Holistic animal husbandry refers to the art, if you will, of considering the whole animal, every body system, and every environmental/external factor instead of reducing them down to one disease state, one organ system, one treatment, etc. This starts with nutrition, environment and health at the very core, but can be as involved as a person is willing to go with it, depending on their level of knowledge of the workings of the body and the effects of environmental factors.
Corn and soy are the most genetically modified crops out there, and sadly those GMO crops have contaminated even organically grown crops of corn and soy. Aside from that, corn and soy change the fatty acid ratio with more Omega 6 (inflammatory) and less Omega 3 (heart/brain healthy) than is healthy. Soy can also throw estrogen levels off kilter in both females and males. Those are the reason we do not feed corn and soy. What we do feed is primarily pasture grasses and "weeds" like yellow dock, chickweed, clover, dandelion, vetch, etc. We'll also be planting more beets soon! In addition to their forage based diet, we supplement with Non-GMO, soy/corn free pellets from Tucker Milling, called Nature Crest. I've been happy with it, but I'm not so stuck in a rut that I'm not willing to consider that there's something better. We will be incorporating more fermented whole grains and seeds with a bit of added kelp and blackstrap molasses into the diets of the animals soon, as we feel that the closer to the natural (not heavily processed) state of food we can get, the better.
The most common animal husbandry practices rely on many synthetic drugs, not only given to animals in the form of injections and oral medications, but also in their environment. Examples would be formulas used for disenfecting areas, formulas for ridding areas of bugs, etc. These common practices have effects on soil health and populations of beneficial insects, which eventually effects the pasture which is grazed by the animals. It also starts a cycle of "treat it, your problem doesn't go away, treat it more, it gets worse," and on and on. I'll use fly control as an example. If you treat an area for flies, yes, it gets rid of those flies, however it may also disrupt other insect populations. If you're wise and have chickens to help with fly control, those chickens lose a food source, so they go elsewhere and the cycle continues. These treatments also have an impact on the animals directly, by potentially weakening their immune systems. The immune system is essentially found throughout the body - the gut, liver, lymph nodes, everywhere. If one thing is thrown off, things tend to get "out of whack," setting the animal up for disease, that may not be a direct side effect of the chemical concoctions used, but a result of that cocktail weakening one organ system that leads to another.
Holistic animal husbandry goes well beyond nutrition and environmental applications, though. We obviously aim to avoid sickness all together and focus on genetically hardy animals and giving them the things they need to live well. Next, and even more important, in my opinion, is NOT giving them things that would compromise an intact immune system, like vaccinations and medications. So, many people freak out at this point and say "What if an animal gets sick, do you just let it die?" No! That's when my favorite part comes in. Not my favorite because I need to use my skills, but because I'm ABLE to use my skills to treat these special creatures with plant medicine, which at it's core helps the body to help itself instead of destroying or suppressing body systems. A genetically hardy animal combined with herbal treatment when needed is a winning combination! And here again, most people would balk at this point and say, "You need something strong - a pharmaceutical drug!" Nope again. Have you ever heard of poisonous plants, plants to avoid letting animals eat, plants to avoid letting your children eat or touch? Yeah, of course! Well, if plants have the power to do harm, you also have to acknowledge that they have the potential to do good, when used properly, as they can't be both powerful and powerless. That doesn't make sense.
To Be Continued
There are so many connections that I could make and so many more details to cover, especially in the realm of vaccinations and medications, but I'm going to let this introduction sink in for a bit and pick up with another post covering those things later. I hope I've mentioned some things that get you all thinking, questioning, and wondering what we could do differently to raise healthier animals not dependent on both harmful and expensive treatments. Thank you for your interest in holistic animal husbandry!
