The Kunekune is a versatile, unique breed. The quality of meat is excellent and their friendly, easy going nature make them a pleasure to rear. They are economical to feed and very hardy. Altogether, an ideal choice!
Can you do it?
By this question I really mean raise your piglets with care and attention and then go through with the slaughter process. It’s something you need to consider before getting your piglets, as there are many Kunekune happily grazing into old age that had originally been intended to be filling a freezer. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but if you really do want to produce your own succulent pork there’s an inevitable end to the process that you’ll need to consider.
It may seem to be stating the obvious but even the smallest can be turned into incredibly tasty sausages. However if you plan to raise your own, you’ll probably be hoping for a few joints and chops as well as sausage. When you look at a litter of piglets you might prefer to choose the larger ones to raise for meat. Kunekune come in a multitude of colours and sizes, and whilst the size of the sow and boar is not a guarantee of the piglets finished size it can give something of an indication. If you’re hoping for chops and bacon look for a nice length of back to the piglet. Ideally the piglet will be chunky and healthy.
If you are concerned that you may get overly attached to your pigs before they go for slaughter, it really is worth deciding from the outset that you won’t give them names and perhaps even choose piglets that don’t appeal as much as others in the colour stakes.
Never keep a pig on its own without other pigs for company-this applies to meat weaners as much as it does breeding or pet animals. You will need to raise two together as a minimum. If you plan to take them to slaughter at different times you’ll need three so that one is not left alone unless you plan to get more later before that happens.
Choose birth notified piglets from registered stock.
This is important as it really is the only way to know you are getting a pedigree Kunekune, with all the wonderful attributes of the breed.
Male piglets should be castrated before they leave the breeder. The Kunekune is a slow growing breed, and by the time they are ready to go there should be no noticeable difference in the growth rate and you will have a finished pig of similar size as one that was not castrated. Castration allows males to be kept together with minimum risk of fighting, which is an unfortunate consequence of not castrating male piglets. Gilts can also be raised for meat.
The majority of pigs will reach finished size around 9-12 months old. However, this can be sooner or later depending on the individual pigs. Talk to the breeder to find out how they rear their meat weaners and at what age they are ‘ready’. This is not a guarantee, as lots of factors such as feed quantity and quality, and environment, can have an impact but will give some indication when you are choosing your piglets.
Piglets should have been wormed and look ‘healthy’ and active. The breeder should be able to give you the details of any medications given including wormer and the dates of these.
Feeding & Water
Kunekune get fat very easily. They are experts at convincing you they are starving and must have more feed even if they were only fed 5 minutes beforehand. It does no good for any pig to be overfed, but if you are rearing for meat the feed you choose will have more impact on the results.
Too much feed does not result in more meat. You are more likely to end up with lower quality meat and considerably more fat. The sweet flavour of Kunekune pork is enhanced by their grazing diet and comparatively slow growth. They also need to be fit and active to allow for muscle development which will become succulent pork. If they are too fat they will be sedentary and their overall quality of life diminished.
Kunekune can be raised on good quality grazing without need for supplementary feeding while the grass is growing. The grazing does need to be of an adequate quality to provide the nutrients needed, and there is more information about sowing and maintenance of grazing for pigs in the separate article ‘Maintaining Grazing Pasture for Kunekune’ which can be found on the website.
If you do feed commercial pellets, these are readily available from livestock feed merchants, smallholder suppliers and farm stores. They are usually called ‘sow rolls’ or ‘sow and weaner pellets’ and there are many brands available. When grazing is poor or the weather is not supporting good growth you will need to utilise supplementary pig feed.
There are a multitude of feeds available, including a range of ‘life stages’ feeds such as ‘grower’ and ‘finisher’. These are primarily aimed at the fast growing commercial market to support and enhance very fast growth. We have always used traditional basic sow rolls and grazing, with excellent results. For the majority of smallholders, the choice of Kunekune has been influenced by their very low feed costs and there is really no need, or benefit in our experience, to buying expensive branded life stages feed which is less suited to the slower growth rate.
Feed any supplementary pig nuts according to the growth rate of your pigs- I apologise if this seems generic but there is a wonderful huge diversity in the Kunekune breed and what suits one will not suit another. As a rough guide half a pound of feed mixed with the same weight in grass pellets or hay twice a day is enough for an adult Kunekune when grazing is not available or growing well.
They will also appreciate vegetables and fruit, though please remember that no pigs can be fed scraps from your kitchen (see DEFRA’s website for up to date guidance). Carrots and sugar beet are often readily available from feed merchants or local farms and can provide variety and fibre. Apples, pears, plums and Cabbage also seem to be firm favourites! Do bear in mind that sugar beet in particular can be very fattening and it is advisable to feed this in moderation. Our pigs also love acorns and have been known to go to great lengths to source them when they start falling!
A constant supply of clean fresh water is essential.
Don’t underestimate the impact that water will have on the meat you produce. A lack of clean water can make a significant difference to the quality and quantity of meat you will get, not to mention the comfort and quality of life of your pigs. Pigs need water to enable their basic bodily functions and growth. Contaminated water can lead to illness and an over consumption of poor quality water as the pig tries to gain what it needs, both of which will have an impact on their overall growth rate. Ensure you have a means to supply clean water continuously to your pigs before you purchase your piglets. This can be a tank storage system or mains fed, but whatever system is used you will need a trough or drinker that is accessible and robust, and a means of keeping the supply clean.
