How many Kunekune pigs should you start off with? A breeding pair isn’t optimal.

Over the last few months, I’ve seen a major surge of interest in Kunekune pigs and what we have available. Most of the inquiries have just been informational, from folks not quite ready to add pigs, but curious about it due to a desire to have their own pork (that’s a pleasure to raise). Our goal is to produce more pork producing breeders.

Some have been pet-related, from folks interested in making quarantine a bit less lonely. This isn’t the optimal time to add a pet pig, however. Not to mention that as pork producers working to conserve this fine breed, we aren’t in the pet pig market.

In the interest of transparency, and my desire to see those starting off with Kunekune pigs to succeed and have happy, healthy and productive herds, I wanted to mention some of the best ways in which to start off with Kunekune pigs.

First, I don’t recommend starting with a single pig. Kunekune pigs are highly social, herd animals. They need to be with their kind. Other pets or barnyard friends won’t cut it.

Second, a young breeding pair raised together from piglet age will often not breed. There’s numerous reasons why. Young piglets raised together often develop a brother/sister relationship and don’t see each other as mates. Young males sometimes need to observe other males breeding, or be able to participate in “horsing around” with other males, and play breeding- mounting one another, engaging and interacting. They’re often fine with a barrow with which they can interact with. Sometimes a young male will need another male around to inspire rivalry, sometimes not. When we had our first sows, we had no older boar, and our first was very young. No one was getting pregnant. When we brought a more mature boar to the farm, the females came into heat almost immediately and displayed obvious signs of it. There was no guessing.

So, what is the absolute best way to start off with the breed?

Sometimes, it’s as simple as starting off with barrows- whether you raise them as meat, or you just keep them as barnyard mascots, they give you experience in learning about pigs. Their care, feeding, health, behavior, etc! A barrow is a castrated male, by the way. 

Another option is a barrow and an intact female.

But if piglets are your goal, whether for potential future breeding stock sales, or piglets to grow out for meat, you do need to explore a few possible scenarios for your best success.

Option 1: Two barrows, a boar and a gilt. Separate them all at six months, housing boar/barrow in one place and gilt/barrow in another. Keep them separate until ready to breed. (We always keep our boars and females separate)

Option 2: One barrow, a boar and two gilts.

Option 3: (and probably the best option!) Two boars, two gilts.

Option 4: (piglets + pork) Two boars, two gilts and two barrows.

Most people new to kunekune pigs make the common mistake of trying to always house their pigs together. They don’t separate them. In these situations, time is lost because they have to separate pigs, add new pigs, or just end up giving up altogether. Always separate males and females when they’re not breeding.

To Build a Herd…

I write this at the start of the fifth year of our journey of raising Kunekune pigs. We’re currently at the point where our herd is primarily all pigs that were born here on the farm, out of pairings we selected. The pigs in the album below represent all of the influences that our herd has seen throughout this process- whether they’re pigs we utilized, or opted not to utilize. Pigs we retained but then chose to sell, or sometimes to harvest. This album doesn’t contain our currently retained prospects, only pigs that for whatever reason, have come and gone. Sometimes there’s financial reasons for those hard decisions, and the regret that comes along with it.

Conservation breeding of Kunekune pigs isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s complex and challenging, at best. Any purebred livestock tends to be.

Your goals and vision change many times over the span of time. But eventually all of your hard work and decisions begin to converge towards a central, consistent point.

We started off with two sows, and three meat pigs. We had our first litters in Spring of 2016 and harvested our first meat pigs a few months later. As of this writing, our 38th Kunekune litter has just been born, and our herd greatly reduced to focus on consistency, quality and an intense focus on our goals.

Here’s to the many pigs (all registered stock) that brought us to this point! I’m sure that I’ve missed some, but I did my best to recall all of the faces that we’ve seen over the years.

I’ve heard people say that Kunekune pigs are like potato chips, in that you can’t settle on just one. The truth is that to me, they are like crayons. As a child I coveted that 128 color box with built in sharpener, but I often had a smaller box or broken crayons, or odd colors… and I made due with that and expressed my creativity. Kunekune pigs are much the same. There is no perfect pig. Every pig you own on your path with this breed will have some of the things you desire, but not all of the things. There will be mistakes and triumphs, deep sorrow and elation.