There has been a lot of discussion surrounding choosing breeding stock - what to look for, what makes a pig "breeding quality," etc. There is a breed standard that we look to to guide us in choosing pigs to utilize as breeders, and if you go by that, you're definitely on your way to success, in my opinion. However, there are a few more things that I place a very high value on that are not part of the breed standard, so I evaluate things slightly differently than most breeders I know. I figure there are things more important to some people than others, and that's part of what makes each breeding program unique. Knowing what you want is important, but sometimes very tricky, especially in the beginning when everything is still so new, you have little to no experience with Kunekunes, or pigs in general, and you really may only have a vague idea of what you want. For example, you may want gentle pigs that are good mothers and don't root, who maintain body condition easily with a mostly pasture diet. That was my starting point. Those were the only things I knew I wanted, but what I didn't know is that there are other very important things to consider. Is that where you are? If so, this post is for you!
For the sake of keeping this post concise, we will assume that we are talking about DNA tested, Registered Kunekune pigs, as those are the only ones that should be considered if they're being used as breeding stock in the first place (more on that topic in another post). To find breeders of Registered stock, check out the American Kunekune Pig Society (AKKPS) and/or the American Kunekune Pig Registry (AKPR) for breeder lists and more information.
I'm going to be sharing several links here because there's really no point in reinventing the wheel when talking about breed standards as there are already great resources for this. We will look to the breed registries both in the US as well as in the UK for this information.
Concise Overview of Breed Standard (AKKPS)
In-Depth Description of Breed Standard (AKPR)
Video - Selecting Kunekune Breeding Stock Using the Breed Standard (BKKPS)
Beyond Breed Standards
The breed standard is a baseline, in my opinion. Yes, all pigs should fall within the standard and be sound animals. HOWEVER, equally important to me is having pigs that go beyond breed standard! What do I mean? How in the world can a pig even go beyond breed standard? If they meet the standard, aren't they all the same at that point? NO. Just because a pig meets the breed standard for physical attributes, that does not mean it is automatically a breeding quality pig in my book. When purchasing piglets, these things may not be quite so evident so you'd look at their parents to see if there is a history of desirable, non-physical attributes.
So, what am I talking about?
There shouldn't be a history of significant illness and they shouldn't be sustained on de-wormer or other medications.
Have they been sick at all since birth? If so, with what? For how long? What actions were required to get them over it? Did they bounce back completely? Were there any lasting effects? Were any medications used? Which ones? What are the possible effects of those medications? Do they get worms easily or seem to keep them? Are chemical de-wormers used? If so, which ones, how much and how often?
They should appear robust and healthy without breaking the bank to feed them.
Do they seem to eat more feed than others but stay on the smaller side, or are they feed efficient for their size?
They should lie down slowly and carefully and not plop.
Did their mother farrow unassisted, in a "smart" area (not in the middle of a mud hold during a monsoon)? Did she squish any piglets by being careless? Did she have plenty of milk for the litter?
EASE OF KEEPING:
They should not escape sufficient fencing, root or cause trouble.
Do their parents root? Can you easily manage their parents to get them where they need to be? Are they aggressive at all with people or other animals?
These attributes are common in the Kunekune breed (as are the physical attributes in the breed standard), but no one typically measures them. Rather they just hope for the best because "a Kunekune is a Kunekune." Not so much! If you saw a Kunekune who had a sharply pointed, long snout, narrow head, beady narrow eyes, long legs, no hams to speak of, no wattles, and splayed legs, open toes, with a sway back, would "a Kunekune be a Kunekune" at that point? Heck no! So why assume that these other non-physical attributes will automatically just fall into place because of their breed alone? That is where we see people begging for answers to how they can keep their pigs from rooting, how they can prevent whole litters from being squashed under the mother, and how they can help their chronically ill-health pig with endless worms, failure to maintain weight, etc. While we can't catch every single non-physical attribute when choosing pigs, as BREEDERS (now I'm speaking to the ones who should know this, but obviously do not or this wouldn't be such an issue), these things should also be noted within the herd and culled against. Every Fall I choose pigs from my herd that are closer to the bottom of the list for whatever reason and they become meat for the freezer. So, I like to think that every single year our program progresses and gets better and better.
