life again.
- I can have the vet castrate the piglets. It’s an expensive option, but could be worth it if I know one of the piglets has a hernia. It would cost the same to have all of the boys castrated and one hernia repaired as it cost me this time to just have one hernia repaired. Plus, we would catch it early enough that it wouldn’t risk the piglet’s life. However, we would have the risk of giving the piglets anesthesia.
- Don’t castrate. No, I wouldn’t keep the piglet for breeding. I’ve always been hesitant to butcher an intact boar because of the risk of boar taint. I’ve heard of people throwing away a whole freezer worth of pork because they didn’t like the flavor. However, the vet said that boar taint doesn’t happen until the boars are older. If we’re going to butcher him at 6-7 months old, the meat will taste the same as a castrated pig. If that is the case, then we may just go that option. I guess we’ll find out if this ever happens again.
I really do hope this guy is out of the woods now. I wasn’t really planning to keep any piglets from this litter, and certainly not one for the freezer. Our freezers are busting at the seems as it is. I’m hoping that this surgery will also mean that he will start gaining better. Because his body couldn’t absorb all of the nutrients from his intestines, he is noticeably smaller than his litter-mates. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a bad meat pig. I kept the smallest male out of the last litter and he ended up being an excellent meat hog. It just means he has a little more catching up to do. The rest of his siblings are filling out quite nicely. I’m tempted to feed him out like I would a show hog just as an experiment. It could help me decide if this is a breeding I want to repeat in the future.