Stay true to your goals.

Trends come and go, but a breed’s standard is eternal

I’ve been working on the ideas behind this post ever since having a conversation with my Salmon Faverolles mentor, about how coming from an artistic background can lend itself wonderfully to breeding poultry (or pigs!). A recent post from the AKPR about the breed standard being a blueprint for breeders, led me to think about the existing blueprints of perfection that already exist in nature… and how they subconsciously (or in my case, consciously- due to my past training) may influence our selections. This also relates to many of our deliberate breeding selections as they relate to the Kunekune pigs form AND function.

 

Despite my muddy boots and work-hardened hands, I have an interesting pathway into farming. I worked at a dairy farm all throughout my teen years, and my grandparents were both avid gardeners, but my Mother wanted more genteel things for me. I was classically trained in piano, cello, viola and violin- learning that nothing matters if not for your technique and ability to master the basics. One should walk before they run. Later, I began to study classical ballet, and danced for almost three decades- sometimes spending 15-20 hours a week solely at the barre learning core technique. Again, the basics. The very underlying foundations that one must learn and master to create strong foundations for future success. In college and graduate school at Rochester Institute of Technology, I studied photography and graphic design. My graduate work was under one of America’s great designers- R. Roger Remington. Under his tutelage, we explored the very roots of what makes a design great. And those roots are in the foundation of the design- the exact form and structure, typically well-trenched in the basics of visual Gestalt principles and the golden mean, the Fibonacci sequence.

The golden mean is found all throughout nature, it’s the mathematical perfection whereby harmony is mathematically expressed. Each segment of the sequence is a direct result of the former, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts- but being nothing without it’s parts! This sequence can be applied to anything organic or inorganic. It exists everywhere, naturally. Without it, there is chaos. “The Golden Number” is a fascinating site that compiles all sorts of instances of the golden mean at work in life and art.

 

The facial features of a koala bear show golden ratio proportions in the dimensions and positions of the eyes, nose and mouth in relation to the dimensions of the face. (source: goldennumber.net When we’re attracted to Kunekune pigs with faces that have teddy bear proportions, it’s not a coincidence. It’s the golden mean at work.

 

Above koala bear with golden mean overlaid with a Kunekune piglet. Anais is one of my favorite piglets of this year. Interestingly enough, her facial proportions exactly match the koala bear!

While seen as a much overused cliche in the design world, architect Louis Sullivan’s mantra “Form follows function” means that the purpose of a building should be the starting point for its design. In other words, that the shape of a building or object should primarily relate to its intended function or purpose. This makes obvious sense in nature, as we see a world so perfectly created, with plants and animals uniquely adapted to their purpose by virtue of their design. Things get murky when man’s hand touches nature’s perfection, however. In this I believe that whenever our influence is involved, we should stay true to an animal’s purpose. And for that individual animal, the sum of it’s overall parts maintaining their original purposes.

What does that mean? Well, it means that legs are for support and movement. They shouldn’t be so short that the animal can’t efficiently move or breed. They should be sturdy enough to support the animal throughout all of it’s life. Eyes are for seeing. Don’t diminish sight with folds of skin, or ears that completely obscure the field of vision. Snouts are for rooting, scent, and breathing. Allow them to be long enough for a pig to be a pig. And to be a healthy animal that can breathe throughout it’s life cycle. Mouths are for grazing and eating. Don’t breed for traits that obscure that. Teats are for nursing offspring. Let there be a reasonable number of well-spaced, functional teats. And so on, and so forth! You get the idea, right? Selective breeding is no different than playing a God-like role in an animal’s future generations, so we have a great responsibility to make wise decisions.

Every breeder has their own preferences and things that they work on. We start from the bottom and work our way up. The goal is not so much for form to directly follow function, but for them work in harmony, as Kunekune pigs are a visually distinctive heritage breed. Their form and function are closely intertwined in order to marry their purpose with their appearance. It’s that appearance that is what visually defines a pure & heritage breed above and beyond it’s obvious genetics.

