Kunekunes are very different than other pigs in ways that make them a joy to raise on a small or large acreage. They are as easy going as they are cute, and do not have a mean bone in their rolly-poly bodies.
Having been raised free range in Maori villages for several hundred years, they developed a fondness for humans, and a desire to stay close. They are very sociable animals, and get along with sheep, goats, dogs, etc. They love to be scratched, especially on their bellies, and will flop down for a good belly rub.
Kunekunes aren't hard on fences like big pigs are, but the little ones will try to go under if there is food on the other side. They always go home at meal time, though. We provide some tips on fencing below.
Kunekunes don't root like other pigs. The short, up turned snouts that make them so adorable just can't manage it. They are true grazers, and won't mess up your pasture. Kunekunes grow much slower than other pigs. This is wonderful for several reasons: 1. You get to enjoy the super cute piglet stage for a long time. 2. They require much less feed on a daily basis than large pigs, and can get most of their nutrition from foods other than purchased grain. 3. If you are raising Kunekunes for butchering, you will find that the meat has much more flavor than fast growing pigs.
Feeding: Kunekunes can make use of very many food sources. Pigs are naturally omnivores, so the sky is the limit. One thing to remember about Kunekunes is that they grow much, much slower than conventional pigs so they require much less feed. You cannot feed Kunekunes free choice pig pellets or other grain. They will get seriously obese and unhealthy. Most Kunekunes are raised on primarily pasture. You can confine Kunekunes if you don't have any pasture, but you must watch their diet so they do not get obese. Kunekunes will eat good quality, green, leafy hay, alfalfa pellets, garden waste scraps, leftover Halloween pumpkins, whatever. Just be sure that, if they don't have grass, they have plenty of lower calorie produce along with a little grain, if you must feed them grain. We raise turnips and sweet potatoes to feed our pigs in the winter, and they also make use of acorns and excess fruit from our orchard. We also grow fodder for them in our basement in the winter.
If your pasture is rich, Kunekunes generally do not need any other food. A rich pasture is an actively growing, green pasture with high protein forages like clover and young, spring grass prior to senescence. Keep your pasture mowed and watered, and, depending on climate and what is growing in your pasture, you might be able to keep it high quality from mid-Spring through mid-Fall. However, when pasture is mature, dry or dormant, your pigs will need supplementation. You can do the easy thing and feed them a little bit of pig pellets, but they will also thrive on many other food sources.
Our pasture is generally high quality from April until early August, and then again in the fall. In a normal year, our feeding looks like this: April through July: Most pigs are just on pasture, but lactating sows and young piglets are receiving supplementary pellets. All pigs receive garden scraps when available. August, September: Depending on rainfall and pasture growth, our pigs usually need supplementation. Our pasture is generally mature and dry at this point. Some pellets and lots of garden scraps. October, November: Happy pig months! Green pasture from fall rains, acorns, pears, and lots of garden scraps from processing veggies. November, December, January: Turnips, sweet potatoes, and fodder, all grown on our farm. Pellets when the weather is super cold, and for lactating sows and young piglets. February, March: We are generally out of sweet potatoes and turnips, so we feed fodder and pellets. If we could find good quality alfalfa hay, we wood probably feed that instead of pellets. As you can see, Kunekunes can thrive on a wide range of foods. So, think about what you may have on hand that your Kunekunes might enjoy: extra milk or whey, cull fruit, soaked grains, leftover mash from beer making, alfalfa hay, pumpkins, melon rinds, half rotten tomatoes, over-mature okra and green beans, over grown squash and cucumbers, etc.
If you must feed pig pellets, feed at the rate of one to four cups per day each, divided into 2 meals, morning and night. Little piglets that are still nursing need even less. A lactating sow will need approximately 4 cups. A just weaned piglet will need about 1 cup. A large boar might need 4 cups. A small, fully grown, non-lactating sow might need 2 cups. Watch their weight and adjust accordingly. What ever you do, please do not allow your Kunekunes to eat all the pellets they want. They will get obese. Fat pigs might be cute, but they have leg, breeding, and farrowing problems.
