Kunekune 101: Reproduction

If you are squeamish, pig breeding is not for you! I have included anatomical pictures in this post to help visualize breeding, heat, and changes during gestation. You will want to be very familiar with your pigs baseline anatomy so you can notice changes. It is as easy as taking a glance once a day while you are feeding – once you know what you are looking for of course.


In the world of pigs, we talk about “Gilts” (females that have not yet had piglets), “Sows” (females that have had piglets), “Boars” (intact males), and “Barrows” (altered males that have had their testicles removed). When they are weaned as piglets, you will often see gilts, boars, and barrows advertised as “Weaners” as in they have just been weaned–not to be confused with the sometimes used but nevertheless incorrect homophone “Weiners”, as in the sausage.

Gilts and boars begin to mature around 8 months (as early as 5 months for some lines). While boars may start breeding around this time, they don’t become fully fertile until about 12-18 months. In addition, while gilts begin to cycle at around 8 months old (on average), it is best to wait until they are 12 months old when their body is more mature (do not leave it much past 18 months). The New Zealand Kunekune Association has great baseline information on breeding and infertility. An important note from their website is that if you wait too long to breed a gilt, she may have difficulty catching or if you leave a sow too long between pregnancies, she may also have difficulty catching.

It is advised that pairings are made between comparable-sized pigs.  Breeding a 200lb Kunekune gilt to a 500lb Berkshire boar could cause serious injury to the gilt and possibly leave her lame.  Likewise, breeding a small boar to a large gilt may result in the boar not being able to reach his target and becoming frustrated or possibly giving up all together. That being said… (see picture)

This young 90lb boarling isn’t deterred one bit by this 350lb sow – even approaching from downhill. Although smaller boars can have a difficult time, don’t count on a smaller boar not being able to reach or aim. An older boar is pictured to the sows left supervising the whole affair. Sometimes having an experienced boar with an inexperienced boar helps the younger guys figure out their approach.

It is also important to separate boars and gilts from each other by six months of age so they don’t create familiar relationships and stop to see each other as breeding partners and to prevent a gilt from being bred too early. It is best to keep them separate unless they are temporarily together for breeding. To maintain optimum fertility is also important to not wait too long to breed, too long in between pregnancies, or allow gilts/sows to get under/overweight. Pigs are most fertile when kept regularly pregnant and in good body condition. Waiting approximately more than 18 months to breed a gilt, going over a year between breeding’s, or keeping a gilt/sow overweight can decrease fertility and lead to cystic ovaries and/or decreased uterine tone, stopping their reproductive cycle prematurely.

Make sure all your gilts/sows and boars shots are up to date before you breed them. It is important they are in good health and protected from reproductive disease before you breed them. Some vaccines like Circoflex should not be avoided during pregnancy (especially final stages) and some are intended to be given right before breeding so it is important to make sure you are up to date before you breed.

When it is time, we introduce a boar to a gilt/sow, we generally do so on neutral ground. If the boar is inexperienced we may even move the sow to his area to him a bit more confidence. Breedings can be done just during heat cycles, but we tend to leave the boar and gilt/sow together for two heat cycles to make sure she has caught – especially if it is difficult to see her cycles.

If you do not see the actual breeding, signs include discharge around the boar’s sheath/belly, disturbances to the gilts/sows hair where the boar would have been mounted, discharge leaking from the gilts/sows vulva, or a sperm plug (looks like a lump of clear snot) on the ground.

You will know a gilt is bred when she does not cycle 21 days after breeding or have a vet confirm with an ultrasound.

Gestation is approximately 116 days long (two days longer than average pigs). Some of our sows will even go as long as 117-124 days. There can be a bit of variation depending on how many days she stood for the boar, implantation and the length of the heat. If you notice a heat cycle and witness breeding, mark your calendar for 21 days and 116-124 days. If you don’t see another heat cycle at the 21-day mark, get ready to prepare for a litter of piglets – she is “in pig” (fancy talk for being pregnant).

Heat Cycles

Starting around 8 months, gilts will begin to cycle about every 21 days (every 21 days like clockwork on our farm). Heat cycles last from 8 hours to 4 days (we typically observe 1-2 days). You will notice swelling in their vulva from increased blood flow, this often makes the area pinker.  Each gilt/sow will look a little different. The key is to know what their “normal” looks like for her and keep an eye out for changes.  Gilts can be more subtle in their changes than sows and lighter-coloured pigs are easier to see colour changes on.

This is “normal” for these three pigs. None of them are in heat. Their vulvas are not pink, swollen, or elongated. Those physical changes happen during a heat cycle or to a larger extent, a few weeks away from farrowing. Notice that pinkness is easier to detect on lighter pigs? On darker pigs, you mostly rely on swelling to detect a heat cycle.

Here are the same three pigs in heat. Overall, you will notice the vulva swells, elongates, and turns a little pink. The colour change is less noticeable is the last gilt, the shape change is hard to miss though.