Simple Test for Breeding Quality
And I saved the best for last. It's probably the sole reason you're here in the first place - THE TEST! I created a simple "traffic light" test to be an aide in helping people determine whether or not a pig should be added to the breeding line up. Kunekune breeders can use this test in evaluating their piglets to determine who gets to pass on traits and who gets to be passed at the dinner table. It can also be used by buyers, new to the Kunekune scene, to determine whether they should buy a particular pig or not. It's based on an average score, where an average of 1 is a RED LIGHT - Stop, do not breed! An average of 2 means SLOW DOWN (yellow) and consider all points seriously before deciding to proceed. An average of 3 means you have the GREEN LIGHT on an excellent breeding quality pig according to the criteria listed.
Feel free to download and customize this test to meet your expectations of the "perfect pig." I have included typical breed standard points as well as a few things important to my breeding program. You may choose to pick out the things most important to you and fill those out first so you have a good idea of how the pig stacks up in the areas most important to you before scoring the rest. I hope you find it useful!
Why Use Microchips?
The obvious reason to me is one of vanity. Honestly, I don't want my pricey, registered pig to have an ear tag, and I figure those purchasing registered pigs from me wouldn't like it either. Also, you get to know your breeding stock well. You can pick them out by their looks, personality, even the way they brush up against you sometimes, so needing a visual ID isn't necessary on breeding stock, in my opinion. Another reason, that is actually of more importance, is the fact that if your pig is lost or stolen, you know it has that microchip behind it's ear and you can prove that the pig is yours when you find it. Ear tags can be removed, but microchips are not likely to be suspected in the first place.
Who Gets a Microchip & Who Does Not?
Microchips, get your microchips! Wait just a minute. Not every pig needs or should even have a microchip. Breeding stock, yes! Pigs to be grown out for meat, NO! It is not recommended, because of food safety issues, to microchip "feeder" pigs, as the microchip could end up in your meat and then you'd be microchipped. I do my best to avoid such things, personally! Also, the visual ID of an ear tag on non-registered and feeder piglets is actually very useful. I will do a blog post on ear tagging soon where I'll tell you why.
I decided to go with the NanoCHIP microchips for a few different reasons. They're 6x smaller (smaller needle, smaller chip), for one. They can be read by all ISO compliant Universal readers. They come pre-loaded. They don't completely break the bank. Also, comparably priced microchips I found online weren't boasting very favorable reviews regarding longevity of the microchip. Pigs can live into their teens and 20's, so a microchip that only lasts a few years isn't going to cut it. Finally, Secondary Registration is free. That means that I, as the breeder, can register each piglet I sell and it will always and forever be traceable back to me as a secondary contact, regardless of whether or not the new owner chooses to complete the Primary Registration (www.fetch-id.com is one example). For a video overview of this microchip system, click HERE.
Bells and whistles are not important to me for this task. I need a reader that will effectively scan the microchip and display the correct number. I found the Animal ID scanner that does just that and is rechargeable via USB on Amazon (affiliate link below) for a reasonable price. Some microchip scanners are upwards of $200-$300, which is ridiculous, in my opinion, but this one works well and is only around $60.00. For a video overview of the Animal ID scanner in action, click HERE.
As many of our Higher Ground Herbs & Homestead Friends know, Mama Bacon was due to have piglets around Feb. 17th, 2018. A few days ago, on Feb. 9th, to be exact, I went out to the barn to find one of our gates lying on the ground and all the boy pigs in the girl's area. They had apparently busted in the previous night after having been moved from the front lot to the back lot in order to give the front lot a much needed break from little piggy feet and those little AGH crosses that love to root, especially when it has been raining nonstop and the ground is soggy.
