I get a lot of people asking me, “What do you feed your Kunekune pigs?” The concise answer is forage and pig feed. The better answer is much longer – so hang on and stick with me as we zip through the basics. I am a firm believer that there are a lot of right ways to do most things, but also some wrong ways. No matter how you do it, your Kunekune must get feed that meets their nutritional needs to maintain good health/longevity and get the right quanity of feed so they are well conditioned (that’s polite for not being too fat or too skinny). Here I am sharing what works for us and our farm goals based on the advice of our veterinary and nutritional consultants.
It isn’t possible to talk about feed without mentioning water. Pigs are particularly sensitive to salt and dehydration can be deadly. Pigs require daily access to fresh water and need continuous access to it. The water should be high enough quality for human consumption.
If given the opportunity, they may have a dip in their water trough in the summer to cool down, so extra caution should be made to check on and keep water tubs filled in the summer. We check their water frequently in the summer and have timers set to automatically go off a few times a day. Any overflow goes right into their wallows and is much appreciated. If they are taking frequent baths in their water dish, they are telling you they want more water soak in. Make sure you listen and turn on the hose to give them a chance to make a satisfactory wallow or fill up a shallow pool for them to soak in.
Forage (Pasture and Hay)
Kunekune are a true grazing breed. Even detractors of pastured pigs that are proponents of commercial indoor pig farming concede that the only true grazing pig is the Kunekune. They can meet almost all their nutritional needs through grazing, but unless you have regularly monitored and perfectly attuned pastures with adequate sources of all their needs, it is best to supplement with a bit of feed to ensure they are getting enough vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Kunekune prefer to graze as long as you have pasture for them. If the pasture is overgrazed, they are not beyond rooting around for some tasty roots. They will not decimate land like other breeds, but if your fields have little grass, lots of weeds, or lots of tasty grubs under bare earth, then they are certainly capable of snooting around for something tasty. Pigs that have lived on what looks like picturesque fields all their lives have no problem adapting to hunting grubs or snooting out roots if the conditions are poor or their diets are short of nutrients that are easily accessible in the ground.
The best way to keep your Kunekune happily and healthily grazing is to keep your pastures healthy and not overgrazed. Our pigs do really well when we seed with orchard grass. We rotate them at least every 21 days when possible as this helps break the parasite cycle. Five pigs per an acre is a good stocking rate. An example of rotational grazing would be we if had one acre and five pigs. It would be best to divide the acreage up into at least three fields and rotate them to a different field each week.
When the pasture is poor quality (for us on Vancouver Island that is usually late fall to early spring), we start supplementing with hay. Our pigs do quite well on dairy-quality hay from down the road and love it when I bring home the ocassional bale of Alfalfa. We feed as many as a couple of flakes a day to a group of about five pigs during the winter. They eat less when winter grazing is available and more when everything is under snow. You know you are feeding them too much if they start using the hay as bedding (or you are not offering enough straw and shavings for bedding).
We feed a 16% hog grower pellet from Top Shelf Feeds. We cut the feed cut with 17% alfalfa pellets to adjust the protein level, decrease caloric intake, and increase forage. Their daily feed ration is split over two feedings, once at breakfast and again in the late afternoon.
The pellets are presoaked for a few hours up to a day. This increases their hydration, helps with digestibility, and decreases the likelihood of them becoming impacted. We have noticed this drastically decreases their water consumption in the winter, although we still make sure they always have access to a fresh clean drinking source year long. We’ve fed straight pellets in the past and prefer feeding them soaked. If we leave the farm, our pig sitter just feeds straight pellets to keep things simple.
Many different appropriate feeds can be fed as long as they are composed by a knowledgeable swine nutritionist with attention to high enough lysine (minimum 1%) and selenium (~0.2-0.3mg/kg) content as well as low sodium content. The amino acid lysine is essential for good growth. Stay away from anything moldy. Horses can handle higher levels of fungus like ergot but pigs have zero tolerance (Prairie Swine Health advises that any feed higher than 350ppm should only be fed under the direct supervision of a vet) and feed mills will usually take this into account. For this reason, make sure you are buying food intended for pigs! Feed companies in Canada may permit as much as 1500ppm.
Feeding schedules will vary farm to farm based on pasture quality and other factors. Two keys to a healthy growing piglets are adequate protein (especially lysine) and sufficient selenium. All our weaned piglets get a minimum of 1 lb of feed a day (split over two meals) to ensure they are getting the nutrition they need to grow on top of all the yummy scraps they get from the garden. Underfeeding or undernourishment will diminish growth rates and overfeeding can lead to mobility, fertility, and quality of life issues.
The following feeding schedule has worked well on our farm and may be a good place to start.
- Just weaned piglets on our farm are used to sharing meals with littermates and a sow. Each individual piglet consumes closer to 0.5 to 1 lb a day at the time of weaning, this amount may be increased for an improved rate of gain, but should be done slowly to ensure the piglet is not eating an uncomfortable amount. We have been experimenting with free-feeding our piglets until they are 40-50lbs to maximize on their rate of gain and feed conversion efficiency at a young age. We have done this with great success but would caution others to keep an eye on body condition and cut back feed at the first sign of a pig becoming overweight.