Feeding Piglets: Piglets should nurse for at least 8 weeks. When they are about 1 week old they will start nibbling on food. It is a good idea to provide them a little bit of whatever the sow is eating at this time and some pig pellets, but spread it out or she will knock her babies out of the way and eat all of the food. (She is a PIG, after all. Pigs have no manners when it comes to food!) Kunekunes can't open their jaws very wide, so I cut up hard food (like apples, turnips and sweet potatoes) into small pieces for the piglets to munch on. As the piglets grow, they will need supplementation unless your pasture is amazing (actively growing, leafy, green grasses and legumes). I feed ours about 1/2 cup of pig pellets each daily, after they have been weaned, even when our pasture is perfect. The main thing is to watch their weight. If they look a little skinny, and have been wormed, feed them more. If they are fat and sassy, feed a little less or just let them be a little fat and sassy (as long as they are not obese.) Fodder can replace grain in your piglet's diet, and is more nutritious.
Feeding Lactating Sows Lactating sows need extra feed. Especially soon after farrowing, they do not get out to graze pasture. And, as the greedy little piglets grow, momma has to make a lot of milk! Watch your sow's weight and feed accordingly. I feed our lactating sows up to 4 cups of pig pellets per day each, depending on what else we are feeding at the time. If our pasture is rich and there are acorns and pears, they might only need 2 cups.
Feeding All Other Pigs Grown pigs that are not lactating don't require much feed. In the spring and fall we have excellent pasture and do not need to feed them anything as long as they have free choice grazing. Once our pasture dries up or goes dormant, we start supplementing. Pig pellets can be used. Try feeding 2 to 4 cups per pig per day, and watch their weight. I say "2 to 4 cups" because it depends on the size of the pig, the weather, and whatever else they are eating. We prefer to feed anything but pig pellets.
Kunekunes don't require as strong fencing as large pigs do. There are several important things to consider when planning your fencing: 1. Pigs will try to go under, not over fences. They are ground dwellers, not climbers. So, concentrate your efforts on the bottom of your fence. 2. A well fed pig with ample green pasture won't have a lot of reason to go under the fence if it has never been under and does not know the delights of your yard and garden. If you allow your pigs out in your yard to socialize with you at times, you are setting yourself up for escape artist pigs. Also, if your pasture is dried up and your pigs are not getting a variety of tasty, filling food, they will work extra hard to go an a walk about. 3. It's the little ones that get out. They can get under and through smaller holes with those rolly-poly bodies than you can imagine. Bigger pigs are much easier to keep in. Keep your little ones in your best fenced area.
So, reinforce the bottom of your fencing, plug any holes, feed your pigs well, and don't let them out to play in your yard, and you shouldn't have any problems. Well, you will probably have a pig get out eventually, but the good news is that they will follow food right back in.
Types of Fencing
There are plenty of types of fencing that will work to keep your Kunekunes where you want them. These are the five types that we utilize: Field Fencing: Our two large paddocks (about 3/4 acre each) are field fenced with 2 strands of barbed wire over the top. This is overkill for the pigs, but we also run sheep in there at times, and could have goats, too, if we wanted. We also need to keep coyotes and dogs out. This keeps in medium to large pigs, no problem, as long as no-one is in heat. We have had a couple of large boars find low spots and go under to get to a sow. Plugging the low spots with logs held in place with stakes put an end to this. Also, a single strand of electric wire run 6" out from the fence and 6" up from the ground has proved impenetrable. Hog Panels: We have divided one of our paddocks in half with a run of short hog panels, held in place with T-posts. These are short enough that we can step over them. There are t-posts at the overlapping ends of each panel and one in the middle of each panel. The fence is very tight to the ground. This fence has only been breached once, by a tall, long legged boar trying to get to a sow in heat. We never saw him go over, and it must have been quite a sight, but there he was, in with the sow. We could not figure out any other way he could have gotten there. Taller hog panels or a run of electric at the top of the panels would have prevented this. Cattle Panels: These work very well for medium and large pigs, but will not keep little piglets in. Just make sure that they are tight to the ground and supported in the middle and both ends by a post. Plug any holes that a pig could use to get under. Kunekunes are easier to keep in because they don't root. But, they will take advantage of existing holes. Sheep Fencing Panels: We have our farrowing areas fenced with these. These are like cattle panels, but stronger and with much smaller holes. Even the tiniest piglets can't get through these. Our farrowing areas are within our field fence with electric wire run 6" off the ground for keeping out coyotes and dogs. Electric Net Fencing: We have used this with great success for rotating pigs around our yard. Get at least 200 feet for this purpose, though, or the area inside will be too small. You can also utilize this for rotational grazing.
