The last eighteen months of raising Meishan pigs has truly been an experience. We have always been smitten with our registered Kunekune pigs, but wanted to work with one of the most rare breeds of swine in the world- the Chinese Meishan.
We have recently refocused our farm direction to proclaim the Kunekune pig as our ultimate breed of choice. I’ve received numerous queries on social media about our decision, and fellow Kunekune breeders who had been observing the Meishan with keen interest in afar, wondering why we decided to discontinue our conservation breeding program and utilize them only for pork.
The Kunekune is the first pig we owned, so all basis of comparison stacks up against what is known to be the most truly docile and easily managed breed of pig in the world. Kunekune are a joy to raise from the moment they come into the world, as piglets are friendly and enjoy human attention and contact. Some Kunekune pigs do root minimally based on the season and the weather, but as a rule you won’t find a pig that is easier on your pasture and forest lands. They are food motivated, and will follow you just about anywhere as long as you have a treat for them. They aren’t skittish and don’t spook easily. Our largest boars are trustworthy, even when a group of Meishan females are in heat- behind electric netting. I could continue, but to put it simply, you will not find a better pig to raise than the Kunekune.
The Meishan pig is a unique and fascinating breed, whom I had great hopes would be comparable to the Kunekune. In terms of their beautiful red pork, excellent fat quality and marbling, they are very comparable. I find it difficult to tell the meat apart. Ultimately, the Meishan is distinctly different from the Kunekune, and there’s a long list of reasons why they aren’t well-suited for our ten acre permaculture farm.
The one thing I have told all prospective buyers of our Meishans, is this: “If you are used to farm pigs that frustrate you to the point of never wanting to own pigs again, you will love the Meishan. If you are used to Kunekunes or American Guinea Hogs, you will have a steep learning curve and a lot of frustration”.
I consider the Meishan to be best suited for the intermediate to advanced pig farmer. Someone who has experience with larger farm pig breeds, or heritage breed crosses. Someone with farm infrastructure that is rock solid, and has chutes and holding areas for moving pigs. I don’t trust our Meishan in electric netting or strand electric- they spook easily and often stampede head first into our woven wire fencing.
We invested a great deal of money into our registered Meishan pigs, and deciding to shift our farm’s focus has been very difficult. The Meishan pigs have been a persistent source of anxiety on the farm, and I think the biggest part of that is due to them not being what they are being marketed as. I feel that this ultimately will be a detriment to the breed, as I personally know several people who have experienced the same and are choosing to also shift away from the Meishan. This is unfortunate, as they truly are a magnificent pig for the right person and the right farm.
Here are some of the things we have observed over the last eighteen months of raising Meishan:
- Meishan don’t fatten easily as the Kune or AGH does. They require feed amounts more in line with your average farm pig to maintain growth and reach market weight. For us, this has been 4-8 times what we feed our Kunekune. I should mention that the Kunekune is an exceptionally thrifty pig that fattens easily on minimal feed.
- Meishan boars can’t be housed together. Each boar needs his own private area, or you will most likely find one of your boars dead, as we did last February. These areas need solid permanent fencing, strong tube gates, and preferably, a single strand of electric to keep the boar off the fence. He will bite and pull on the fence, climb it, tear it apart and try to go under it in order to get to other boars, or females. You can house a barrow with your Meishan boar, but he will continually harass and try to mount the barrow. Meishan boars are difficult to keep condition on. They pace constantly along fence lines, which keeps them thin and rangy.
- We found that we couldn’t house our Meishan females with our Kunekune females. Their feed requirements are vastly different. You end with overweight Kunes if you feed to keep your Meishan to good condition, or thin Meishan if you feed to keep your Kunes at proper condition. Eventually, the Meishan become combative over food, and start bullying your Kune, snapping or biting at ears and rear-ends.
- Meishan sows are extremely persistent nest builders- anything and everything in their reach may be torn apart to build a nest, and they may test fencing at this time to gather nest making materials. The farrowing area that is suitable for the KK or AGH will not be strong enough for the Meishan sow.
- Female Meishans in heat are loud and extremely persistent. They will test fencing at this time, so be prepared. Your Meishan boars, and any boar on your farm, will go bonkers at this time. Meishans have a longer heat cycle than other breeds, and gilts begin cycling when they are tiny- around 10-12 weeks. If you are raising a group of Meishan females out for meat, you will need solid fencing and electric. Perimeter electric is highly recommended- if you live in areas with wild boar populations, you will at some point find a wild boar has been called to your farm by the highly aromatic Meishan female. You’ll need to dispatch the wild hogs, or find someone willing to do so for you.
