Baby Pig Hernia Surgery

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Two weeks ago, Dave, John and my dad undertook a bit of a daunting task. It was time to wrangle up and castrate all of the boys in our piglet group. To begin, we had to separate the mommas from the babies, which the mommas weren’t really a fan of. Then we had to round up each baby pig in their huts and castrate the boys, which they weren’t really a fan of. This involves a lot of squealing, biting and castrating, which we’re not really a fan of.  It’s an all around great day full of sunshine and rainbows. Trust me, you don’t want to visit our farm on castration day. I don’t know why you would want to. While the guys worked efficiently like a professional pit crew, or the team that replaces Kim Kardashian’s plastic and robot parts when they go defective, I had the task of holding darling baby piglets after their castration. It’s a tough job. One of the last piglets we picked up was a girl that happened to have what looked like a large hernia. The boys handed her to me, while I held her close and transported her to a large dog crate until we could take further action.

In most CAFO operations, she would be an automatic cull and would throw her against a wall or something as soon as they noticed the hernia. It’s cruel, but it’s true. People really do that! That’s not our style. Even though she’ll be raised to be a feeder pig, that doesn’t mean that she should have a lesser quality of life than any other pig. Once that pig has been raised up, she’ll be able to provide many people or families with delicious, high quality pork. It’s our responsibility to take care of her, so that eventually she’ll be able to take care of other people. So what does this all mean? Off to the vet we go!

Our farm vet is the wonderful Dr. Martin in Herculaneum, MO. Those that farm know the importance of a good farm vet. Dr. Martin and his staff have always been incredibly knowledgable, caring and supportive in every interaction we’ve had with them. So when we called and told them we had a baby pig with a possible hernia, they told us to bring her in later that day. We put her in a pet crate and kept her happy until her appointment. Dave took her in and met with Dr. Martin, he took one look at her and sure enough, it was a good ol’ fashioned hernia and he suggested surgery. When we asked what time or day we should come back he said, “let’s do it right now!” Awesome! He commented that it would actually be fun for him since he usually gets a lot of routine spays and neutering. I’m sure he doesn’t get to do a lot of baby pig  surgeries although he has a lot of great experience in small/large livestock. Not only is he a wonderful, kind vet and the type of dude you could sit down and talk with for hours, but he’s also a great educator. He’s taught us how to give shots or treatments (castrations, ear notching, small injuries, etc) to our animals so that we feel comfortable doing most animal husbandry related things ourselves.

So when it was decided that the baby pig would be having her surgery that day, he asked Dave if he wanted to watch! Dave obviously said yes and asked if he could take pictures to document. Dr. Martin said yes, it would be great for us and for others to know about baby pig hernia surgery. As I mentioned before, most large commercial farms would just cull the pig but this simple surgery is quick, routine and pretty reasonably priced. We figured that spending $50 or so on this pig is worth it, given that she’ll be able to grow up and feed a few families. If we didn’t bring her in and didn’t cull her, she would have gotten bigger and so would her hernia. It would have eventually gotten so worse and left untreated, would be fatal. At her age (2 weeks old) and size, she would be able to quickly recover. So with that, it was time to scrub up and take her to pre-op! Sidenote: It would have been adorable if she had one of those hospital gowns that was open in the back. But tiny. I wonder if they make those.

WARNING: The rest of this post contains details and pictures about a baby pig hernia surgery. And spoiler alert, everything went great and the baby pig is fully recovered. But if you’re not into surgery pictures then you may not want to read on. 

The vet tech gave her some sleepy gas before prepping her on the table. Once she was konked out (it’s a real medical term), they put a tiny little tube in her to intubate. Then they prepped the table for her and Dr. Martin started to work his magic.

You've got to admit it, she's pretty cute.
You’ve got to admit it, she’s pretty cute.
Check out that hernia on the left side. Pretty good size hernia for such a little girl.
Check out that hernia on the left side. Pretty good size hernia for such a little girl.
All prepped and ready to go!
All prepped and ready to go! They used tiny restraints on her legs to keep the skin taught and her legs out of the way.

After a quick little shave over the hernia area, they used tiny restraints to keep her skin taught and her legs out of the way. Then they put the drape over her and made the first incision. Dr. Martin made a small incision in the skin to expose the fascia. The fascia, as you remember from high school biology class or your A&P class which you definitely did NOT sleep through, is the membrane underneath skin and fat that protects the organs and stuff. Hernias occur when the intestine pokes through this fascia membrane. So Dr. Martin cut the incision large enough to expose the entire hernia but shallow enough to expose the fascia layer.

First incision
First incision.
Gently cutting to the fascia layer.
Gently cutting to the fascia layer.

And there’s the herniated intestine! It was a pretty big hernia considering her size. Once he exposed the entire area, he put the intestine back through and sutured the hole in the fascia shut.

And there it is!
And there it is! There was more intestine exposed than this photo shows. On the left you can see the hole in the fascia layer continuing further.
Carefully stitching the fascia layer to keep the intestines where they belong.
Carefully stitching the fascia layer to keep the intestines where they belong.
The tiniest and most delicate stitches. Let me also just say that Dr. Martin is over 6' tall and is built like some sort of football player. I don't know sports. But he was able to make the smallest incision and the most precise stitches.
The tiniest and most delicate stitches. Let me also just say that Dr. Martin is over 6′ tall and is built like some sort of football player. I don’t know sports. But he was able to make the smallest incision and the most precise stitches.

Here’s our hero, Dr. Martin putting in the last few stitches to close up the whole deal! He does wonderful (and delicate) work with great care.

Our hero! And look how extra tiny she looks on the OR table. Well, she is tiny.. she's only 2 weeks old!
Our hero! And look how extra tiny she looks on the OR table. Well, she is tiny.. she’s only 2 weeks old!
All done!
All done!

And with the final dermal stitches in place (surface skin stitches), it was time for her post-op recovery. She recovered nicely, and quickly might I add. After they took our the intubator, she was still pretty loopy and just hung out with her tongue sticking out. Before we left, Dr. Martin notched her right ear so that we would be able to tell her apart in the herd of 34 baby pigs. Good thinkin’ doc! We asked him about recovery and he said that she could pretty much go right back to momma. She had only been apart from the herd and mom for a few hours so we figured that it would be ok. And that’s exactly what we did. When she came home, she was already squealing and ready to see mom, and probably eat. So in she went with momma Amy Swinehouse and her brothers and sisters, and she’s been running around back to 100% ever since. It took a few days for the swelling to go down but we never noticed a change in habits, personality or vigor.

Post-Op, sleepsy piggy
Post-Op, sleepsy piggy
All ready to go home!
All ready to go home!

So a big thank you again to Dr. Martin and his wonderful staff in Herculaneum, MO! And we hope this can serve as a guide for anyone else that encounters a baby pig with a hernia. If you have a baby pig you’re growing up as a feeder or a breeder, doing this quick and simple surgery is highly recommended. A small investment in this procedure will (in all likelihood) save its life and allow it to grow up to its full potential!


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