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.

What is “Rare Breed” Pork?

 

The question often comes up… what exactly is “rare breed” pork?

Simply put, it’s pork from rare breeds of swine. All rare breeds are heritage breeds, but not all heritage breeds are rare! In many cases, rare breed pork is produced by breed conservators working to secure the future of the rare breeds they work with. Animals have traceable pedigrees and parent stock is registered. Sometimes rare breed pork may be a cross of two rare breeds, such as a Meishan/Kunekune or Meishan/Gloucester Old Spots cross.

The pigs we raise are rare breeds. The Kunekune pig, utilized as we are, for pork production, is incredibly rare for pork use- most Kunekune pigs are sold as pets. The American Kunekune Pig Registry has averaged approximately 1000 piglets born annually over the last fifteen years, but of those, only an average of 300 piglets per year were actually registered as breeding stock (source: AKPR Herd Book). If the Livestock Conservancy did place the Kunekune pig under study, these statistics would place the Kunekune under “Threatened” status, which equates to less than 1,000 animals being registered per annum. “Critically Endangered” status is 200 or less registrations per year, which means the Kunekune are much closer to being Critically Endagered, than they are Threatened. Rare breed pork? You bet. Very rare, and in need of our stewardship.

In the 70’s, the Kunekune was almost extinct- just eighteen pigs saved the breed that today, is recovering. As the Kunekune is very rarely used for pork, it isn’t considered on many livestock lists, or pages showcasing rare breeds. The number of producers offering Kunekune pork in the USA is extremely small- a google search doesn’t yield much about Kunekune pork, or where to purchase it. Our farm is one of few offering USDA cuts and value added products. Commercially available Kunekune pork is a rarity, and dedicated breeders are seeking to change that!

The Meishan pig is globally threatened and under study with the Livestock Conservancy. The number of Meishan pigs in the United States is extremely small, and an even more minute percentage is registered.

The moniker “Rare Breed Pork” is often used erroneously.  Example (in the USA) Berkshire isn’t a rare breed.  Duroc isn’t a rare breed. Or Landrace. Or Yorkshire. Or Spots. Or Poland China. Or Bluebutt (that’s a cross!). Or Hampshire. Yorkshire is the most common breed of pig in the United States. Berkshire is the THIRD most common! (source: Pork.org). The former examples could/would more accurately be “Heritage Pork”in some cases (such as utilization of old lines from breeders raising for old fashioned, non-commercialized attributes), although for all intents and purposes, many of the breeders were “modernized” for muscle, leanness, fast growth, and less fat.

So, what breeds in the United STates ARE rare breeds?

Kunekune (Considered rare in the USA, especially for pork production. Conservation status listed with zoos nationwide as “not studied, considered rare” Kunekunes were originally raised for pork by the indigenous Maori people, but most in the UK and US see the breed as a pet)

Meishan * – Critically endangered as per Livestock Conservancy – Fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States and estimated global population less than 2,000)

Ossabaw *

Mangalitsa – An imported rare breed from Hungary.

Gloucester Old Spots (not to be confused with “spots” or “old spots”– these latter two are not the same breed as the GOS!)

Red Wattle *

Mulefoot *

Choctaw *

American Guinea Hog *

Large Black *

Hereford *

Tamworth *

Saddleback *

* – asterisk breeds are listed rare with Livestock Conservancy.

 

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

 

What Kunekune Breed Conservation Means to Us…

No doubt, we have a unique farm model compared to most. Our small farm is based on rare and heritage breed conservation, while most small farms are based on producing healthy & wholesome locally produced food. The rare breed heritage pork we produce is dependent upon how strict we are with our breeding program, and as such it also gives us the flexibility to “cull hard”. In other words, to be able to remove certain animals from our breeding program based on their quality and adherence to the breed standard (and our farm’s goals) without stress or anxiety, as we know the animal will be utilized for breed-specific pork, which will in turn contribute to the breed conservation effort. We tell our pork customers, “Every bite of our pork helps us to continue our work with conserving the breeds we love”, and this couldn’t be more true. Our weekly pork sales keep our animals fed and hayed, and our farm running. Conservation through utilization is crucial for rare & heritage breed animals, because without a use or purpose for them, there is no reason for farmers to continue working with them. For our pigs, that use is pork. This is difficult for many people to understand.

