Rearing Kunekune Pigs for Meat
An Introduction to Raising Kunekune for Meat
Raising Kunekunes for Meat
An Introduction to Raising Kunekune for Meat
The Kunekune is a versatile, unique breed. Originally, the people of New Zealand recognised the ability of these pigs to produce tremendous pork from very low inputs, hence why they domesticated them.
The quality of the meat is excellent, and their ease of handling makes them ideal meat pigs for the smaller producer. Their friendly, easy-going nature makes them a pleasure to rear. They are ideally suited to outdoor rearing being able to handle harsh conditions with their thick hair. The Kunekune pig is the ideal choice for the beginner, right through to the pork connoisseur producing charcuterie.
Can you do it?
A serious question for those raising Kunekune pigs is whether when the time comes, they can go through with taking them for processing. You will spend a lot of time with the pigs you rear for meat and as you only have a few pigs you will get to know them individually. This inevitably makes it harder to make that final step and take them to slaughter.
There are many Kunekunes 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 will need to consider. There are plenty of meat producers in the BKKPS pedigree meat scheme who will be able to sell you pork should you change your mind about sending your pigs for processing. However, producing your own pork is always more satisfying.
Choosing Pigs for Meat
It may be stating the obvious, but even the smallest pig can be turned into incredibly tasty sausages or burgers. If you plan to raise your own, you’ll probably be hoping for joints and chops as well as sausages. When you look at a litter of piglets it is advised to choose the larger ones to raise for meat. Kunekune pigs come in a multitude of sizes even within the same litter, 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 weaner. Ideally the weaner will be chunky, healthy, with a nice clean skin.
A lot of meat producers will not name their pigs, but this is totally down to the individual. A lot of producers prefer to give them names so that when a family is dealing with them, they can identify piglets to each other, e.g. splodge has a sore foot. You all know who it is straight away and can all watch out and care for the pig. That is what makes small producer’s better keepers – individual attention to the pigs they rear.
Never keep a pig on its own without other pigs for company. This applies to meat weaners as much as it does breeding or companion animals. You will need to raise two together as a minimum.
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.
The majority of pigs will reach finished size around 12 – 15 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 or weight they are ‘ready’. This is not a guarantee, as lots of factors such as feed quantity, quality, and environment, can have an impact but this will give some indication when you are choosing your weaners.
Weaners should have been wormed by the breeder, look ‘healthy’ and be active. The breeder should give you the details of any medications/vaccinations given including wormers and the dates of these as well as advising you when you should boosters or give the next dose of wormer.
Kunekune pigs 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, and when rearing for meat the feed you choose will have a big impact on the carcase achieved.
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 and darkness 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 that will become succulent pork. If they are too fat, they will be sedentary and their overall quality of life diminished.
Kunekunes can be raised and finished on good quality pasture without need for supplementary feeding while the pasture is growing if the sward is of sufficient quality. The grazing does need to be of an adequate quality to provide the nutrients needed to allow the pigs to grow and gain weight.
If you do feed commercial feeds, these are readily available from livestock feed merchants, smallholder suppliers and farm stores. They start as pellets the smallest size usually used for piglets pre-weaning. Pencils are the next stage until the piglets are able to be able to eat rolls or cobs. 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’. The most important stage of growth is from birth to weaning. This is when the piglet needs the correct nutrition the most whilst growing its skeleton. Feeding a high-quality grower creep pellet, or pencil at a couple of weeks old through to weaning will help the piglet thrive. Basically, from weaning onwards a basic 16 % protein pig food produces excellent results. For the majority of smallholders, their choice to rear Kunekune pigs has been influenced by their high feed conversion efficiency and hence low feed costs. Feeding a higher protein feed at the same rate has no benefit and can actually be detrimental to the quality of carcase produced. These feeds are designed for commercial type pigs that have been bred to have very high feed conversion efficiency.