An important note about electric fencing: Electric fencing is a psychological barrier, not a physical barrier. Pigs need at least 2.5 joules to be enough of a deterrent, and more is better. Any less than that is like a tickle, and will not keep them in. Gates We use the type of gates that are meant for sheep. They have a strong wire mesh. We hang them as low to the ground as we can.
Summer house set-up on left, winter house and extra farrowing area set up on right.
Housing and Water
Kunekunes do not require fancy housing. As long as they have a place that is dry, draft free, and has deep bedding in the winter, they will be just fine. The exception to this is new born piglets, which will be covered under "Farrowing". You can use a large dog house, build a simple shed, buy a special pig hut, use a corner of your barn, etc. I don't like large, open doorways in the winter where snow can drift in, so we hang carpet scraps over the doors of our pig sheds when the weather gets cold. We also have a pig port-a-hut, which has a wide open doorway. For winter, we close off most of the doorway with a board held in place with stakes. This keeps wind out and keeps bedding and warmth in.
In the summer, pigs do not require bedding when nights are warm. Our pigs prefer to sleep on the cool ground at night here in the muggy Midwest/South. As soon as the nights cool off, though, they need some bedding for insulation. In the coldest months we pile straw in their houses. They burrow under and make themselves a straw cocoon on the coldest nights. It's cute. They come out in the morning just covered with straw. Kunekunes are actually quite hardy. Even in the far north they do not require supplemental heat at night in the winter (except newborns, which is covered under "Farrowing."). As long as they have a cozy, dry, draft free spot with lots of bedding that they can burrow into, they will be fine.
Pigs require shade and wallows in the summer. Don't even try to fight them wallowing in their water containers. They will do it even if you provide them with a wallow. (I just laugh and take pictures because it is really cute.) It is their nature. Just plan to clean all water containers out every day and give them fresh water to drink. Pigs need to wallow. They cannot sweat. It is the only way they can cool down, so it is extremely important. Please provide shade over their wallow and drinking water containers. I don't know about you, but I would be unable to cool down in a hot tub, which is what wallows in the sun quickly become (especially in black containers!)
Pigs do use mud from in-ground wallows to coat themselves with a layer of bug and sun protection. If you can provide your pigs with a natural wallow in the ground, they will be grateful. But, if you can't, those little kiddie pools sold at dollar stores work well. Just be sure to double them up or they will get crushed pretty quickly. Our pigs have managed to dig a few shallow wallows in areas that are constantly muddy, like from dumping and cleaning water containers and kiddie pools daily. They prefer their shallow, muddy wallows over their kiddie pools, but use the kiddie pools when the water is fresh to cool off. Really, we sort of have a pig spa area at this point.
Pigs prefer to all go to the bathroom in the same area, away from their food and water. This is quite convenient if you want to use it for fertilizer. Our pig bathroom areas are all along fence lines that they share with other pigs.
Summer port-a-hut. For winter we will but a board most of the way across the opening and add lots of straw.
Pig spa with water containers and wallows.
Breeding Kunekunes reach sexual maturity later than other pigs. Boars might be ready to breed as early as seven months old, but 10 months to 1 year old is more common. But, I make sure to separate my 6 month old boars from any breeding age sows and gilts, just to be sure.
Gilts are able to breed anywhere from 10 months old to 1 1/2 years old. However, waiting until your gilt is at least 1 year old is recommended for her growth and long term health. Breeding too young will stunt your gilt and might cause problems with farrowing. I wait until our gilts are 12 months old to breed them. If they are particularly small, I might wait a couple of months longer. I also might wait so that a first time momma does not have her litter in the coldest months. This might not be necessary, but why chance it? If it is your first time and her first time, I strongly recommend breeding for a warm weather farrowing. Some 12 month old gilts won't breed right away, so try again in a few months.
How do you know when your gilt/sow is ready to breed? Well, you have to keep an eye on her vulva. It will be swollen and moist looking when she is in heat and ready for a boar. I check all my gilts/sows every day at feeding time, and note on a calendar who is in heat. Sows cycle, on average, every 21 days. But, individuals vary from 18 to 25 days. If you keep track, you will know when your sow will be coming into heat again, and can plan our breeding.
We house our boars and sows/gilts in separate paddocks, with a paddock in between that we use for breeding. We have also used electric hog net fencing (from Premier 1 Supplies) to create a temporary love shack. If you have just 2 paddocks, this is useful.