In addition to physical changes, you may notice behavioural changes – especially in their vocalizations and desire to stand for boars. A gilt/sow not in heat will not typically tolerate boars mounting her. A gilt/sow will stand for a boar (or any pressure on her rump) when she is ready to be bred, this is called “Standing Heat“.

Gestational Changes

Alright, this is the resource I wish I had when I started with pigs. To illustrate the changes during a pig’s gestation, I followed our gilt Sandy (GVF Haunene 1) to document the changes in her body during her first pregnancy. She is cream-coloured so it is easier to see her changes than on a different patterned or coloured pig. Each pig is a bit different in its presentation, so you need to get to know what “normal” is for your gilt/sow. Once you have a baseline, keep an eye out for changes to their vulva, teats/milk line, body shape, and behaviours. First-timer gilts can be very hard to detect changes in, whereas an experienced sow often has more obvious signs of heat and pregnancy progression. The changes seen in Sandy here will accelerate and become a bit more accentuated in future gestations.


A gilts/sows vulva will begin to swell and become pinker as their due date approaches. Sandy started showing changes (swelling) around 3-4 weeks before farrowing (pictured at 96 days gestation). This first change is easy to mistake as a heat cycle in absence of other signs of pregnancy or mistake as her being at term if you didn’t see the breeding. She had another major change (more swelling) at 115 days gestation. Her anatomy has to change in order to squeeze out 2-3lb piglets, so elongation and elargment of her vulva is important. Her vulva will return to normal in the weeks after farrowing.


Teats/Milk Line

Teat changes (milk lines) are the most obvious difference between a gilt and a sow. A gilt can have an almost unnoticeable change through her entire gestation with just subtle changes to her milk line towards the end. An experienced sow will bag up and have noticeable mammary enlargement sooner. As you can see, Sandy’s line looks like it did prior to pregnancy all the way to a week prior to farrowing. On day 113 you can see on her back left teat, just the slightest hint of mammary enlargement (“bagging up”). At 115 days, just one day before her due date, the changes are still subtle, whereas a sow would show obvious signs of mammary enlargement.

It may or may not work (pigs choose to let down their milk), but if you squeeze the mammary gland (like milking a goat/cow) and get some milk, she is in active labour and you should have piglets in the next 24 hours. I have had this work for me but I have also not got milk using the same method and had a litter within 24 hours so don’t assume there won’t be piglets if you don’t get milk. You can pretty much guarantee their imminent arrival if you do get milk though.

Here is Sandy one week post-partum. You can see her milk line is much more developed than last week. Her milk line will develop much faster and noticeably for future litters.
In contrast, here is a sow 117 days gestation (farrowed later that day). You can see her experienced milk line is much more developed.
Finally, here is Sandy, one month post-partum. Her milk line is fully developed. It will develop much sooner next time.

Body Shape

It can also be a bit more difficult to see the baby bump develop in a gilt versus a sow. Litter size and the weight and length of your gilt/sow will also dictate how big of a bump you see. We breed for long sows with lots of room for large litters of babies so I often find myself second guessing if she is still “in pig”.

Here you can see Sandy on her first parity at 96 and 115 days gestation. Cedar pictured on the right is on her third parity at just 83 days she is much bigger than Sandy. Sandy is 16 months and Cedar is fully grown at 3 years old here. Even though Cedar is a couple of inches longer, Sandy hides 12 piglets better than Cedar’s 10. I usually see litters average around 7 piglets – 10 and 12 are very respectable litters.


Between piglets, placenta and increased blood volume, getting around when “in pig” is hard work. I often notice even starting halfway through a pregnancy that gilts/sows begin to slow down. They sleep more, hang out near the shelter more (even when the rest of the herd takes off to graze) and prefers to sit instead of stand.

Around the day of the delivery, the gilt/sow will begin to build a nest – a sign that babies are very close. When active labour begins she may begin to bite down on things, the crush rails in our stalls have bite marks for this reason. It only seems to happen when they are in active labour and unsettled. In the hours before farrowing, she may go from tired and lethargic to chompy, nesty, fidgety, and purposeful.


“Farrowing” is fancy pig talk for giving birth. Some breeders allow their pigs to farrow on pasture but most still use a farrowing stall (not a crate!) to facilitate the farrowing process and keep piglets out of the elements for at least the first few days.  A week prior to farrowing, you should start to see the changes we discussed above: swelling of the vulva, the development of a milk line, an obvious bump, and behavioural changes.

