No more pigs

CTALK
Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) – January 4, 2021 – 12:00am

On the last day of the worst year of modern history – Dec. 31, 2020, we “depopulated” our backyard hog farm of 31 pigs, thereby ending 15 years of breeding and raising both domestic and wild pigs. “Depopulate” is now the preferred term used by authorities rather than “kill,” “slaughter” or “cull.” The 31 heads were what was left after a painfully slow six-week process of medicating, nursing but eventually burying at least 50 or so sows and piglets. In hindsight, I am glad that we went through a six-week nightmare rather than the shocking experience of other hog raisers who lost everything in one week. In total, I lost about 75 to 80 pigs and piglets. Others I found out lost 1,700 to 6,000 pigs. I was strangely glad it took six weeks to conclude, because the roller coaster process of trying to find out what the cause and solutions could be, slowly but surely prepped us to a resigned state of mind that we could be dealing with the deadly ASF or African Swine Fever (the animal kingdom equivalent of COVID-19).

On the other hand, what made those six weeks hell was the realization that serious diseases infecting hog populations are not easily identifiable in spite of having several veterinarians doing the analysis or investigation. In the course of six weeks we consulted with four vets who listed the possibilities; acute pneumonia, 30 percent ASF, Glaser’s disease, hog cholera or mycoplasma infection. From there we went through various treatment options and as the death toll continued, we ultimately called in someone to collect blood samples to get specifics on what disease we were dealing with while we carried on treating the pigs and heavily disinfecting the facilities.

For the longest time, the media and even people in the hog industry say that if ASF hits a farm, it first kills the adult pigs, sows and then piglets all within one week. Well, ASF took almost eight weeks to wipe us out and only until I decided to throw in the towel and immediately “depopulate” once I heard the test results. ASF first affected the piglets of my baboy damo, then affected the adults then “transferred” to the nearby facility of white piglets and then started to take down the adults weeks apart. They did not get sick and die all at the same time. When we sought out help to get blood tests done, I discovered that there is only ONE government accredited private laboratory for South Luzon, BIOASSETS; they don’t have an express lane for suspected and urgent testing needs for ASF. I was told that everybody lines up for an appointment because every hog farm and vendor is required to get an ASF clearance certificate in order to transport any and all pigs. As a result, you could be waiting for a week to four weeks for an appointment and the tests could cost you anywhere from P3,500 (for six heads) to P21,500 (for 30 heads). The process took around 10 days because the laboratory had an early Christmas party and closed between Dec. 24 to Jan. 3. During that short period I lost about eight to 10 pigs. I was never given or sent an actual copy of the lab results, I learned from a third party and I had to go directly to Undersecretary Willie Medrano of DA to get guidance and assistance.

On Dec. 31, 2020, veterinarian Jommel Lasay of the Lipa City Vets office arrived at the farm and it was then I learned we had to first dig a pit 2 x 2 meters wide and 3 meters deep. It was cold and wet and six young men courageously started to do the job until the Lipa City motor pool showed up with a brand new full size backhoe to do the job.

I’m glad to have gone through the experience because I can say that our hog industry is doomed unless people in government, in Congress and in the industry decide to set up intelligent, fact-based protocols on determining ASF, how to deal with an outbreak and pursue the establishment of livestock/poultry dedicated laboratories in every province, much like every governor and mayor is now pushing for COVID-19 testing laboratories. Zoom conferences are useless to hog raisers on the ground! From what I learned there is only one laboratory for south Luzon located in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, one in Pasig City (?) and one in Quezon City under the Department of Agriculture. The prohibitive cost of P21,500 to test 30 pigs before delivery is so high that some farms have decided to sell only within their city or town limits to avoid the need for tests. This is why there is a shortage in supply.

I learned from other people that other farms and raisers had to take care of the “burial” of the infected pigs because many towns and cities don’t have a system where engineering or motor pool sends out mini or standard backhoes to dig those deep pits. Last but not least, I learned that commercial farms don’t get any compensation for their loss, and the small farmers who get P5,000 per head will be waiting for many months before they get any of the start-up money. The system is also so convoluted that claims have to be split up among several names or recipients because each claim is limited to 20 pigs at a time. Further, no one agrees on how soon we could repopulate. So we decided to quit and convert the piggery to poultry and sabong. May I call the attention of the senator and congressman chairpersons of the committees on agriculture. Please act on these complications before other hog raisers decide to quit like we did!

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