Growing Kunekune (weaned to slaughter, approximately 12-15 months)
- 1.75 lb of 16% hog grower daily, divided evenly over two feedings
Adult Kunekune (breeding stock over 12 months)
- 1-1.75 lb total feed, over two feedings
- Composed of 10% Alfalfa pellets and 90% Hog Grower by weight
Nursing Kunekune Sows and Piglets
- Normal feed, 1-1.75 lb plus 0.5lb-0.85lb of feed for each additional piglet, spread over two to four daily feedings
- Slowly build up the additional feed over the first few days postpartum, too much too soon may cause your sow to overeat and vomit.
- Example: A sow eating 1.75lbs a day with 8 piglets would eat 1.75lbs + ((8 piglets x1.7lbs)/2) = 8.5 lbs of pellets a day (split over two daily meals of 4.25lbs each). All you need to do is edit the formula for the number of piglets you have to get the daily feed ration (split over two to four meals). Feed mom outside away from piglets for the first week (or until they figure out how to stay out of her way while she is eating). Sows are excited to see food and far less aware and careful around their piglets which can result in injury if they are permitted to scurry about her legs while she eats.
- When piglets start showing interest in feed, they can be offered as much soaked feed as they will finish. It has been observed that older nursing piglets and freshly weaned piglets have the best feed-to-weight conversion while young and make the most substantial gains as early in their lifespan.
Keep an eye out for how fast your pigs are eating. A fast-eating pig will be shovelling down their portion and then helping themselves to pen mate’s rations. You might have to separate by size or eating speed if it becomes an issue. We tend to keep similar-sized pigs together when they eat – especially when we want them to be hitting target weights on time. It doesn’t take the little ones any time at all to figure out that if they follow me around the corner – there is extra food for them where the big pigs aren’t going to steal it.
We feed our pigs using rubber bowls at a feeding station. We used to put the bowls straight on the pasture but because they are high-traffic areas, the areas around the bowls quickly became mud in our “Wet Coast” rainforest weather. The solution for us was putting down a few inches of 3/4″ crushed road gravel with some 1/2″ rubber stall mats over top. We put the bowls down on the mats. In nicer weather, we can even spread the feed straight on the mats (that is especially nice with a big group of piglets).
In addition to their regular pellets, we often offer our garden scraps, orchard fruit, and extra pumpkins. Make sure they are not moldy or a toxic /poisonous plant like rhubarb. Tomato, potato, eggplant, pepper plants, and other nightshades are not on that particular list of toxic plants, but these are also toxic and we do not take chances. Nightshades have alkaloids which impact nerve-muscle, joint, and digestive function in animals and humans. We also never feed any food that has come into contact with or been prepared in the same vicinity as meat or meat by-products. Feeding meat, meat by-products, or food that has been cross-contaminated with meat is not permitted in Canada. See the BC Introduction to Small Scale Pig Production resource for more information.
Be cautious of food recovery programs. Many programs are not well suited for pigs and contain large quantities of food that will make them sick (moldy foods, cakes, pastries, etc.), or that are not legal to feed them (deli meats, foods that have been in contact with meats, etc.). A local farmer’s market or trusted neighbour with windfall orchard fruits are much better options if you choose to go this route.
NUMBER CRUNCH: A standard 44lb feed bag lasts over 25 days per Kunekune pig at 1.7lbs a day. If you feed a 2-3 month old weaner for another 9-12 months to slaughter weight, on the upper end it will consume 14.6 bags (643lbs) during its lifetime. At $17.20 a bag of feed, that is around $250 of feed for the year. As a comparison, a traditional hog may eat 700-900lbs during its much shorter production lifetime. So, while you feed a Kunekune for longer to get them to production weight, it doesn’t necessarily create a higher feed input.
IMPORTANT: Do not feed too much! Kunekune are notorious for becoming obese when overfed (aka fed like a regular pig or feeding too much to push them to an earlier slaughter date). While they are known as a lard breed, that does not mean they should be allowed to become overweight. If a breeder is claiming they easily hit 200lbs in 12 months, it is extremely important to know the condition of the animal and the quality of the carcass. Our goal though as pork producers is to raise healthy animals with high-quality meat. We find the best way to achieve that is through good genetics, proper feeding, and patience.
We offer our pigs a free-choice vitamin and mineral supplement. We use Dairy, Beef, and Horse Minerals from TopShelf. There were no specific swine minerals available on the island and this choice was made in consultation with the TopShelf swine nutritionist. A specific swine vitamin and mineral supplement would be just as good or better. If you want to read a bit more on the topic, a good place to start is Macro Minerals for Swine Diets.
Never give a pig a salt lick! Feed manufacturers go to great extents to limit salt as pigs are highly sensitive to salt.
If the coats on our pigs start looking rundown, we supplement with a handful (~ ½ cup) of Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (BOSS), once a day. The extra oils do wonders for their coats and skin, especially in the winter when the environment is less kind to their coats. If their skin is extra dry and flaky after a harsh winter, we will externally treat dry skin by rubbing coconut oil (~ ½ cup) over the entire pig. We do this on a cool, cloudy day – coconut oil is not supposed to enhance the potential of a sunburn but I just can’t stand the idea of oiling a pig on a hot, sunny day. Often one annual rub down is enough to revitalize a coat and sluff off dead dry skin from winter.