The Kunekune pig has a job to do, while doing it with style. You may have heard the quote “Trends come and go, style is eternal”. It was said by the fashion designer Yves St. Laurent. His designs have stood the test of time and are seen by many as classics. A breed’s standard is the timeless “style” for that breed. It’s the guidebook by which you strive to consistently produce pigs which emulate the correctness of the standard. Things such as color, are merely trends. Trends come and trends go, but underneath it all, the pig is still a pig and has a job to do. That job may be procreation, or it may be pork… but it’s still a job.

 


 

AKPR Standard of Perfection

American Standard of Perfection ~ Revised 2018:

Updating of the Standard of Perfection for the Kunekune Pig breed is intended to provide a clear description of Kunekune characteristics for pasture, pork, and progeny.

When Kunekune Pigs are judged in the show ring, these characteristics and how well each pig displays them shall be the basis for awarded points and placement.  Consideration of the head is of paramount importance when evaluating the breed.  Head type identifies the breed as a grazer not prone to root and is considered unique to the breed.  Judges please note the weightiness given to head type.

General Appearance:

Form: Relatively long, level, and deep. Boars generally weighing up to 400 pounds and sows generally up to 350 pounds, the result of a thick cover of firm flesh and fat.

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Quality: Uniform covering of hair, clean skin, medium/heavy bone, even covering of flesh and fat.

Condition: Overall appearance shall be one of balance. Deep uniform covering of flesh and fat especially in regions of valuable cuts.

Characteristics:

Head: Proportionate to body, evenly set on shoulders. Broad. Wide forehead. Short, broad, upturned snout with large, symmetrical nostrils to facilitate respiratory ease and teeth suitable for grazing. Teeth shall be set back inside the mouth and must not protrude when mouth is closed. Medium to heavy jowl, not wasty. Sweeping jawline. 10 points

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Objections: Head not proportionate to body size, set unevenly. Narrow forehead – animals with wider foreheads are generally symmetrical and wider in the chest and back. Longer, shallower heads generally correlate with a similar body type resulting in less meat mass. Long, straight snout, uneven nostrils, teeth whose angle is unsuitable for grazing, protruding teeth or teeth set forward, droopy bottom lip. Wasty jowl (excessively fat), or thin, trim.

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Eyes: Set well apart and symmetrical, bright, intelligent and kind. 5 points

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Objections: Eyes set narrow or at unequal levels. Dull.

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Ears: Set wide apart on the top corners of the head. Symmetrical in form and attachment. Pricked to semi-lopped, inclined forward. Under control of the hog. Settling firmly out over the eyes when grazing – ears should have the appearance of a visor over the eye, coming firmly from the head and out. 5 points

Objections: Ears set narrow or not of the same size, set or shape. Ears that roll up or are laterally folded along their length shall be avoided. Ears set on the side of the head, point outward to the side, not inclined forward, lopped. Ears may curb vision but should not obscure forward view. Emphasis to avoid ears that are laterally folded along their length as though “folded in half”. Purpose of ears include hearing, but also protection of the eyes from sun.

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Wattles: Two, well-formed and well-attached in the same location on the corner of the jowl on each side hanging freely. Firm and of kidney or thumb shape. Symmetrical in size and shape.

5 points

Objections: Less than two wattles, poorly attached, uneven size or shape, unevenly set on jowl. Wattles set high causing wattles to flare out.

Neck: Short to medium, proportionately and evenly set on shoulders. Deep and thick. 5 points

Objections: Long, uneven, thin, shallow.

Shoulders: Level and in proportion to hams, broad, deep, full. Sloping and aligned with legs and sides. Well developed. Muscle extending well down legs. Should not protrude above the line of the back. 5 points

Objections: Shoulders not uniform with hams, thin, shallow, weak, protruding above level of back.

Chest: Moderately wide between the legs. Deep girth. 5 points

Objections: Narrow, shallow, thin. Front legs set too narrow or too wide for chest width.