Conservation breeding programs aren’t easy, and they don’t exactly lend themselves to efficient food production (smaller pigs, longer grow out times versus large pigs that grow fast- you get the picture, what we do is very much a niche, premium product). They require one to continually make tough decisions and look upon the animals in their herd with a keen and unforgiving eye. One cannot be wearing “rose colored barn glasses”, in which they see every animal as one that should be registered and sold. It often helps to enlist a second set of eyes, as it can be difficult to evaluate your animals with a critical eye, and it does take time to learn the visual and comparative skills necessary to make such judgment calls. We are, and always will be- learning, and refining our gaze. How we see our pigs will change from year to year, as we learn more and continue gaining experience.

We are several years in to working with Kunekune pigs, and they are our true love, above and beyond all breeds of swine. In wanting to do our very best work with the breed, we’re constantly seeking to improve the quality of our herd, and conducting a yearly herd cull in which we thin our herd and shift our focus based on the previous year. Anyone can breed two registered Kunekune pigs together, produce offspring, sell them as registered piglets, and be part of conserving a breed… but when it comes to this breed’s future, that isn’t enough. The Kunekune breed needs breeders who are extremely serious about the breed, willing to cull hard and make sacrifices (even if it means culling a registered breeder they paid a lot of money for!) and having a meat cull program, whether on site or in partnership with another farm.

To us, Breed Conservation means the following, and more…

 

Doing the best you can, with what you’ve started with. Not everyone is able to start off with the best of the best. In fact, most of us don’t start off this way.


Becoming a member of your breed’s society or registry. Membership has it’s perks!


– Working with registered stock. Papers DO mean everything in terms of breed conservation efforts. Documenting pedigrees and having the option for others to utilize the genetics you are working hard to produce on your farm, is important. Without DNA testing & registration, this becomes futile. Last year, we sold four homestead pairs to people we knew personally, for pork production use. This year and from now on, no unregistered intact pigs are leaving our farm. We don’t believe that working with or selling unregistered stock helps with our breed conservation goals (or anyone’s). This is our viewpoint, it is a controversial topic and others may feel differently. For us, we see our area inundated with cheap and poor quality unregistered pigs. Many are crosses, but people are led to believe they have bought and are working with Kunekunes. Many buy these for pork production and end up with small pigs that never make weight, or there are temperament issues related to pigs not being pure Kunekune. Then there are the aesthetics of conformation, which is a whole other topic.

Did you buy unregistered pigs when you started off? Only in very rare cases will a breeder who sells unregistered pigs be willing to register them for you. Only the breeder can register and truth be told, some people just don’t want to do it even though it is quite easy. In many cases, your unregistered pig probably isn’t registration quality, anyway. If you bought unregistered pigs, you have two choices: use those pigs to produce bacon bits for your farm’s pork production OR process those pigs and start over again with registered stock.


– Learning anything and everything you can about the breed’s history. For Kunekune pigs, this involves learning the breed’s history in New Zealand, as well as in the UK. Becoming familiar with the import history and the imported pigs.


– Retaining pigs and building your own herd. If you’re utilizing your original seed stock over and over again, and not retaining offspring to breed into future generations, then you’re only at the tip of the iceberg of conservation breeding. Conservation breeding always looks to the future and for us, is about developing our farm’s own characteristic lines that suit the needs of our climate, environment and usage.


– Having a cull program. For us personally, this involves registering or retaining for observation, only the best piglets. All others are ear-marked for our meat herd. We make promoting and selling our pork a top priority so that we will always have a market for our product.


– Focusing on your own unique breeding program and pork production, that is geared towards the demographic for your area. We don’t focus on pet sales, at all. This is just a personal choice, as well as a controversial topic. Conservation breeding is not about trying to price fix or control what other breeders do, nor is it about trying to force other breeders to do/see things the way you do. We all have different situations and business models. This blog post is just our opinion- not an end-all, be-all for Kunekune conservation breeding. Everyone will have a different situation, price structure and manner in which they work. The ultimate “seal of approval” is the legacy you leave behind as a breeder.  If you’re a bad breeder, people will stop working with you, period. The Kunekune community is small and close-knit. Honesty is always the best policy.


Making hard decisions, every year. Looking hard at the animals in your herd and what they have produced and deciding who stays and who goes. And by who goes… I don’t mean selling a problem pig to an unsuspecting buyer. I mean pigs that haven’t produced as hoped. These are ones that should be utilized for pork. Last year we culled numerous registered pigs, that we had paid a good deal of money or traded time/labor for. It was painful to do it, but there is no way to make forward progress in a breeding program without culling ruthlessly and making sacrifices.

