By Karin Kraft
Kunekune pigs (pronounced “cooney cooney”) are a smart option for small farms. Kunekune means “fat and round” in the Maori language. These tasseled, sweet-tempered, medium-sized pigs hail from New Zealand. While no one knows for sure, they are thought to be a cross of Berkshire, Poland China and possibly Gloucester Old Spots among pigs from Indonesia.
Females average 100 to 175 pounds, while males can reach the 200 to 250-plus range. They have short, upturned snouts that discourage rooting, and they do not challenge fences. Kunekunes are grazing pigs and are able to grow on low inputs, making them an ideal breed during periods of escalating grain prices. Gourmet chefs in Los Angeles have declared Kunekune pork outstanding.
My husband and I raise our Kunekunes in a semi-rural environment within the growth management boundary of Olympia, Washington. We have more than a dozen neighbors surrounding our 4-acre parcel. Our county conservation district has advised us that our pastures can support two boars, eight sows, and their piglets. One boar can easily keep eight sows in pig, though.
Feeding Kunekune Pigs
We rotate our pigs through five pastures, moving them every other day during the spring and summer. Supplementation is sometimes necessary, depending on the quality and quantity of available pasture. We add approximately 2 cups of organic mixed grain (15 percent protein) both morning and night for each pig. Grass only contains adequate protein levels five months of the year here in western Washington. With shade from tall evergreen trees, even less may be available. When the pasture stops growing in late summer we add alfalfa pellets and produce scraps.
Our local brewery supplies us with 25 gallons each week of an organic amber ale swill (non-alcoholic effluent from the brewing process) that is filled with yeast and enzymes. In the fall our friends supply windfall apples and pears. Pigs will eat just about anything from the garden other than onions and garlic. Beets, carrots, and potatoes are their favorite vegetables. We feed them old leftovers and keep everything fresh in the fridge — although the farm dog already has dibs on any and all meat scraps from the kitchen.
Kunekunes should be fed alfalfa hay during the winter when they are off pasture. We prefer alfalfa pellets because nothing is wasted and it is easier to feed. We purchase organic grain and pellets not only for the health of the pigs, but also for our own protection from pesticide residue in the dust. We also like the fact that organic grain is mostly free of genetically-modified organisms. Although it is quite a bit more expensive than conventional feed, the price of the pork can offset this cost if advertised as organically-fed.
Housing Kunekune Pigs
Pigs on pasture still need shelter from rain. We had the good fortune to obtain scrapped sections of a carbon-fiber rocket fuselage from a developing space travel company; these make excellent shelters. We have a section in each of our pastures and over part of the paddock. The pigs usually sleep in the open unless it is raining. They generally stay in a pile to remain warm and conserve energy.
During winter months, our pigs sleep in the barn with access to an exterior gravel paddock. Taking them off pasture during the rainy season prevents soil compaction. Pigs do not soil their bedding like ruminants in confinement. Kunekunes do not need extra heat unless piglets are born in cold temperatures. Heat lamps should be installed with the utmost caution so that a poorly hung or defective lamp does not burn down the barn.
Breeding Kunekune Pigs
Kunekunes are slow-growing and take their time before getting saddled with a bunch of piglets. While they are sexually mature by between five and eight months, they may not be interested in breeding for another six months. It takes some time for the males to build up confidence. We imagine them saying, “Excuse me madam, but your aroma is quite alluring. You wouldn’t consider — no no, of course not. I am so sorry. Please forgive me. I’ll just take a nap over here… so sorry.” With time and maturity, though, he will chatter nonstop in her ear and roar frequently, sounding like a grizzly bear.
My husband and I were in the barn one morning helping our goat deliver her first kids when we heard a passionate pig conversation between our boar, Newton, and our gilt, Shiva. (Shiva is named after the world-famous Vandana Shiva, a physicist and agronomist from India. I highly recommend her books Soil Not Oil and Stolen Harvest.) Three and half months later, Shiva gave birth to seven gorgeous piglets.