When a sow/gilt that we want to breed is approaching her heat cycle, we move her into the "love shack" area. We then move the boar in, too. I leave them together for one week past the time she would come into her second heat in the love shack, so for at least 4 weeks. I watch to see if she comes back into heat. If she does not, I go ahead and separate them again. I have had sows not "take" on their first heat cycle with a boar. Observing a breeding does not necessarily mean that the sow is bred, so watch those heat cycles.
Farrowing and Gestation
Gestation: A sows gestation lasts approximately 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days, or 114 days. At least one week before a sow is due, she should get moved into her farrowing area. Please don't wait, because she might surprise you and have her piglets early. If you don't know her exact due date, watch her for clues. She should be looking heavy and her belly should be hanging down. However, some first time farrowers that are only carrying a couple of piglets might not look ready to farrow. So, also look for swelling of her vulva. This can happen as much as a week before, but usually it means she will farrow within a few days. You can also watch her teats. When each individual teat gets a swollen area around it's base, it's time to move her. When her milk line develops (her entire teat area drops and forms a "milk bar"), it is definitely time to move her as she will farrow shortly. If she is tossing straw around into piles (nesting) in the bedding area, farrowing will take place within a few hours.
Farrowing Area: There are a couple of considerations when planning a farrowing area:
1. Newborn piglets need extra heat, unless born on a hot summer night. We hang one heat lamp (250 watts) in the spring and fall, and 2 heat lamps in the winter. It is best to hang the heat lamps where the sow cannot reach them.
2. Fat mommas and tiny piglets can cause problems. Momma pigs can lay down on and crush their babies. They try to be careful, but pigs are ungainly, unflexible, and have big, fat bodies. So, you can imagine, accidents do happen. Save yourself some heartache and build a special area for the piglets that momma can't get into. Hang the heat lamp in there. The piglets will sleep under the heat lamp. When momma wants to nurse them she will lay down and call them. They then get up and go nurse. When momma leaves they get cold and go back under the heat lamp. We simply put 2 boards across one corner of the farrowing house. One board is about 10" off the ground so that the piglets can go under and the other board is high enough to keep momma from going through and over. (One bit of advice here - Never feed the piglets in this area. Momma will hurt herself or tear up your hard work trying to get at the food. She's a PIG!)
Farrowing: I am not a veterinarian, so I don't want to give too much advice about farrowing. Some Kunekune owners worry a lot and stay up all night so that they are present when their pigs farrow. (Pigs always seem to farrow late at night.) Some Kunekune owners go to bed and wake up to piglets nursing happily away. Some install cameras so that they can watch for problems from the warmth and comfort of their beds. I like to be there, but have managed to sleep through most farrowings. If my sow is nesting when I check on her before going to bed, I will stay up with her. If she is not nesting yet, I go to bed. If it is really cold out, I will get up several times during the night to check on her. Sometimes they nest at 2 am and have their piglets while I am snoring. I have not yet had any farrowing problems with any of my sows, but the first time I do I will probably install a camera. I would hate to lose a beloved sow.
Pigs farrow quite quickly (usually all piglets are out within 45 minutes to an hour). Within a couple of minutes of farrowing, a piglet will be up and looking for a teat. There is no need to interfere with this process. It might be painful to watch a newborn bumbling around and trying to nurse mommas backbone, but leave it be. It needs to learn how to figure out where the milk is.
It is normal for momma to spend most of the next 4 or 5 days laying down with her piglets and "singing" to them. She will generally just get up to eat, drink, and go to her bathroom area. What is not normal is for momma to be lethargic and not get up to eat. If she seems listless and does not get up for a meal, take her temperature. If it is elevated, call your veterinarian. If it is not elevated, but the lack of appetite continues, call your veterinarian. A pig that does not eat is a sick pig. It is, however, normal for momma to not eat for a few hours after farrowing. She has a strong instinct to lay still with her piglets.
It is normal for piglets to mostly sleep the first few days. They generally don't want to explore at first, but after a few days they get a little restless. We have a little lip (6") built over the door in our farrowing area so the piglets are not able to get out for a few days. At 3 or 4 days old, if the weather is nice, it is fine for them to go out, as long as they can get back in easily. At 1 week old, they are pretty sturdy little guys and will be running around, playing and exploring. They will also start to nibble at food right about now. Spread a little of mommas food away from her so they can try it. Also, please be sure to have a water container that they can reach into available for them from one week old on.
Short water container for piglets, tall one for momma, and a wallow for momma.
Outside part of farrowing pen. Notice the porch that helps little piglets and swollen bellied mommas get in the house.