Troubleshooting sow abortions


Chillin' with the herd
Jan 17, 2019
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We're in the process of trying to figure out what might be going on with our herd and farm. We're inclined to suspect the feed we switched to last fall is the culprit, but I figured it'd be good to ask some opinion on the matter.

This year we had 5 of 6 sows abort, 4 of those within the last month of their pregnancy. These were confirmed pregnancies. 4 of the sows went through a slight "birthy" lethargy 2 weeks before their due date, give or take. They looked like they were going into labor so we put them in the farrowing pen; each one made an huge nest, laid in it huffing and grunting, vulva somewhat dilated, and we though "oh gee, is she gonna have em early?!" Then... nothing. No piglets. Each time. Her breast tissue recedes, her belly shrinks, and she goes back into heat within a few days. We never saw any fetuses or mess with these 4 sows.
The 1st sow who aborted, who was the first and not like these other 4, did so earlier on in her pregnancy, about 1 month in. It was her first time being pregnant so we thought it was a fluke. I heard the boar growling and investigated to find the two breeding enthusiastically, and there was a massive splatter of gelatinous, slimy mess in the straw in the building with them. Almost looked like someone broke a giant egg. I have no idea how quickly a sow will breed back, but I wondered if she had just miscarried and was now breeding back?

Our 6th sow delivered 7 piglets effortlessly, it was her second farrowing. We expected more piglets from her. They were the picture of health until they started weening. One started looking sad and wobbly and lethargic, I brought it in for care on the bottle. Her abdomen was shrunken in, her rib area bulged, she was somewhat oblivious of her surroundings and breathing very hard. I got some fluid into her and she died shortly after, the same night I brought her in. Had no clue what that was about. A week later, a boy from the litter went from the picture of health to the same symptoms over night. I did the same for him, he died shortly after I hydrated him. I read and read and read and the only thing I could come up with that matched their problem perfectly was "salt poisoning". We decided to suspect the new feed and immediately switched the piglets to plain cracked barley in place of the pellets. They also had their grass hay and loads of kitchen stuffs. Had no more issues, the remaining 5 were just fine and made it to weening and beyond without a problem.

Since that 1 sow farrowed, the afore mentioned 4 sows have miscarried. All of them were due Feb-March this year. We're in zone 3, it's mostly been below freezing during this time. The pigs have several outbuildings filled with heaps of dry clean hay bedding, our farrowing run is free of draughts and very clean and dry. The barn is much warmer than outside and we have a stove in there if it gets real cold on the piggers, but that didn't happen this year. It was a mild winter. I don't suspect environment was the cause of the problem.

The herd is 6 sows and a boar. They're all the picture of health. Their hair is full and soft, their eyes and ears aren't gunky, they have no health complaints, though the minis have gotten a bit fat this winter. Our full size sows are a good trim weight. We've had no sign of any illness or disease in our closed herd. They always have access to mineral salt blocks and get free-choice grass hay and daily veggie scraps. They get as much grain as they want, but they prefer to eat anything other than this grain we have. In summer they free range forested mountainside and eat loads of rich natural fodder.

So we were pigeon holed into buying a new feed last fall. We don't have any other vendors for grain by the ton where we're at, and we need 5-7 tons per year, with at least a 6 month supply going into winter since our roads close in the snow. This feed is pelleted and doesn't have evaluation tags on the totes. We purchased from the same vendor the year before, but they were selling cracked grain mixes, not pellets- we had no problems, our sows raised healthy robust piglets with no losses. They don't sell cracked grain anymore. This is supposed to be just like the grain mixes, only in pellet form. It's supposed to be 18% for "everything on the farm", but the chickens will not lay eggs on it unless we supplement with extra protein. We've been having chickens and turkeys dying from fatness; their abdominal cavity impacts with a solid ball of fat and it kills them. Our egg fertility is also less than 50% which does not reflect the rooster presence and breeding going on. Many of the roosters I've butchered have had soft, mushy testicles. I've been raising poultry for many years on many kinds of feed and have never seen this stuff happen, it all started within 2 months of switching feed last fall. Even if we just offer whole barley and wheat on the side for the birds, it makes a huge improvement in their laying and health. Like 1-3 eggs per day on pure pellets, or 15-20 eggs per day with a free choice supplement grain.

Anyway. Before we mention anything to the grain producers (just as a cordial 'hey, there might be a problem here', not to stir up a storm), I thought I'd see if there were any thoughts on other possibilities for why we've got an apparently healthy breeding herd but almost no piglets :/