Caring for Kunes

Kunekunes are hardy with few health concerns. Some simple husbandry will keep your pigs happy and fuss free their whole lives!


SOCIALIZATION

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All pigs are social animals, but kunekunes especially so! A recent study by the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna found that kunes develop complex social families, teach and learn from each other, and work collaboratively. Therefore, the first thing you should know about caring for a kune is that these are herd animals. They need the companionship of other kunes in order to thrive mentally and physically. For this reason, Slow Farm will not sell solo piglets. It’s not in their best interest, or ultimately in the buyer’s interest as stressed pigs tend to eat more, have more health problems, and even act out aggressively. (Happy kunes are unbelievably placid and loving. It takes a lot to stress a kune, but a solitary life can do it.)

Kunekunes were raised by the Maori to live free range in the villages, and modern day kunes have kept that fondness for human company! They love the company of humans and other species (with proper introductions). It’s important to keep your kune used to being brushed and handled in order to make veterinary care easier. Get them used to flopping for belly rubs. Touch their face, ears, and feet. Make a point to spend time with your pigs between meals and without food treats. You want to teach them that it’s YOU they love, not your snack dispensing hands.


FOOD

Kunekunes require 1/7 to 1/4 the amount of grain of standard pigs, but they do still need some grain in combination with their grazing to make sure their diet is complete. This is especially true of young (birth through one year), pregnant, and lactating pigs.

I soak my pigs’ food in approximately two parts water to one part grain so it is like a porridge. Soaking has the benefit of stretching the food farther, making them feel fuller, keeping them hydrated, and being a convenient way to get them to eat supplements when needed. (Around here we have to provide selenium to our sows because our soil is very poor in it.)

Kunes eat standard 15-17% protein pig pellets. (These are NOT mini pigs. Do not feed mini pig food.) Best practice is to halve the amounts below (which are recommended by the NZ Kunekune Society) and feed half in the morning and half at night.

  • Piglets 2-4 months – 1 lb (2 cups) per day

  • Pigs 4-9 months – 1.5 lb (3 cups) per day

  • Adult boar or sow – 2 to 3 lb {4 - 6 cups} per day

  • Lactating sow – 2 to 3 lb {4 - 6 cups} + 0.5 lb {1 cup} per piglet per day

These amounts are not law. If you’re pig is looking obese, reduce their grain amount. If they are looking skinny, consider possible health causes (especially worms) and increase feed accordingly. Under no circumstances should you offer kunes free choice grain or use the pig gravity feeders that conventional pig farmers use; kunes will become obese in no time.

TOXIC PLANTS: pigs seem to have good sense about what weeds and grasses are edible and stay clear of the stuff that can make them ill. Ornamental plants are a different matter. Many yards are planted with plant varieties that are deadly toxic to livestock, including azaleas, peach and cherry trees, and rhododendrons. For more information on toxic plants, see this article from the NC Extension.

TREATS + SCRAPS: Stick to fruits and veg. Avoid too much acid stuff like citrus and tomatoes because it can cause mouth sores in bulk. Stuff from the allum family (celery, garlic, leeks, onions) can give them gastric upset and so is best avoided. Avocado skins and pits are toxic, as are the pits of stone fruits (peaches, cherries, etc) if they eat a bunch AND chomp open the pits.


WATER

Dehydration is serious business with pigs! Pigs are incredibly robust, but over heating and dehydration are serious issues. And they don’t always make this easy on their farmers since they love making water dirty and dumping out water bowls. (Which is part of why I soak food. See above.)

Pigs require fresh, clean drinking water every day. Lactating sows can drink gallons of water a day. I offer a variety of clean water options including kiddie pools, 15 gallon tubs, and rubber bowls. Some folks use food grade barrels fitted with nipple waterers. Personally I haven’t yet because I worry about the water getting nasty in the barrels. Someday I might give them a go.


HYGIENE

Unless you are showing your kunekune, there is no need to bathe them. A muddy pig is generally a healthy happy pig! But “spa days” with brushing and hoof filing can be great for their health and your bond with your pig.