Yes, they equated to the most expensive pork chops ever… but our herd is better off for it. And each year as we thin the herd for improvement, we will be producing stronger pigs in the future based on those decisions. We just did our 2018 cull and have 8 registered breeders slated for meat production. Four of them were purchased from another breeder and could certainly be sold to someone else, but at this point they are worth more to us in terms of meat sales, and if they don’t meet our goals, why pass them forward to someone else? Another four of them were pigs we had retained and registered, but who didn’t make the cut. Culling hard is the only way we are going to meet our goals. It’s already taking us longer to do it because of pitfalls related to registration mishaps and working with pigs that ultimately didn’t meet our farm goals.


– Making plans for the future, identifying the traits that are weak (and strong) in your herd, and what steps you need to take to improve upon them. This could include retaining more pigs with certain type traits, or planning to add future foundation stock that has the strengths you need to carry on.

 

What conservation breeding means to us will surely change as we grow and progress in our own breeding program. What does it mean to you?

“Tapeka Trait” Kunekune piglets are coming to South Carolina!

 

We’re incredibly excited to announce that “Tapeka Trait” piglets will be arriving on the farm in the near future.

These beautiful babies are coming to us all the way from Washington State, bred by Pamela Farris at ROCK STAR Vittle Piggies – RSVP

We are adding a boar and a gilt that display the high white/black/ginger color blocking known as the “Tapeka Trait”. You can find full information about the Tapeka & Ivanleigh Belly Band traits on the AKPR Facebook page.

These piglets will potentially produce belting, color blocking and more high percentage white with accents of black and ginger, when paired with certain pigs in our herd.

Not only that, but the Tapeka bloodline has some of the fastest growth rates/size and largest litter sizes of all Kunekune bloodlines. Growth rates are very important to our farm goals.

So without further ado, please meet our upcoming Tapeka Trait additions:

The gorgeous high white gilt (with ginger/black spotted head), “RSVP Siouxsie Sioux” (Wilsons Gina/Tuahuru x BH Tutaki/Tapeka) and the high white/black boar, “RSVP Freddie Mercury” (Tapeka/Boris x Mahia Love or Andrew)

Stay tuned for more pictures, and their eventual arrival!

Know your Breeder: Important Information about Purchasing Registered Kunekune Pigs

Kunekune pigs are growing in popularity for good reason. They are a joy to raise, and many people are realizing their potential as meat pigs. Whether you’re a homesteader, small farmer, heritage breed conservationist, or a 4H or FFA participant- Kunekune pigs are the top choice for being smaller in size and easier to manage, and for their propensity for grazing, being easy on pastures and fencing, and staying close to home. If you’ve never had Kunekune pork, be prepared for a scrumptious, premium pork experience!

 

Before you invest in Kunekunes, you should always do your research and learn as much as you can about how the breed registries and the registration process works.

There are two Kunekune breed registries- the American Kunekune Pig Registry and the American Kunekune Pig Society. Breeders can register with one, or with both. We are members of both, but our farm goals and breeding practices align more closely with AKPR. As such, we actively litter notify and register all of our pigs with AKPR. Each registry has similarities and differences, and for most choosing one of the other is a matter of personal preference.

 

  • AKPR is the original official foundation registry, founded in 2006. Cost is $40 per year. Herd book access, litter notifications, registrations AND transfers are FREE. Upon joining AKPR, you’ll receive a herd book prefix unique to your farm name. For example, our herd book prefix is CBF – Corva Bella Farm.  JOIN AKPR
  • AKKPS is a second official breed registry that went online in 2013. Cost is $40 per year for a family membership. Litter notifications are $20/each. Registration is $15 per piglet or transfer. Again, upon joining you will receive a unique herd prefix to use in association with your litter notifications and registrations. JOIN AKKPS

 

Taking the time to become educated about the process can save you a lot of potential frustration. Just as there are both good people and bad people in this world, when it comes to livestock and registered stock- there will always be good experiences and bad experiences. Being aware of how the process works will help you protect yourself and ensure that you have ultimately, a GOOD experience. I speak from experience, having had a unfortunate one, which could have been avoided if we had done our research.

 

1. Anyone offering you registered piglets for sale should be active members of either the American Kunekune Pig Registry OR the American Kunekune Pig Society.

 

These are breed registries which maintain herd books and provide registration services. You can verify if someone is a member, but be vigilant- just because someone is a member doesn’t mean they are going to be ethical breeders. Neither breed registry acts as a governing agency.