Your pigs will need a dry comfortable house. This can be a structure of your own making or a commercially available pig arc-it’s really up to you as long as it is of a suitable size and provides dry well ventilated accommodation. There are numerous online articles and ‘how to’ guides for building pig housing, the majority of which are perfectly adequate. Your little piglets will be remarkably strong and grow into adults that are very strong indeed, so it’s important not to underestimate how resilient any structure needs to be. They will quite likely rub against it, and take the odd nibble so it will come in for some punishment! A traditional pig arc is ideal, though if you are keeping only 2 pigs do remember that many of these are designed for large breeds and may be overly draughty in winter for the Kunekune. Two Kunekune can very comfortably live in an 8 feet by 4 feet arc, and three would probably not be too much of a squeeze!
Straw bales can be used to build pig housing, and benefit from a sheet metal roof. Pigs seem to love them, and they are surprisingly robust. Converted sheds or wooden play houses have also been used to good effect. The main thing is that they are dry and warm with ventilation to prevent condensation build up and respiratory problems. A good thick straw bed is essential-the more comfortable your pigs are, the more their energy will go into a stress free life with steady consistent growth, all of which will result in good quality pork that you can feel good about.
You will need to keep careful and accurate records of any medications you give to your pigs, including wormers, and this applies to pigs being reared for meat as well as breeding or pets. Some medications cannot be used for pigs that are going to become part of the food chain, so always check with your vet before giving any medication. There is usually a ‘withdrawal period’ associated with medicines which gives the minimum timescale between when a medication can be given before the pig can then be slaughtered. It is very important to adhere to these withdrawal periods.
Choosing an Abattoir
It is a good idea to contact the abattoir you are thinking of using well before the date you have chosen to take your pigs. Your choice and experience of the abattoir may significantly affect how you feel about the whole process and it is worth taking the time to become familiar with what happens and who is going to be doing this for you. If you feel very stressed and uncertain about it, you are less likely to be able to provide a calm and stress free environment when loading and delivering your pigs to the abattoir.
Pigs are negatively affected by stress and need to have as little stress as possible during their transport and when arriving. You will need a livestock trailer to transport your pigs to the abattoir, which has loading gates. You will be asked to sign to say that you will clean your trailer thoroughly, and some abattoirs provide a hose to wash down your tyres and the trailer wheels and ramp. This is not meant to be instead of cleaning with disinfectant and it is important to wash your trailer down with a suitable disinfectant as soon as you get home.
Many abattoirs will allow you to visit before the day, and will welcome any questions you have, being able to reassure you. Look for an environment that is appropriately clean, with staff that treat the animals with respect and consideration. This is not too much to ask. There is usually an animal health inspector and/or vet on hand.
Check what type of ear tags that the abattoir will accept, as some will only accept metal ‘slaughter’ tags, others will accept the plastic tags. Your pigs will need to be tagged with your herd mark, either with ear tags or ‘slap marks’.
Many abattoirs carry out slaughter of different species on different days and at certain times, so familiarise yourself with these and arrange your drop off in advance. Don’t assume there will always be space for you, as many abattoirs are very busy and you will need to book in advance. Your pigs should be shown to a holding pen where they will remain for a very short period of time before slaughter. Ask how long this is likely to be-the shorter time the better.
Before taking your pigs, think about what you want back in terms of meat. Many abattoirs have their own butchery, but if not you will need to arrange for the carcass to be butchered if you are not planning to do this yourself. The abattoir will probably be able to tell you the name of a butcher if you have not selected your own, and can usually arrange transport of the carcass if necessary. You will need to speak with the butcher separately about collection and what butchery you want if this is not being done at the abattoirs in house butchers.
You can usually choose from a very basic kill and whole carcass back to butcher yourself, to a full service where they will make sausage, faggots and even bacon for you along with joints, chops etc. If you’re not sure what you want, talk to the butcher beforehand. You will also probably have the choice of whether you want the head and any offal back or not.
When you collect the butchered pig, it is likely to be packed into boxes as a selection of joints and sausages etc if you have chosen that option. This is usually a few days after dropping your pigs off at the abattoir so be prepared to collect the meat and be able to store it- you’ll probably be surprised the first time at just how much meat you have to store! The meat is darker than commercial ‘white’ pork so don’t be alarmed if it looks different to the very pale pork you see in the supermarket.
The meat and fat quality of the Kunekune lends itself well to charcuterie. Good quality fat lends flavour to sausage, bacon and dried meats. There are a huge range of products available to help you get started, from sausage casings to brine mixes, with online sellers offering an array of flavours and accessories. With some basic spice mixes, a mincer and a sausage stuffer you can produce high quality truly ‘home made’ delicatessen quality sausage.
Mincers with sausage stuffing attachments can be bought online for less than £50. You’ll need sausage casings which come in a variety of types according to your taste, and either a pre mixed sausage flavouring or a range of herbs and spices depending on what you would like to produce. The key to producing good home made sausage, assuming you’ve got your meat and choice of herbs and spices ready, is to keep everything as cold as possible whilst you’re making them!
Bacon is surprisingly easy to make too, and again you can opt for pre mixed brine from online sellers until you gain confidence. Salt, sugar, and an airtight bag is enough to produce bacon in the salad draw of your fridge in around one week and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it years ago!