SKIN & HAIR: During extreme weather kunes can get dry, flaky skin. Regular brushing helps with skin health (plus pigs love it). Coconut, olive, argan or other edible oils can be massaged in to soothe very dry skin, although during summer oils should be applied on overcast days or at night to avoid sunburn.

Most Kunes grow nice long coats to help shade their skin, shed rain, and keep them warm during winter. Don’t be surprised when your kune sheds its coat when the weather warms up. It can happen pretty dramatically and your pig will appreciate some extra brushing! Shedding is itchy business!

FEET: A kune of appropriate weight and excellent leg and foot structure shouldn’t need much foot care or trimming, but some older kunes do require occasional pedicures to keep them from going lame.


FENCING

These docile pigs are not escape artists as long as their food, water, and shelter needs are being met. Kunes are respectful of fencing, especially as adults, so a variety of fencing options exist:

Hog panels: these sturdy metal panels are 16 feet long and 34 inches tall. They are the most secure form of pig fencing and appropriate for all ages of pigs including mamas with newborns. I recommend folks make a ‘transition pen’ with hog panels and posts every 8 feet when bringing new kunes home. The panels create a safe area to contain your new pigs while they are getting used to their new environment. Hog panels are more expensive than other forms of fencing (around $27/panel), but the peace of mind is worth the investment.

Net fencing: for temporary, easily movable fencing we use ‘feral hog’ electric net fencing by Premier 1. The feral hog style puts the horizontal strands closer together, which is perfect for smaller kune snoots. If you are looking use your kunes for land management, net fences are the way to go. We also use net fences to subdivide our permanent pastures for rotational grazing. Word to the wise: don’t skimp on the electric chargers. The plastic polywire creates more drag on the electric current than steel wire. You want a reliably strong zap. The pigs won’t touch the fence often, but there needs to be consistent consequences when they do. (And no it doesn’t really hurt. I accidentally touch mine all the time. It feels like a rubber band snap.) Premier 1 will advise you on the best charger for your purposes. Net fences are best for pigs older than 8 weeks and require careful introduction.

Field wire: woven (not welded) field wire is your best set-it-and-forget-it permanent fence option. It is less expensive than hog panels and pretty straightforward to set up. Adult kunes usually respect this just fine, but rascally teenager kunes often figure our that they can scoot under woven fencing. For this reason, many folks run a strand of electric fence inside the fence about 6 inches from the ground. This strategy works like a charm, but I personally dislike it because it requires regular weedwhacking along the fence line. I have had great luck instead using 12 inch garden staples (like these) to tack the fences down in areas the young pigs try to creep under. With standard pig breeds this probably wouldn’t work, but kunes are very different! They need a very light touch.

Electric strand fence: Simple strands of steel electric fence work great as long as you put them at the right height (a strand at 6 inches, another at 12 inches), keep them clear of grass and debris, have a good charger, AND the pigs can see them ok. Pigs don’t have the best vision to start with and a fluffy kune even less so. The white poly wire fence has better visibility but requires a stronger charger.


HOUSING

Kunes have basic housing needs that vary based on season and are very clean animals. Generally speaking, they need shelter from extreme weather in order to regulate their body temperatures. All you have to do is give them good options and they will see to themselves.

Winter housing: They need a dry, draft free house with the door facing away from prevailing winds. (or a flap over the door) A wood floor is ideal to keep them out of the cold and wet. Provide enough bedding for them to burrow into; I use a couple inches of pine shavings topped with a couple fluffy feet of hay or straw. Kunes are pretty oblivious to cold temps as long as they can snuggle up together.

Summer housing: heat can kill pigs in a short amount of time, so shade and wallows are a MUST in the summer. I find that my pigs do not like to use their houses for shade as they heat up too much. Natural shade like trees and woods is best, but shade cloths work great too. I keep their wallows in the shade as much as possible to keep the water cooler and inhibit algae. Wallows can be as fancy as plastic pools or as simple as a shallow hollow you dig with a shovel; however you do it, keep them as clean as possible. For dirt wallows I dig a couple so I can use one and let one dry out, which helps with smell and mosquitoes. Remember that pigs cannot sweat. Having moist skin is their main defense against heat stress.