 

 

 

2. You can verify that the breeder is actively providing litter notifications and/or registering pigs to customers.  The logging of litter notifications indicates a breeder is active and is participating in keeping the herd book populated with data from the foundation stock in their herd. It also means that if they should decide to register an exceptional piglet, the very first step of the registration process is done. To register a piglet the steps are simple. First, breeder does a litter notification. Then, they pull hair samples and send in to UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (an account is set up for breeders in association with the registries they are members of). Once DNA results are returned which verify the PARENTS of the piglet in question, that piglet can be registered.

 

The AKPR herd book is public, and you can search under a breeder’s last name, and see their activity. AKKPS is a private herd book that only registered breeders with herd book access can view. For example, here is our farm’s litter notifications with AKPR. You can see that we are currently notifying the registry of litters of piglets born on our farm. We don’t have many piglets registered for numerous reasons including the fact that most piglets are raised for meat, some piglets are being retained for observation and will be registered later on, and the fact that most piglets will not have that special something that makes them worthy of registration.

 

3. If someone is advertising registered piglets, they should be able to discuss the pedigree and bloodlines of their foundation stock with you, and be knowledgeable about it, and provide you with details about the pedigree.  If someone can’t tell you what bloodlines their parent stock is, or gives a convoluted explanation about why they don’t know, WALK AWAY. Registered pigs have bloodlines, and may be names may appear such as “Wilsons Gina/Mahia Love” or “Kereopa/Boris” or any of the other names seen here.

 

Most breeders will freely share with you, the pedigrees of their parent stock. This is what a pedigree looks like for AKKPS and for AKPR.

 

4. A person can only register piglets from parent stock, if they are the registered owners of the SOW. It must be in their name. If it is in someone else’s name, they cannot register the piglets. If someone says “My pigs are registered but someone else is holding their papers for me and says they will register any piglets born on my farm”, WALK AWAY. This is a recipe for disaster!

Registration is a detailed but simple process that requires dedication to numerous steps, all which must be carried out by the breeder and farm where the piglets were born- not someone who is hours or several states away.  Registering online is very easy to do for both registries. There is NO EXCUSE for a breeder not to do it, or to make excuses as to why they can’t do it. Mail-in options also exist for registration. There is no excuse for registrations or transfers not to occur, other than sheer laziness or intent to purposefully not register. And fraud- a breeder who has fraudulently sold you unregistered stock as registered with promise of forthcoming registration papers.

 

* Remember… piglets can only be registered by the registered owner of the sow.

 

* A person can’t buy an unregistered pig and later get that pig registered unless the person who sold it to them in the first place agrees to transfer the registration.

 

* A person can’t buy an unregistered piglet and somehow get that piglet registered by another party with a “DNA test”. Only the original breeder of that piglet can handle all of the necessary steps for registration.

 

* If you have written and/or contractual proof of purchasing a registered pig, and the breeder has not followed through with registration despite repeated attempts, you can potentially obtain registration through AKPR’s “Undocumented Registration”. There are no guarantees, but it is the best place to start.

 

Good communication, a contract, and/or proof of purchase are very important and a legitimate breeder will freely provide this type of documentation.  Most breeders these days have websites and a social media presence, such as Facebook, Instagram, or a blog. Check those sources out!  There’s lots of fantastic Kunekune groups on Facebook. Join some groups and get in on the discussion. Ask questions. Kunekune owners LOVE to talk about their pigs, answer questions and help a newbie out. Don’t be shy!

 

In summary, don’t be afraid to ask the following questions:
1. Are you a breeder registered with the American Kunekune Pig Registry and/or American Kunekune Pig Society?
2. What are the blood lines of the piglets you’re selling?
3. Can I see the parent’s pedigrees, and photos of the parents?
4. Is the sow in your name? Do you own the sire?
5. Will this piglet be suitable for pairing with another gilt/boar that I own?
6. Can you look at pedigrees and/or discuss conformation with me, to make the best decision for my goals?
7. What is your vaccination and/or worming protocol? What will my piglet receive?
8. Does my piglet come with a health guarantee? A breeding guarantee?
9. Will you be there for me to ask questions further down the road if I need help?
10. Do you promise to register my piglet/transfer my pig in a reasonable amount of time and can we have a contract in writing?

Feeding our Pigs for health, happiness, progeny and future flavor!