This is where I sit here almost not even knowing what to say. I guess I'll start by saying that I thought, and have always been told, that Kunekune boars wouldn't purposely try to make the sows abort only to re-breed them like is common in other breeds. I'm not sure if this is something that happens as a one-off, every now and then, if it's something that MOST Kunekunes don't do, but some do, or what. Maybe it was because they had been separated for such a long time and then reintroduced. All I know is that while I was trying to separate the pigs back out after re-hanging the gate, I had both Mama Bacon and the father of her piglets, Daddy Bacon, in the barn "in holding" while I tried to get other pigs where they needed to go. Then I heard it. At the time, I didn't even realize "it" was the intentional abortion of 8-day-early, almost ready, but not quite, piglets. I heard one shrill scream, which I know now was from Mama Bacon as she undoubtedly received a blow to the belly that resulted in early labor. Shortly after that scream, I opened the barn door to further separate the pigs I had in holding. Mama Bacon acted normal, but I noticed she was dripping blood from her backside. I instantly thought, "that is NOT good," but I truly didn't believe she was about to miscarry/abort those piglets. Bleeding before the birthing process, unless only slightly because of dilation, can be an indication that the placenta has separated from the uterus. I know this. I had deduced that she had received a blow that made her bleed. However, I still didn't think she'd really abort those babies.
Mama Bacon got hit around 10am that day. Around 4pm she gave birth to the first piglet, which was visibly too early to be born, and dead. It was a little gilt (girl piglet), perfectly formed except her eyes looked sunken in, and she really wasn't that hairy. She had double wattles and surely would've been a sweetie. After finding that first piglet lying in the stall, I was STILL hopeful that things would work out for the best because Mama Bacon had also passed a placenta, clueing me in that the birthing process for one horn was actually complete, AND she didn't appear to be in labor anymore. Furthermore, when resting my hand on her belly, I could feel more babies inside, still moving. I thought, "Ok, maybe she only had the one baby in one horn and the other side is still just fine. This could work out!" I chose not to go in searching for more piglets, not to inject her with synthetic Oxytocin, and to just let nature happen, because she seemed to be doing just fine. I do also have to think about her at this point as well, not just fishing out 8-day-early piglets in hopes I can keep them alive with them being so early in the grand scheme of things. 8 days early when gestation is only about 114 days can make a huge difference, and I didn't want to risk fishing them out if I still had hope that they could stay in and finish developing. Also, entering a sow like that would inevitably mean administering antibiotics, which I never, ever do unless needed to save a life. Weighing her life versus the lives of premature piglets is a no-brainer, in my opinion.
I went to bed that night, after a very long day and staying with Mama Bacon a good part of it as well as a good part of the evening, hopeful that she could carry the remaining piglets just a few more days and have a normal, live birth. The next morning, she greeted me eager to eat her breakfast, as usual. I fed, petted and checked out every square inch of her, feeling carefully for fetal movement (which I couldn't be sure I did or did not feel), and paying close attention to her temperature, since infection is a concern, although not a great one since I didn't ram my arm up her butt looking for piglets. Everything checked out okay, and she was not bleeding anymore, either. Yay! Hanging in there! Or so I thought...
Fast forward to the evening of day 2 after MB got hit. When doing my evening checks, I went to her first, of course. There she was, her normal self, hoping I had come bearing yummy treats. I did, of course, because she had been getting very special treatment in her private suite since the incident. It didn't take me long to see something that I instantly knew couldn't be the result I had hoped for, but it still didn't exactly hit me as the end of hope for a live birth until everything had time to sink in, maybe even the next day. What I saw was another amniotic sac hanging from Mama Bacon, but there were no piglets to be found in the stall where she was staying. This really could only mean one thing, and that was that the piglet(s) were born dead and she likely ate them, which is quite common in these scenarios. That was it, hope was gone. The other horn had expelled its contents and there were no live piglets.
Mama Bacon is still doing well, despite her loss. She has the freedom to move about in the front lot now and isn't sequestered to her suite any longer. Her long awaited litter of piglets is not with us and this is beyond sad to me. Sadder than I would imagine, actually. I'm taking it pretty hard, really. Of course all of the "what ifs" and "if I'd onlys" creep in and I try to make it my fault somehow. I know it isn't my fault, but I do feel responsible, and I will be working even harder (if that's even possible) to ensure gates, fences, etc. are boar tight and this doesn't happen again. Before this incident, Daddy Bacon already had an appointment with the butcher, as we are moving to only registered stock, but now I'm actually really glad to be taking him to meet his piglets next month.