Back & Loin: Strong, level or slightly arched when grazing. Medium to long length and level to root of tail. Width even from shoulder to ham/rump when viewing from above. Even and smooth, firm not pliable. Rounded at croup, base of tail not flat. 5 points

Objections: Narrow, swayed or highly arched back, weak or mushy. Heritage hogs’ width typically averages the same from shoulder to ham/rump. Pliable feel to back could mean that the hog retains too much fat. Length should not be excessive as this can affect breeding and the productive life of hog due to weakness. Flat croup (area in front of the tail).

Sides & Ribs: Deep. Well-sprung ribs in proportion with shoulders and hams. Symmetrical from front to back. 5 points

Objections: Narrow, thin, shallow, pinched. *Long, deep bodied animals indicate a good capacity for organs and carry a larger quantity of high quality loin cuts.

Belly & Flank: Thick, flat, even underline. Flank smooth and full, in line with the sides, well let down. 5 points

Objections: Flabby, loose, droopy underline. Underline pulled up or thin. Flank out of line with sides.

Teats: At least 10 sound, evenly spaced, well-paired teats starting well forward. 5 points

Objections: Blind or inverted teats in gilts, sows, or boars. *Animals with 12 or more teats are desirable.

Hams & Rump: Hams broad and deep with good width coming well down to the hock. Rump slightly rounded from loin to base of tail. 5 points

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Objections: Narrow, thin, long hams not extending well down to hock. Rump narrow, too flat, or dropping off too sharply. Flat croup.

Tail: Curled or crooked expressing movement. Set high. Attached as the hip falls from the back. With no depression at root. Moderately long but not coarse, well tasseled. 5 points

Objections: Straight, short, lack of tassel. *Tail set too low indicates steep rump which can lead to various joint, breeding and birthing issues due to stress on joints, restricted motion, and mal-alignment.

Legs: Short to medium, straight, strong boned, well tapered and well set apart. Pasterns springy, providing adequate cushion, consistent with heritage breeds. 5 points

Objections: Extremely long, short or thin legs. Knock knees, bucked knees, or pigeon toed. Post legged or stiffness – lack of proper shock absorption during locomotion. Legs set too narrow. Legs should be solid, thick and strong, placed squarely on all four corners of the body to provide adequate balance and proper support for the weight of the hog*. Rear legs should not appear to be standing on tiptoes nor be rocked back onto pasterns. Dew claws off of the ground when on firm footing. Weak foreleg pasterns are tolerable in heritage hogs but weak knees must be avoided due to premature breakdown of animals with the anatomical deformity. *Back legs set under the animal is common and true to heritage breeds, therefore, should not be considered a fault.

Feet: Strong with even, short to medium cleys consistent with heritage breeds. 5 points

Objections: Overly splayed. Excessively flat footed. Cleys of unequal size, twisted, or overly long. *Commercial breeds have been bred to stand upright on small, closed toes to improve the appearance of the hams without consideration of comfort for ease of movement on pasture. Heritage breeds often display soft, flexible pasterns with open toes appropriate for their age and weight. Open toes and flexible pasterns are true to heritage breeds and should not be viewed as a fault.

Skin & Hair: Clean coat of fine quality, any color, texture, or pattern except in the case of a true belt. 5 points

Objections: Hair not covering the body evenly. Swirls, cowlicks, hair growing in different directions on the body. Dullness. Lumps, bumps, or roughness of skin. A “true belt” is a disqualification in the show ring, however, the pig is registerable by the AKPR Registered Breeder with proof of parentage via DNA from AKPR Registered parents. “True Belt” is defined as “an unbroken band encircling the body (no spots/blotches and without bleeding) and including the front legs and feet”.

Testicles: Easily seen with each of the same size and carriage. *Points will be awarded under sexual characteristics of boar.

Objections: Uneven size or carriage, not easily seen. Flabby low scrotum. *Testicles that are not apparent may be due to over conditioning (too fat) at a young age and can result in infertility in boars. Testicles can be drawn up and held to the age of 8 to 12 months in some bloodlines/individuals. Testicles in some animals are held close to the body before relaxing and letting down in the aged boar.

Temperament: Placid in nature, active and alert, confident, docile, inquisitive. Easily handled and driven.