When you think of what pigs eat, most people envision long troughs full of slop. From my early childhood memories of one of my favorite books, “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, Wilbur was fed buckets of slop (often depicted pictorially in a rather gross manner) and his pen attracted a rat named Templeton, who also sorted through the slop. I never imagined that pigs ate grass, or hay. Most of the time we see pigs in muddy pens, being fed in a trough, after all. Or we see them in confinement farms, indoors in artificial environments.

The truth is that pigs love to graze pasture and eat the leaves off low-hanging tree branches. They eat various types of hay, and just about any type of fresh produce. After a good soaking rain, they’ll root for grubs and bugs, or eat the starchy roots of various plants. In a forest environment, they do the same- constantly seeking out nuts and insects.

At Corva Bella, our goal is to have happy, healthy and eventually, delicious pigs. We feed a widely varied diet to achieve all of these goals. We are set up for rotational grazing in both open pasture, silvopasture, and wooded pastures. Our gardens produce a variety of fresh vegetables and greens all year round, and we grow trays of barley fodder in the greenhouse when temperatures are cold, and outdoors when temperatures are stable. The pigs also love eggs, moderate amounts of yogurt and outdated milk, and whey.

Last Fall into Winter, the pigs enjoyed large amounts of apples, melons, pumpkins and sweet potatoes, along with box after box of acorns, beech and hickory nuts we gathered on our property and from neighbors. We also ferment a 14% and 16% locally milled grower feed with added milk to create a mash with increased nutrition and healthy probiotics- this is the bulk of their diet.

The Kunekune and Meishan pigs are unique heritage breeds in that they evolved very close to people. The Kunekune pigs with the Maori tribes of New Zealand, and the Meishan pigs in close quarters with the Chinese of the Taihu Lakes region of China. Pigs are excellent foragers and are very adaptable to their environment. Part of our goal as a permaculture-based sustainable small farm is to create an environment in which everything we plant and grow has a purpose towards sustaining our animals, our selves, and our emerging market farm/CSA offerings.

Spring is just around the corner and we’re already planning what the pigs are going to be eating into the Fall and Winter. This Summer, the pigs will be primarily pasturing, eating produce and hay, and the hopefully, banana leaves. We are planting numerous banana trees in a carefully chosen area and hope that this food source holds true in it’s claimed production. Our climate doesn’t produce fruiting bananas, but the leaves should be plentiful. We planted 25 apple and pear trees last year and will be planting more this year in hopes of one day having plentiful fall apples for the pigs. In the meantime, we’ll visit local orchards to pick up their fallen apples and help clean their orchard floor, while providing a food our pigs love!

Did you know pigs love sunflowers, and will eat the entire head? I learned this last year when I watched a sow stand on her back legs to reach and pull down a sunflower that had dipped into her paddock. Sunflowers are easy to grow and grow very well in our region. We’re planning to devote an entire area of the garden to a large sunflower crop this year. We’ll harvest the heads and be able to store them well into the winter to feed the pigs.

Regular potatoes shouldn’t be fed to pigs, but sweet potatoes are a type of yam and are in a different class altogether. Best of all, both the expansive vines and the tubers themselves are a wonderful food for pigs. We’ve got ten hugelkultur beds we’re currently filling with compost, and last year’s sweet potatoes will be creating this year’s sweet potato slips. Growing in compost, they should reach a sensational size and be an easily stored food source for the pigs throughout the winter.

We’re going to be actively seeking out farmers of pumpkins and watermelons in hopes of trading pastured pork for trailer loads of damaged or leftover produce, but in the meantime will also be growing our own here. Manure compost and old straw/hay are things we have in plentiful amounts and these favorite pig foods grow exceptionally well and even volunteer in our compost areas. Last year a single compost area, without any help from us… grew around 50 melons and watermelons! The pigs also eat the vines.

Our pigs also enjoy eating their hay bedding, and our Kunekune pigs are huge fans of alfalfa.

A varied and healthy diet is important for the health or our breeding stock and growing piglets and junior breeders, but it’s also infinitely important for our meat herd. Why? Because fat holds flavor, and our well-marbled heritage lard breeds are known for their wonderfully textured and delicious fat. What they eat matters. Acorn-finishing is an age-old process, well known in Europe and believed to have been practiced in Ancient Rome. Producers of pastured pork all have their special finishing methods they use to impart the most marbled meat and flavorful fat in their pork.

At Corva Bella, we spend a lot of time ensuring our pigs are receiving the best nutrition from a wide variety of sources. We hope to one day be able to afford to add a Non-GMO feed to our process, in lieu of the locally milled 16% grower we are currently using. This is important to us and is one of our near-future farm goals!