- While Kunekune sows are easygoing with human interaction around their piglets, the Meishan sow is fierce by comparison and should be respected at this time. You may be in the pasture with her and her piglets, but if one of her piglets squeals and you are near- you will quickly discover what I’m talking about. They will huff and bark, raise their hackles and position themselves defensively. Our friendliest sow, MooShu, once bit me on my kneecap for being too close to her piglets. She was so protective that we weren’t sure how we would wean the piglets. We consulted with our vet and discussed temporary sedation, so that we could quickly catch the piglets with a net and move them to a weaning area, without MooShu attacking us. Our other sow, ShuMai was equally protective, but never came physically close to us. She would huff and bark, and try to move her piglets away from us.
- Which brings me to the topic of nets. You’ll need a very sturdy, large fishing net in order to catch Meishan piglets after weaning, for ear tagging, injections, etc. Our first two nets were destroyed by the time we caught a few piglets. A net is an absolute must for the Meishan breeder. The piglets are very fast, and very wary of humans.
- Piglets… compared to the Kunekune piglets, the Meishan piglets are feral. They will act curious about you while they are still in with the sow, but if you try to touch them, they will bolt. Once weaned, they become extremely feral and skittish. Managing the piglets has been most difficult for us. They are adorable and fun to watch, but they are frustrating as can be. Piglets should be weaned around 5-6 weeks to avoid drawing down the sow’s condition. Male and Female littermate should be separated around 7-8 weeks, or when you see the males begin mounting the females. Castration can be done as early as a few days old.
- But, Meishans are an extremely docile pig! Here’s the tough part. Meishan sows are docile when they are older, and when they aren’t in heat. A docile pig, for our needs- is one that can be touched at any age. This means a piglet can be easily picked up, or will come up to you for an ear scratch, rectal temp can be taken if needed, or injections easily given without running ragged with a net for 15 minutes per piglet. A net is not required to capture a docile pig. Docile means that pigs don’t flinch, spook or bolt when you come near them. We have ten month old Meishans at this time that we cannot even touch. This is not docile in my definition. I don’t feel that Meishan boars are docile, either. They are high strung, anxious and skittish. We have one boar that will allow us to touch him (he is 18 months old and Illinois/Iowa bloodlines). The other two run from us at this time. If any of our Meishan boars got loose, we would not be able to herd them back into their area, or lure them with food. Our most tame and mellow Meishan is MooShu, an 18 month old sow. She is Illinois/Iowa bloodlines and she will allow us to touch her, rub her belly and will follow us for food. If all Meishans were like her, we would be very pleased.
- You may have read that your Meishan will be at market weight by 8 or 9 months. We haven’t found this to be the case despite the fact that we are working with new genetics and doing our best to keep our Meishans extremely well fed. I have consulted with some others raising Meishan for pork production and found that our growth rates are similar to theirs. Don’t be persuaded by too good to be true hanging weights and growth rates being reported in online groups. Our Meishan barrows will reach approximately 275 pounds by a year old, and they will be healthily rounded- not morbidly obese. Our first Meishan processed we taped out at 225 pounds and he had a hanging weight of 132 pounds. Admittedly, he was on the thinner side and was 9 months old, Illinois/Iowa lines). At this time I am unsure if estimating weight using a tape measure works for the Meishan due to their unique body type and long necks.
- We find the Meishan are best-suited to being kept in a forest environment. They have been very damaging to our pastures. In the forest, they root and dig deep holes around tree roots. One of the biggest reasons we are moving away from a pure Meishan breeding program is the detrimental impact they’ve had on our pastures and woodlands.
We’ve devised an exit strategy for our work with the Meishan, and will be incorporating them into our pork production until such a point as it’s no longer feasible. We love many aspects of the breed, but we have ultimately admitted that they aren’t a good fit with our farm. We are cutting back to only one pure Meishan boar, and two or three pure sows. We’ll be trying some Meishan-Kune crosses, and possibly trying a cross with a well-known extremely docile breed, the Gloucester Old Spot. We may occasionally have a pure Meishan litter, and right now we have a pure litter on the way, which was bred before we made our final decision to make some major changes on our farm in regards to the Meishan.
The above list is our experience, as pig farmers who initially owned Kunekunes. Your experience might be different, but for us personally, we find the Meishans to be a very challenging pig to work with and regret having made such a big investment in them. I wish we had just gotten a few barrows and maybe one gilt. If you are interested in the Meishan, I urge you to do just that. Breeding Meishans and growing out their piglets is what we find the least enjoyable aspect of them. They are very prolific and have large litters, so you will be quickly overcome by them. Your farm needs to be set up to handle the number of piglets and consider the capability of your infrastructure for their entire lifespan. We found the Meishan piglets to be an extremely hard sell, which further compounded our frustrations. We were able to sell only four piglets, and that was only when we cut our prices to be less then half of what we paid when we purchased our piglets. Have a plan in place to utilize them for meat.
That being said, we will have a litter of pure Meishan piglets arriving in March. The Meishan pig produces gorgeous pork and lends these characteristics when crossed to other breeds. The breed requires a strong conservation effort, but I feel that a select few will carry that torch forward and regret that we feel unable to be one of them.