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  • Writer's pictureShäman Cröwe

Spotlight On Kunekune Pigs

Officially recognized as the smallest pig breed in the world, Kunekunes (pronounced koo-nee-koo-nee) are gaining in popularity with small shareholders due to their highly domestic nature, ease of care and fantastic personalities.

Although Kunekune are a small pig they are not what most would consider miniature or "teacup". They are simply smaller than typical pigs. Wherein commercial hogs can reach weights of 900+ lbs, a fully grown Kunekune can top out at a potential maximum weight of approximately 450 lbs. So, although they are a small pig breed, they are far from tiny.

Kunekunes make great pets in addition to producing a deep red and well marbled meat. Known for being less destructive on pasture than other pig breeds due to their propensity for grazing rather than rooting, Kunekunes are the perfect addition for most any situation. They tend to not challenge fencing and have an incredible feed conversion of 2:1. This lends to a a running joke in Kunekune circles that they are capable of getting fat on snow, much as their name would suggest; Kunekune literally translated means "fat and round" from traditional Maori.

Kunekunes are highly social and do best with a companion so it's a good idea to purchase more than one. Many breeders will sell a barrow at a discount for those buying a single pig. If you purchase a pair it's also a good idea to have a companion barrow so that he can keep your boar company when it is necessary to remove him from the farrow area once piglets are due to arrive. Kunekune boars are easy keepers compared to other pig breeds where boars tend to be aggressive and can be dangerous to be around. A Kunekune boar is more likely to roll on his back for a good belly scratch rather than act aggressively towards you. One of the main things to watch for on boars is the tusks that grow past their lips and stick out to either side of their head however. While a boar won't try to hurt you it is possible that they can inadvertently injure you when one of those sharp teeth graze up against you. To avoid this it is best to keep their tusks trimmed and to wear durable clothing when entering your pig enclosures.

There are multiple theories as to the origin of Kunekune pigs. Some say that the Polynesians brought the pigs with them when the arrived in New Zealand but there is little fossil evidence to corroborate the theory. In fact, no evidence of pigs in New Zealand exists until the 1700s when European immigrants began letting their pigs loose on the mainland and surrounding islands.

Others contend that the pigs are descendants of Captain Cooker pigs that have been crossbred with other pig breeds such as the Old Poland, one of the few breeds to share the wattled trait of Kunekunes. A similar pig can be found in Tahiti as well, which are also known as Kunekunes.

Although it is unlikely we will ever know exactly how the pigs ended up in New Zealand initially, one thing is clear; the Maori custom for giving large, often live gifts to family members and members of other neighbouring tribes was a major contributing factor to their successful spread in New Zealand.

Over time, as the Maori people began to rely on new, more European means in ways of subsistence, the population of the Kunekune began to dwindle significantly. This decline continued mostly unabated until the pigs were faced with near extinction in the 1980s.

Once wildlife park owners Michael Willis and John Simister began the arduous task of replenishing the breed there were approximately only about fifty purebred Kunekune left in all of New Zealand. From the available specimens only ten sows and four boars were selected for the purpose of conservation as they were the ones that best represented the Kunekune breed as a whole. As their project progressed, and in conjunction with Hilldale Game Farm in Hamilton, New Zealand (who were also working to conserve the breed), the herd grew until now when it occupies multiple countries worldwide. Every Kunekune today can be traced back to those original fourteen pigs in New Zealand through extensive registries.

There is a total of eleven Boar Lines in North America:

  • Boris - imported from New Zealand in 1995

  • Tonganui - imported from New Zealand in 1995

  • Andrew - imported from the United Kingdom in 2005

  • Te Whangi (pronounced Teh-Fang-ee) - imported from the United Kingdom in 2005

  • Mahia Love (prounounced Ma-Hee-A Love) - imported from New Zealand in 2010

  • Tutanekai - imported from New Zealand in 2010

  • Tuahuru (pronounced Too-ah-Hoo-roo) - imported from New Zealand in 2010

  • Whakanui (pronounced Fauk-ah-noo-ee) - imported from New Zealand in 2010

  • Tutaki (pronounced Too-Tah-kee) - imported from the United Kingdom in 2010

  • Ru - imported from the United Kingdom in 2011

  • BH Tutaki - imported from the United Kingdom in 2011

There are currently a total of sixteen Sow Lines in North America:

  • Rona - imported from New Zealand in 1995

  • Wilsons Gina - imported from New Zealand in 1995

  • Jenny - imported from the United Kingdom in 2005

  • Trish - imported from the United Kingdom in 2005

  • Aria Giana (pronounced ar-ee-ah Gee-ah-na) - imported from New Zealand in 2010

  • Tarutaru (pronounced Tar-oo-Tar-oo) - imported from New Zealand in 2010

  • Tapeka (Pronounced Ta-peek-ah) - imported from New Zealand in 2010

  • Momona (pronounced Moe-Moe-Nah) - imported from New Zealand in 2010

  • Manuhiri - imported from New Zealand in 2010

  • Haunene (pronounced How-neh-neh) - imported from New Zealand in 2010

  • Rebecca Gina - imported from the United Kingdom in 2010

  • Kereopa - imported from the United Kingdom in 2011

  • Sally - imported from the United Kingdom in 2011

  • Trish - imported from the United Kingdom in 2011

  • Awakino (pronounced Ah-wah-kee-no) - imported from the United Kingdom in 2011

  • BH Rebecca Gina - imported from the United Kingdom in 2011

The idea of lines however is based solely on time of import from either the United Kingdom or New Zealand and does not represent distinctly different genetic variations. Every recognized line is simply a combination of those aformentioned pigs that comprised the initial conservation effort.

That's why, when looking for Kunekunes, COI (coefficient of inbreeding) and Line should only account for a small part of the selection process. Conformation to standard is far more important, as is your end use purpose of the animal. To ensure that you are obtaining bonifide Kunekune genetics, and the attributes they are known for, it is incumbent that you purchase registered stock from a reputable breeder. By working with a diligent breeder you will ensure that you achieve the best of what the breed has to offer.

Look for a bright, well-built and active pig. preferably with a long, lean bodywith large hips and shoulders. Try to avoid any pig that appears listless, sickly, coughs, or shows other signs of disease. If there are other pigs to choose from be wary of any piglet that appears different from the rest. Avoid any apparent malformed pigs or those whose vertebrae you can feel. If you notice a lump or bulge near the hindquarters it can often indicate the presence of a hernia, pick a different pig just in case. If a boar appears to have a swollen navel this could also be an indication of a hernia as well and should also be avoided. If you are buying a recently castrated barrow, observe to ensure there is no inflammation or signs of infection around the incision site.

Many opportunistic breeders abound but fortunately some of the warning signs are easy to spot. Do your best to avoid breeders who sell every piglet in a litter as breed quality and equally those that are seen to register every pig they produce. There is no way that every piglet in a litter is going to be perfect, if there is even such thing as a perfect pig to begin with. A diligent breeder will harvest piglets that show lack of conformation early on or cull them to their meat program for harvest later. Buying from a breeder who is willing to take the time to register their pigs should give you increased confidence in their ability to help with any future concerns or questions that you may have with the same letter of detail with which they approach their own herd.

At Silver Prairie Stock & Poultry Farm our approach is simple; only the pigs that most conform to breed standard are offered as registered breeding stock. No intact stock leaves without being registered or altered (spayed/neutered). Runt piglets, although rare, are offered as pets after having been fixed. We hold back all our potential breeding gilts and boars for one year to observe their conformation for breeding prior to offering them for sale. Any gilts or boars that do not conform are altered and occassionally offered as pet stock or companion animals prior to being designated for use in our pasture pork program.

The way we operate our program is not what might be best for another and we do not begin to tell people how to operate their farms. It's simply our hope that by operating in this fashion we will contribute positively to the ongoing preservation of this amazing breed. There are many reputable breeders of Kunekunes in Canada who sell piglets, many of which ship across the country. While it may be a greater cost in terms of initial investment the long term benefits of starting with registered stock cannot be discounted, regardless whether you start with piglets or breed ready stock.

It is also important not to overlook the benefit of aligning with a breeder that has the same outcomes in mind. If you are looking for larger, faster growing pigs you need to find a breeder who is focused on those attributes. By starting with appropriate stock and aligning with a breeder producing similar program outcomes as those you hope to see on your own farm, you are best able to ensure your success when raising Kunekune pigs.


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