If left on pasture until the end of gestation, a sow will build a beautiful nest from grass and tree branches. She will stay under the nest two days prior to delivery and several days after the piglets are born.
Once or twice a year pigs need their hooves trimmed. This merely requires a pair of goat hoof trimmers, two able-bodied people, and five minutes.
The easiest way to do this is to separate the pig to be trimmed from the rest. Start by scratching the pig’s belly till it flops over. Have a helper to continue the belly scratch. If the pig won’t lie down, place a handful of grain on the ground, squat next to the pig, reach under it, and grab the two legs on the far side. Pull the legs toward you and roll the pig onto its back. As soon as the pig is upside down, grab the other front leg so that one is in each hand, straddle the pig — facing the head — and place a foot on each side of the pig’s shoulder. Do not get behind the back legs or you may get kicked.
Use the goat hoof trimmer to level the nail to the nail pad and round off the outside edge. Trim off the sharp edges of the dew claws. It will not take more than five minutes to do all four hoofs. Step off the pig and release the front legs. Reward the pig with a piece of fruit and good scratch. Be sure to stretch your back before doing the next one!
Vaccinations and Worming
Several veterinarians here in the Pacific Northwest have recommended Rhini Shield TX4 to protect pigs from erysipelas, parvo, atrophic rhinitis, and certain types of pneumonia. If you plan to take your pigs to a fair where there will be other pigs, you will definitely want to vaccinate several weeks beforehand.
The main benefit of worming — which really means de-worming — is to ensure that you are actually farming pigs and not worms. Pigs pick up worm eggs from the soil. Lung worms can contribute to pneumonia in winter months. Even with steady pasture rotation it is difficult to keep pigs free of worms. Pigs’ noses are on the ground 99 percent of time that they are not asleep; if worms exist on the pasture, the pigs will ingest them. If you are new to raising livestock, you will find many opinions related to worming. Over-worming and inadequate worming can lead to resistant worms, just as improper use of antibiotics can beget superbugs. To be on the safe side, consult with your veterinarian.
Kunekune boars grow impressive tusks. Not being a particularly aggressive breed, though, they do not often use their tusks against other pigs. Even folks who keep multiple boars do not find the need to file down the tusks. Those who want to try this anyway, though, can easily do so using a simple wire tool that can be bought or made at home. Supposedly you can do this when the boar is on his back to have his hooves trimmed. File his tusks down to the gum line. The tooth root is below the gum line, so this does not cause any pain. Each tusk can be removed in about five to ten seconds with rapid back and forth sawing once the wire is in the right spot. Just make sure you are not touching gum tissue before you begin! It possibly works better to use a snare and do it upright. Disclaimer: I have not tried either method. I have only seen it done.
Biggest Mistakes Kunekune Owners Make
Overfeeding leads to loss of fertility and poor health for your animal. Check on-line visual guides to ensure you are feeding to the correct weight for your animals. I have also seen cases of underfeeding where owners think pigs need only grass or only bread etc. Please do your homework on porcine nutrition. You can’t go wrong with a pig specific brand of feed unless you feed incorrect amounts.
Another common mistake is expecting the same characteristics from Kune-crosses as from purebreds Kunekunes. You will see many more rooting and escaping behaviors from cross-bred pigs.
An increasing number of farm interns are hungry for farm knowledge and experience. A college intern can make life on the farm much more enjoyable and can relieve some of the workload. Students are often willing to work in exchange for fresh fruits and vegetables and possibly some fresh or frozen meat. A young farm intern will be thrilled to help out with hoof trimming, tusk filing, worming, or just brushing the pigs. Kunekune pigs are affectionate animals, and brushing them is as enjoyable to us as it is to them.
A Smart Investment for the Homestead
For those who want to raise pigs for their own consumption, what better animal could you buy than one that won’t tear everything up and escape in the process? For those wanting to raise the safest and most economical pigs, purebred Kunekunes are a great option.
This article was originally published in the February 2013 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.
For more information on Karin Kraft and Kunekunes, visit The Iron Horse Farm.