There were so many lessons learned, so much to add to the to-do list, and definitely a humbleness taken away from the past few days. I am still confident in the way I handled everything after the process started, and I do not regret not fishing for piglets or injecting her with drugs to speed her labor, as I am certain the piglets, even if born alive, wouldn't have made it long. Mama Bacon will be bred again soon and we will be overjoyed to meet her next litter of piglets, which will undoubtedly be completely spoiled rotten upon their arrival. Just on principle alone, I will not allow Daddy Bacon to breed her or any other female on our farm for the duration of his life here. His plan did not work out in his favor.
Why pigs at all? That's simple - MEAT! In the journey to self sufficiency, we desperately want to be able to provide food to our family that we know has been grown/raised free of chemicals and "junk food" like GMO corn and soy. When considering adding pigs to our homestead, there were some things I had questions about. First of all, I had always heard my Dad, and pretty much everyone else that had ever been around a pig of any sort, say that they stink, they root up everything, they're mean and will "eat you alive," the boars will make the sows abort just to be able to breed them again, and they also eat too much (expensive to feed). All of that sounded horrible, but I couldn't believe there weren't solutions to all of that. After all, how did pigs survive for sooooo long if they were such horrible, needy animals? I started asking around in a few pig groups I found online and people suggested putting rings in their noses to keep them from rooting. They also suggested iron clad fences and separation of boars and sows. I was still not going to accept that those were the only options, but again, that's what everyone was claiming.
The Kunekune Revelation
After much searching and reading and question asking, by some miracle, I heard about Kunekune pigs - a smaller (300lb max) "lard" type pig that doesn't root, is extremely docile, "spits out babies like butter," and are herd animals so the boar is part of the family unit and doesn't purposely try to make the sow abort just so he can breed again. Their meat is also excellent - gourmet even. We have a winner!
As I'm typing this we are going on almost one year of owning this awesome breed of pigs. Guess what? I have no complaints! They are everything and more than I expected them to be. We actually had to dig them a mud hole (pigs need to get muddy, especially in hot weather) because they don't root! We've also had one litter of piglets from our first sow and are expecting 3 more litters, due any day now. They really do act as a family unit! What have we fed them? Grass and fruit/veggie scraps when available Spring - Fall, hay and sweet potatoes in Winter, and a small amount of Non-GMO feed (about a handful per pig each day).
Rare Breed Conservation
As an added bonus to owning this breed for meat, in doing so we are helping to conserve a rare breed of farm animal, which is pretty awesome. Our children take great pride in telling people about our efforts in rare breed conservation of both our Guernsey goats and our Kunekune pigs. The American KuneKune Pig Society gives a concise look into the start of breed conservation for this amazing animal:
"In the late 1970's the breed was 'rediscovered' and at that time it was estimated that there were only about 50 purebred KuneKunes left in New Zealand. From purebred base stock of only 6 sows and 3 boars in 1978, the KuneKune conservation program was created by wildlife park owners Michael Willis and John Simister. These two gentlemen single handedly saved the breed from extinction. Once more herds were established in New Zealand, it became clear that exporting of the breed was important. They were afraid that if disease or other natural disasters struck in New Zealand this would wipe the breed out completely. In 1992 the first KuneKunes left New Zealand to go to the UK. Additional stock was sent to the UK in 1993 & 1996.
All KuneKunes in the United States go back to either direct New Zealand or UK imported stock. There have been five importations of KuneKune pigs into the USA occurring in 1996, 2005, 2010, and 2012."
How can you be "conserving" a breed if you kill them for meat? Good question! It doesn't really make sense upon first thought, but think a little harder...
