Kunekune 101: Husbandry

The Code of Practice (2014) is available in its complete form from the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC). This code is the basis of all husbandry practices relating to pigs, and is an essential read for anyone who is considering raising pigs of any type.

On a smaller, day-to-day scale, our typical husbandry tasks and observations are rather simple and most can be done in the 20 minutes we are out there feeding them twice daily, unless something is out of the ordinary. Things we check on are shelters, bedding, water, adequate minerals, access to forage, manure in high traffic areas, and general health.

Monthly, we get a snapshot of how our pigs are growing or maintaining their weight by weighing them and doing a closer inspection to make sure things like their nails and tusks are in good shape and check our herd health records to make sure everyone is up-to-date on wormers and vaccines.

Daily Checks

When we do our twice daily feeds, it usually just takes a minute to do a head count, see that shelters are in good working order and have adequate clean bedding, ensure water buckets are full and clean, there is a good supply of free choice minerals available, pigs have access to nutritious pasture and that everyone looks healthy. The extent of our daily chores on top of feedings is to fill or clean a water bucket or top-up hay or bedding. If pigs are pooping in their shelters or higher traffic areas we take the time to scoop their manure once or twice a day and inspect it too. It keeps parasites down and lets you see if someone is particularly loose or is shedding worms after a round of wormer.

On more intensive or worse days it means calling a vet for a lethargic pig that doesn’t want to eat (that is a sure sign of trouble), fixing a shelter, cleaning out deep winter bedding, or disinfecting a stall prior to farrowing.

The key to a daily check is to observe. You learn a lot about what regular healthy behaviour looks like and will notice when it is off. You will notice their weight, health of their coat, heat cycles, hierarchies, and needs.

Monthly Checks

We check weights and observe general conditions (including nails and tusks) each month. We also check our herd health schedule and make sure everyone is up-to-date on wormers and vaccines.

Weighing pigs is easy. Most of the time we use a tape measure (heart girth circumference x heart girth circumference x length from the base of the ears to the base of the tail with their head level / 400 = approximate weight). The measuring tape method is usually plus or minus 1 to 10 lbs from the scale, so we scale much less often (more like once a year). I used the scale a lot more before I was confident in my taping accuracy. If you are new to using a tape measure to weigh pigs, a livestock scale can help you double-check that you are doing a good job with the tape. Some people prefer only using a scale.

Scale or tape, keeping track of weight helps us track growth, and ensures mature pigs are maintaining weight (not getting too fat or losing weight). Our measurements inform how much we are feeding and if we want to check for worms or other pigs bullying them out of their meals. Having a recent weight on file is also super handy when medication must be administered by weight.

While our hands are on our pigs doing weights, it is easy to check for overall body condition. Things I would notice are lumps, bumps, cuts, excess fat, visible ribs, long nails, or tusks that are cutting into lips. First aid, environment changes, vet calls, or trims may be required if something is out of order.

We tend to trim toenails annually (if at all). We have quite a bit of soft soil, but a few rocks for them to walk on and gravel in the feeding areas help keep their nails worn down. If we do need to trim, a long straight snip  (Stainless Steel) from Buckerfield’s is what we use, although there are many options out there. I just do a quick trim while they are distracted eating on soft ground or I get someone to give them a tummy rub while I trim. I don’t flip them over or put them up on a lift like I see some people do it.

Straight Snips

We leave tusks on our boars as long as they are not bothering the boar. Our boars get along very well and are gentle enough that we feel very comfortable leaving their tusks on as long as they are not causing the boar discomfort. However, tusk removal is not an uncommon practice when necessary and can be done by a vet or under the direction of a vet with an OB wire saw. Using snippers to cut them can be tempting, but can also crack a tusk and lead to tooth infections and abscesses.

Hopefully, this gives you a good idea of what our husbandry routines look like. Peace, Love, and Pigs!

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