We moved our young family out of the “burbs” and onto 10 acres in the country almost twenty years ago in order to bring home our two horses, raise some laying hens, grow our own vegetables, and start a small orchard. We’ve been on the road to self sustainable living ever since.
Shortly after we set up housekeeping with horses and chickens, we acquired two angora goats for brush clearing and fiber, followed by Kiko and Boer goats as niche meat market animals. That didn’t work out as we hoped so we shifted our market focus to wool sheep and lamb.
Following three consecutive years of unpredictable hay supplies, we sold the horses, sheep and goats to make room for vegetables. We continued to maintain a layer flock to produce rainbow eggs for market. That was enjoyable and worked out well until our local farmers market closed and another relocated closer to the city and changed its market days. While that was good news for some of our customers, it became too difficult for us to meet the early arrival and setup times, never mind all of the harvest and work necessary to prepare for market on days we worked at off farm jobs. So in 2016 we scaled back again, only selling rainbow eggs to our long time customers and hatching eggs to fellow poultry fanciers. We wanted to keep our acreage in production and began planting wine grapes and orchard fruits. Now we have big plans in the works and one of those is to produce delectable old style pork. Old style pork is not the lean “white meat” of today, it is rich in flavor and marbled with fat, a melt in your mouth kind of meat.
This wasn’t an easy decision, and it almost didn’t happen. We first contemplated bringing grass fed beef to the farm, but we have neither the experience nor sufficient acreage to raise cattle properly, nor were we interested in maintaining a breeding bull. We had already tried sheep and goats, so we considered pigs. Most of the pigs raised for pork today, even heritage breeds, are being bred for a lean meat – the so called “other white meat.” We aren’t interested in that kind of pork. A big drawback of these hogs, at least for us, is the size the breeding stock will attain. We aren’t prepared to deal with 1000 pound plus animals producing huge volumes of excrement (and the associated smells), nor the damage they do to land and infrastructure. In spite of working with 1200 pound horses, the thought of handling 1000 pound hogs intimidates me. Not to mention the horror stories we’ve heard about how hogs can kill and eat other animals and the possibility of aggression toward their human handlers. Yikes! We weren’t prepared to learn if this is true the hard way. It isn’t wise to keep animals you fear, particularly when they are 5 to 10 times your own weight. When raise livestock, it is a 24/7/365 job, through all seasons of rain, snow, heat and hail. To be successful, you should be passionate about them.
So why not just raise feeder pigs? Market weights are much less than breeding stock, typically between 200 and 300 pounds. While that may be true, it wouldn’t allow us to be truly self sufficient. For that we need our own breeding stock, raised to do well on our land. John and I were also worried about the propensity of hogs to escape their enclosures. There is a huge problem with feral hogs in this country and we didn’t want to contribute to it with escapees. Pastured pork just wasn’t looking good. Then, almost by accident, we stumbled upon the solution. We discovered the Kunekune!
Kunekune (pronounced “cooneycooney) are small pigs by commercial hog standards. A Kunekune will only ready 24 to 30 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 200 and 400 pounds at maturity and are considered a lard breed. As is true of many other heritage livestock, Kunekune are slow growing. Mature weight won’t be reached until the pig is around two years of age. While this may typically be viewed as a disadvantage for pork production, it can be offset to some degree by judicious breeding. And in our opinion, it is also offset by the many advantages of the Kunekune.
The Kunekune is a breed developed by the Maori people of New Zealand. The admixture of breeds that evolved into the Kunekune pig are lost to the mists of time, but they were most likely European and Asian breeds brought to the country by the English colonizers and whalers. New Zealand is a nation of many islands, and islands create unique selection pressures – sharply defined boundaries and limited resources – pressures that usually result in scaled down versions of large mainland livestock. The end result is an animal that can maximize the available resources. The Kunekune definitely does that. It is a true grazing pig that actually requires less grain, and lower protein rations to grow and maintain condition than traditional pork hogs. Feeding a Kunekune like a commercial hog will just result in a very fat pig. They do best on pastures containing clover and mixed forage crops like turnip rather than monoculture grass. In fact, their unique physiognomy – Kunekune roughly translates to round and fat – with short to medium upturned snouts makes a pig perfectly designed for grazing. Like heritage hogs they can also be used to clean up windfall fruit in orchards and finished on acorns and other forest mast for a premium pork. This grass and mast heavy diet also means that their waste contains much less phosphorus and smells more like horse than hog.
Finally, the biggest selling feature of the Kunekune is their friendly and placid temperament. They are easy to handle, aren’t inclined to roam far from home and don’t mind their caretaker’s presence during farrowing. Of course males still require respect during breeding periods and individual females can have their grumpy times as well, but overall, the Kunekune is defined by its placid nature.
Our foundation stock was carefully chosen and purchased from Kunekune Preserve and Corva Bella Farm. We anticipate having pastured pork and select breeding stock available some time in 2020.
You can see a video of our new arrivals on our YouTube video: Four Little Pigs