Basically, since our primary goal was to have meat for our family and we chose to purchase Kunekunes for breeding (creating meat), that means that there will be A LOT of piglets born. KKs have 6-8ish piglets in each litter, and they are able to have a litter 3 times each year. We have 3 sows. You do the math! Ok, I did it for you - it works out to be about 72+/- piglets a year. First of all, we don't have that much freezer space. Secondly, this is where breed conservation comes in. Part of conserving and preserving a breed is in breeding animals that are of the best quality and most similar to the original Kunekunes. Breeding animals that carry characteristics not shared by the originals is getting away from conservation, not toward it. So, pigs that do not "conform" to these original standards that make the Kunekunes special are harvested for meat or sold as pets or "feeder pigs," meaning that the person buying it intends to feed it until it is old enough to harvest for meat for their own use.
Own Your Own Kunekune Pigs
As mentioned above, we have a lot of piglets born each year. If you are interested in making Kunekune pigs part of your farm or homestead, we'd love to share our experiences and our amazing animals with you. There are 3 options for purchasing piglets:
1. Purchase a "Breeder" - An animal of the best quality that will carry on attributes of the original Kunekune
2. Purchase a "Feeder" - An animal that may or may not carry the original attributes of Kunekunes and is sold for the sole purpose of living long enough to be big enough to harvest for meat.
3. Purchase a Pet - An animal that may or may not carry the original attributes of Kunekunes and is sold for the enjoyment of its new family. This is tricky, and an option that I'm not a fan of offering. First of all, "pets" are often purchased because they're cute and kids love them. Then they grow up, kids don't like them anymore, and they are often neglected or unwanted and at that point are serving no purpose at all.
For more information and options to purchase your own Kunekune from our beloved drift (the snazzy word for 'herd of pigs'), please contact us by phone at 256.333.0504 (leave a message, please) or via the form located under the Contact tab at the top of this page.
The cold temps are here and keeping the animals warm and the water in liquid state is top priority. Here are 3 simple ingredients that can be added to your water tanks to help keep them warm in icy Winter weather.
It was by acident that I discovered this little gem to help keep the water in liquid, or at least slushie, form. While nursing a sick pig and trying to get him to drink more water while providing him with a bit of iron at the same time, I put a decent amount of molasses in his water bucket. The next morning, which was the first freeze for the season, the main water tank for the goats had an inch thick sheet of ice on top, but the pig water was still perfectly drinkable, and only a little slushie. Ding, ding, ding! This became the first and most important ingredient in what evolved into the Keep Them Warm forumla.
The next time I was mixing my molasses mixture, I caught myself thinking about different things I could add that would be beneficial to the animals in the cold weather and I automatically thought of Cayenne. People had mentioned giving Cayenne to their chickens in winter to keep them warm and help keep egg production up, so I thought it made sense to add it here. Cayenne also has the benefits of being a vermifuge against intestinal parasites, a tonic herb that boosts the immune system, and a catalyst herb that boosts the efficacy of other herbs and supplements. This one is a definite winner!
Apple Cider Vinegar
To round out the formula, I naturally turned to apple cider vinegar (ACV), as it is not only known for being a great probiotic, but it has many more benefits as well. It provides energy for working dogs while repelling fleas and ticks and conditioning their coats. ACV may also improve digestion, provide relief from arthritis and inflammation, help adapt to colder temperatures, and help prevent urinary tract infections and urinary calculi. It also disrupts the development of bacterial and viral infections. Every animal can benefit from these attributes!
Order ingredients by clicking on each individual ingredient below (aff. links):
1/2 to 1 cup Molasses
1 tsp Cayenne
2 TBS Raw, Unfiltered ACV
Very warm water (not hot or you risk destroying the live part of the ACV)
Add first 3 ingredients to a quart-size Mason jar. Top with very warm water and secure the lid. Shake until the molasses is completely mixed. Pour this mixture into a 2.5 gallon chicken waterer and top with water as usual, or adjust quantity of ingredients and add to the size water tank of your choice. I give this formula to all my animals - chickens, guineas, goats, pigs, dogs, and cats.
Keep them warm! :)
Just your average ex-medical scientist turned herb loving, natural living, homeschooling mom, wife, and homesteader who values common sense, real food, real people, primal instincts, and self-sufficiency.
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