Feed any supplementary pig nuts according to the growth rate of your pigs. As a rough guide, piglets from weaning to 4 months old should get 0.5kg/1.1lb per day split over two feeds. Pigs four months to nine months should have 0.75kg/1.6lb split over two feed. Pigs over nine months old can be fed 1 – 1.5kg/2.2-3.3lb a day split over two feeds. It is advisable to find out from the breeder you purchased the pigs from how much they feed at different ages.
The more times a daily amount can be fed makes its utilisation by the pig more efficient. Feed can be substituted with grass-based feed such as grass nuts or soaked alfalfa nuts where grazing is poor or unavailable. Hay and high dry matter haylage can be fed to appetite in addition to feed. It is not advised to feed wet silage due to its high acidity. When increasing feed amounts or changing feed always try to make the changes over a time period. It is advised to change a feed by substituting a quarter at a time until the new feed is fed entirely. A useful tip is to ask the breeder to provide you with some feed that the weaners are currently on so that you can change them on to your feed gradually, avoiding stomach upsets. As with any animal the growth rate of the pig must be monitored. Some pigs will do better than others on the same amount of food and the amount given should be adjusted accordingly.
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. Pigs also love acorns and have been known to go to great lengths to source them when they start falling!
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 a lack of water can lead to de-hydration, both of which will have an impact on their overall health and hence growth rates achieved.
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. It is essential to give water troughs a good scrub regularly particularly in hotter weather where algae growth is increased.
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 articles online and ‘how to’ guides for building pig housing, the majority of which are perfectly adequate. Your pigs 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, so put plenty of straw in for them to nest into.
The main thing is that their accommodation is dry and warm with ventilation to prevent condensation build up and respiratory problems. A good thick straw bed is essential. The more sheltered your pigs are, the less energy they need to use to create warmth and hence the more energy going into consistent meat growth.
You will need to keep careful and accurate records of any medications you give to your pigs, including wormers and vaccines. This applies to pigs being reared for meat as well as breeding or companion pigs. Some medications are not licensed for use in 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 that gives the minimum timescale between when a medication can be administered and when the pig can then be slaughtered. It is very important to adhere to these withdrawal periods. You will be required to keep a medicine purchase record and an individual animal medicine record.
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 which is not good for you or your pigs.
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 DEFRA approved 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 always 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 UK herd number, 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, especially in the run up to Christmas.
Your pigs should be shown to a holding pen where they will remain for a very short period before slaughter. Ask how long this is likely to be as the shorter time, the better. Also make sure that the holding pen operator knows that your pigs are not from controlled housing. This is on the movement paperwork, but it is worth letting the holding pen staff know so that they are kept away from controlled housed pigs. Once processed they will require a Trichinella test which usually takes a couple of days. They need to pass this before they are allowed to be certified as fit for human consumption.
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 at an approved location. Be aware that the abattoir may not release the carcase to you for home butchery unless you have a suitable approved vehicle for moving meat under chilled conditions. 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, smoked/cured meat and even bacon for you along with joints, chops etc. If you’re not sure what you want, talk to the butcher beforehand.
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. There are professional agencies able to cure meat and create various value-added products.
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 homemade 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 premixed 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!
If you are producing meat just for your own family’s consumption then it is legal to kill, butcher and store your own pigs at your home. The meat is best kept at a temperature of -18 degrees centigrade. It is not legal to sell meat that is from an animal killed on farm and it may only be consumed by the immediate household.
When selling to the general public then animals must be killed and processed in licensed premises. If selling produce obtained from these licensed premises producers need to contact their local Environmental Health Agency to register with them as a food business.
There are various different forms of selling meat to the general public from selling meat butchered and prepared on the farm through to selling frozen meat prepared and packaged by a butcher but stored on the farm.
The more steps to producing your own pork for sale means more attention to detail and more expense.
There are numerous rules and regulations covering meat production and sale which do vary within regions and countries, so it is best to contact your local environmental health officer to discuss with them what is possible. Do this a good amount of time before you process the pigs as this will give you time get your set-up ready and purchase any equipment you need way ahead of time.