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.
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.
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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