5 points

Objections: Wild, aggressive, difficult to control or drive. Dull.

Action: Free, firm, fluid and forward in motion. Alert. 5 points

Objections: Limping, lameness, stiffness, weak, wobbling. Dull.

Sexual Characteristics:

MALE ~ boars should be strong in traits peculiar to the sex. Head may be slightly coarse, the neck full and arched somewhat, with the shoulder heavy. The forequarters are usually slightly heavier than the hind quarters and this distinction grows more evident with age as shields develop. Strength of frame without coarseness is desirable. Body should be deep, long, and low. Strong, short/medium legs with straight pasterns. At least 10 sound, evenly spaced, well-paired teats starting well forward. 5 points

FEMALE ~ after breed type, sex type is of first and foremost importance in sows. She shall have no signs of coarseness instead being feminine in overall appearance, neat, and sharp. The width before and behind should be almost uniform. Length of body abundant for growing litters and easy farrowing. She shall possess at least 10 sound, evenly spaced, well-paired teats starting well forward, none blind. 5 points

Possible Points: 100

AKPR or AKKPS? Choosing a Breed Registry

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A lot of people new to Kunekune pigs have confusion about the breed registries. When we got started, I thought that AKPR handled the West coast, and AKKPS handled the East coast! There also seems to be the misconception that registries are only for show animals- and this couldn’t be more inaccurate. Whether you are showing or producing pork, registration is really important to track genetics!

There are two separate Kunekune breed registries- the American Kunekune Pig Registry and the American Kunekune Pig Society. Breeders can register with one, or with both. Pigs can be registered with one registry and transferred to the other, and pigs can be dual registered. As of July 1, 2020 AKPR won’t accept the registration or transfer of unwattled pigs into their herd book.

How to choose which registry to work with is up to you. With AKPR you get free litter notifications and registrations, but new rules (such as the highly controversial wattle regulation) may appear at any time, and you won’t have a vote or input in regards to such changes. With AKKPS, you pay for your paperwork, but any changes are voted on via surveys sent to the membership and then voted on by a member-driven board.

If I have missed anything in the two lists below, please feel free to comment with suggestions as to what you feel should be added!

 

American Kunekune Pig Registry (AKPR)

  • AKPR was founded in 2006
  • Cost is $40 per year
  • Herd book access, litter notifications, registrations AND transfers are FREE
  • As of July 1, 2020 unwattled pigs are not allowed to be registered. Wattles must be documented via photographs.
  • As of February 2020, teat counts are to be entered when registering a pig.
  • AKPR offers Junior memberships, where kids can be assigned their own herd prefix, own their own pigs, and show under their prefix at AKPR sanctioned events.
  • AKPR allows all newly imported bloodlines to be registered, and registered under their original name.
  • Herd book is public and can be viewed by anyone.
  • AKPR members are listed on the AKPR breeder list whether or not they register any pigs with AKPR or not.
  • Paperwork is electronic, meaning that you receive pig’s registrations through a digital document
  • Individual pig’s registrations can be transferred to a new owner by being signed over to them on the pedigree.
  • AKPR regularly sanctions shows and events for Kunekune pigs.
  • Upon joining AKPR, you’ll receive a herd book prefix unique to your farm name.
  • AKPR merchandise is available for purchase online

American Kunekune Pig Society (AKKPS)

  • AKKPS is a second official breed registry that went online in 2013
  • AKKPS is beginning to recognize Kunekune for pork, but prior to this has been more pet-focused. AKKPS offers “pet registrations” for altered pigs.
  • Cost is $40 per year
  • Litter notifications are $20/each. Registration is $15 per piglet or transfer.
  • AKKPS offers sponsor memberships, where breeders can purchase memberships for their customers.
  • AKKPS has some limitations on registration of newer bloodlines, and the Tutanekai bloodline is listed as “TF Mahia Love” in the AKKPS herd book.
  • Herd book access is restricted only to members.
  • Breeders are only listed on the breeder list if 80% of their pigs are registered with AKKPS.
  • Paperwork is sent via mail.
  • Transfers of pigs can only be initiated online via pig owner. Paperwork can’t be “signed over” to a new owner.
  • Upon joining you will receive a herd book prefix unique to your farm name.
  • AKKPS places topics up for discussion amongst members utilizing surveys, and then their board of directors votes on them, making them a member-driven organization, whereas AKPR makes changes voted on by their core officers, not their members.
  • AKKPS has a quarterly newsletter that provides education and features member farms and content
  • AKKPS merchandise is available for purchase online