HEALTH & WORMING

To keep your kune in excellent health, make sure you watch their weight and worm them regularly. Obesity and parasites are the two most common medical conditions with kunes. Fortunately both are easy to keep in check.

Obesity: Like people, some Kunes can turn air into fat. These pigs just don’t need much grain, although they will (sometimes loudly) tell you otherwise. Make sure your pig has plenty of pasture, both for healthy forage and for exercise. Keep treats to a minimum and stick to fruits and vegetables. If you find that one pig is getting more than its share at meal time, you may need to build it a separate feeding area. Any dietary adjustments should be made gradually. An overweight pig will eventually develop lameness issues, which then contributes to further obesity which then causes further lameness. That feedback loop is tough to break out of, so your best bet to avoid it.

External parasites: pigs can get lice and mites, but fortunately they are easy to treat with an all-purpose treatment like ivermectin (see chemical wormers below). Fleas and ticks are not generally a concern for adult pigs, although occasionally a tick might find a tender spot.) Don’t worry about spraying for flies; pigs use mud for this purpose and if you spray them with a permethrin spray they will just contaminate their wallow with that chemical, potentially making them sick. (The same goes for permethrin livestock dust.)

Internal parasites: Pigs can get several kinds of intestinal worms, all of which sap away the pigs’ nutrients either by eating their food in their intestines, eating the intestinal walls themselves, or sucking the pigs’ blood. This degrades your pig’s overall condition and makes them more susceptible to illness, so measures must be taken to prevent and eliminate these awful pests. There are two main strategies: chemical wormers and rotational grazing.

  • Chemical wormers: wormers like ivermectin do a fantastic job of killing internal and external parasites. (Don’t waste your money Wazine. It doesn’t do nearly enough.) We generally worm our pigs 3 times a year: after first frost, mid spring, and late summer. The downside of chemical wormers is that the chemicals that kill the bad worms also kill good worms and bugs when passed through in feces.

  • Rotational grazing: the best farming practice is to rotationally graze your pigs so they have moved on to new pastures before the parasite eggs hatch. Without a host, the worms die off and eventually your farm’s parasite population can be greatly reduced. (This article is a good place to start to learn about rotational grazing.) Rotational grazing is not for everyone though and does require more active work. Your local extension office (here’s the NC extension directory) would love to talk with you about how you can get a rotational grazing system working on your farm.

How do you know if your pig has worms? If you are seeing worms in their poop, they have a dangerously high parasite load. However there are subtler signs you can catch before that point like low weight, dull coat, pale gums, and lethargy or standoffishness. These signs will tell you that there are probably worms, but the only way to know for sure is by doing a fecal egg count under a microscope. Veterinarians recommend sending fecal samples for lab testing when you suspect worms; this is something you can do independently (no vet visit) at low expense. (Here’s a link to the NC diagnostic lab system brochure. You can see fees, services provided, and contact into.)

Vaccinations: There are vaccinations available for pigs that when done regularly (some have to be done every six months) can prevent or reduce pig viruses. You can also choose to have your pig vaccinated for rabies although it is not required by law. (It does protect you if for some reason your pig bites someone, so if you work with the public a lot you may want to consider rabies vaccinations.) We at Slow Farm don’t currently vaccinate our pigs, choosing to focus instead on good husbandry, strong genetics, and establishing a ‘closed herd’, which means that no new pigs enter our farm thus preventing the introduction of viruses.

IMPORTANT: Slow Farm is not a veterinary clinic and none of the advice written here can replace or usurp medical care by a licensed veterinarian. It is crucially important that all pig owners find and build a relationship with a large animal vet BEFORE a health crisis occurs. Your local agricultural extension office (here’s the NC directory) might be able to refer one, but the best resource I know of to find a vet is recommendations from nearby farmers.