 

Let’s talk about Coefficient of Inbreeding- COI

Let’s talk about COI in relation to breeding… COI = coefficient of inbreeding. In other words, the degree of relatedness that two pigs have. COI is just a number. It’s just a tool- one of many- that you might use when assessing a pig to add to your herd, or two pigs you want to breed together.

There’s a lot of confusion about COI and a lot of misconception that a low COI = a better quality pig. This is not a hard & fast rule and is especially confusing to those that are new to breeding and purchasing their first pigs. It can be overwhelming, and in a lot of cases, new buyers are probably passing up higher quality pigs left and right in favor of purchasing only those with low COI. The truth is that with COI, you have to look at the big picture. Not only all of your breeding pairs, but potentially the pairings of your pair’s offspring as well. Don’t exclude a pig based on COI alone.

Chickie, above- is an exceptional Jenny sow with wonderful conformation and type. She is the product of a line bred dam (with 35% COI) completely outcrossed to an unrelated sire with 0% COI. Her Grandparents were half siblings and cousins all at the same time. Chickie has a low 5.9% COI.


I’d rather have a pig with amazing conformation and a higher COI, than a pig with low COI that should have been a cull. Why? Because I can outcross that higher COI pig to a pig that is unrelated, and have low COI offspring. I can also cross a high COI pig to another high COI pig and end up with low COI offspring! But the low COI pig that is poor quality? It would take a few generations of breeding to improve that pig’s offspring, if it was even worth doing so in the first place. In that case, you’d have to consider other factors- such as, “is this pig a more rare bloodline that needs improvement and population?” or “does this pig have potential major faults that disqualify it from breeding?

 


Morgana, Chickie’s half sister, is an exceptional piglet who is line bred, and her COI is 26%. She will be outcrossed to a totally unrelated boar in the next generation, our Tutanekai, Lorenzo. He has an almost nonexistent COI of .4%- but it’s not just his COI that is appealing for Morgana, it is his conformation and color, as well. Here is her Morgana’s pedigree, so that you can see the common ancestors on dam/sire sides.


Why would we add a piglet to our herd with higher COI? Because we observed the consistent results that Morgan’s current owner had achieved through two litters of piglets, and we were very impressed by the offspring. These were piglets with exceptional growth rates, consistently strong conformation and type, and a body type well-suited to our pork production goals. Morgana’s genetics will be a valuable tool for us to work with.


At this time, the best pigs in our herd have higher COI’s, or were born out of one or both parents with higher COI’s (outcrossing). The truth is that a breed is both conserved AND maintained through a combination of line breeding and outcrossing. The key word here is MAINTAINED. When you breed two pigs together, you have chosen to breed those pigs for a variety of reasons. Hopefully, one of the reasons was because you chose traits in each one that you wanted to see expressed in future generations. When you line breed, you’re increasing the likelihood that certain traits will be expressed more consistently. On the flip side, you’re also increasing the likelihood that undesirable traits can appear, so you must be prepared to cull if need be (thankfully that is where a pork production program goes hand in hand with line breeding).

Again- breeding two higher COI pigs together doesn’t mean that the resulting offspring will have an even higher COI. In many cases, the COI will be lower, as in the case of Calliope (13.4% COI) and Giuseppe (14% COI). Their offspring would be a reasonable 9.9% COI, lower than both parents. Why? Because while both parents have higher COI, they are also less related when paired. It’s genetics.


COI is not the end-all, be-all indicator of quality in a breeding pig. Consider it, but don’t let yourself be ruled by it. Look at the pedigrees, and look at the pigs that appear with greater frequency in a line-bred pedigree (especially the closer generations). Most importantly, look at the pig itself! Look at it’s conformation, and that of it’s dam and sire.