What you may need:

  • Private area (like a stall or small barn) about 8’x10′ for the sow
    • She won’t be terribly active post-partum and this is plenty of space
  • Crush rails along the walls so piglets are protected
    • The middle of the board should be about half the height of the sow
  • Warm creep area (possibly with a modified barrel with Premier 1 heat lamp)
    • Protect it with at least two boards so mom can’t move it or get it out
    • 250W bulbs (red or white) are great most of the year, and 125-175W bulbs for the summer.  For extreme winter, a Premier1 600W Carbon may be more appropriate.  Here on the coast, we stick with a 125W or 250W bulb.
    • Piglets that have wandered away from mom too long or from their heat lamp may become chilled. A chilled piglet won’t nurse so make sure it is warm, use a portable heater (safely and only while you are there) to warm them up enough to nurse if it is particularly frigid.  Getting the creep/barrel to 25-27°C for them to retreat to when not nursing is a good safeguard.
  • Farrowing Kit
    • Rubber water dish for mom – only filled with a bit of water so piglets don’t fall in and drown
    • Heat gun to check the temperature of creep/barrel (25-27°C)
    • Towels to dry piglets (often we skip this step)
    • Iodine for umbilical cords (we’ve had equal luck thus far with or without iodine)
    • Scissors for cutting the umbilical cord (we just let them fall off on their own unless they are tripping over them)
    • Injectable Metacam (pain drugs) if she is in pain/distress after the birth
    • Calf Choice Total Colostrum Gold (only if necessary and you can freeze any unused powder to keep it longer and use again).  We have always been advised against using lamb or goat colostrum
    • Milk replacer (piglet or goat)

About two weeks prior to farrowing, I separate my sows and let her get accustomed to her new digs. I prefer something close to a 8′ x 10′ stall with crush rails installed along the walls with access to outside as well as a smaller ~16′ x 32′ grassy area (what I call a nursery paddock – conveniently the size of 6 hog panels). It is big enough that the sow can graze but not so big that we lose track of piglets. If the area gets overgrazed, we supplement with hay, or gradually extend the area to give more pasture access.

I provide a layer of shavings in the stall for bedding and absorption, and then a flake of straw for the gilt/sow to nest with. When the pasture is poor quality, I’ll give her a flake of hay to eat too if she isn’t just using it to make a deeper nest.

Stall with a light layer of bedding. Sandy “holds” it in and takes care of voiding her bowls and bladder outside after her meals. I’d use more shavings if she needed more absorption during the first few days or week when I keep them inside for most of the day.

In the corner, I provide a warm creep that is boarded off so the sow can’t get through or under. The creep is a warm spot (25-27°C) where piglets can get snuggle up in a warm area away from their mom if they want. I’ll switch out the bulbs between a 125W or 250W bulb to get the temperature right and use a barrel in colder weather to keep the heat concentrated if needed. During the summer I don’t use a heat lamp at all except for maybe the first 24 hours in case a piglet wanders off to a corner, gets lost, cools down, and needs warming up. If summer heat gets excessive (30+), I will trade out the hang a fan instead of a heat lamp to keep things circulating. I’ve gone as far as giving piglets a dunk up to their shoulders in a bucket to cool them off in the late afternoon on hot 30+ days if they are very young and struggling to regulate their heat (panting). They don’t like getting cooled off or misted, but it stops them from panting and dehydrating themselves excessively.

Sandy’s outside area got tarped for the heatwave to reduce the heat. She’s eating her meal outside just out of range of the mister so she can cool off if needed. Her week-old babies have piled up inside away from her feet so she doesn’t absently step on them trying to nurse while she eats.

In the winter, when we use them, we use food-grade barrels and Premier1 heating as these pose less risk of fire than other setups.  We concurrently hook up a networked smoke alarm in the barn whenever we have heat lamps in use. I would never lock up an animal with a heat lamp, that is too much of a safety risk. While we always offer heat at first, we give the sows/litter the option to use it or not. Some sows/litters won’t use them, even in the dead of winter. We choose not to force it and let the pigs decide. Our farrowing philosophy is to use the least amount of intervention possible. If we use the heat lamp/barrel for nothing else, it is always good to have it on during the early hours of the birth in case a piglet wanders off to a corner during labour and gets chilled. It is super handy to have a warm spot to heat them up so they can nurse. Maternal disposition, maternal experience, and weather all factor into if the lamps actually get used or not. We have had gilts and sows farrow on the other side of the stall from the lamp in -5 degrees Celcius with no losses, they had the option and chose not to use it. I am not advocating for no heat, but I want to be candid about our experiences. The sow’s comfort is important to us and as long as she is doing her job, we let them do it their way.

Bedding is important for nesting, but if it is too deep the piglets have a hard time getting out of the way.  We tend to use shavings with a bit of straw on top. Crush rails are protrusions along the walls to prevent mom from laying down against the wall and inadvertently crushing a piglet. The crush rails help until moms and piglets sort out that the middle of the stall is the best place to lay down and nurse so they don’t get stuck against a wall trying to get out of the way. Usually after the first parity (that is the first time a gilt has a litter) and the first couple of days they have that all sorted out. 

Farrowing Stall – 8’X10’ with a warm barrel set up during winter weather

When the time comes, we expect our sows to birth mostly or entirely unassisted. Although we may towel off her piglets when she is done and monitor her and her piglets for signs of distress in case intervention is necessary. We stand back and talk very little so the maternal bond is disrupted as little as possible by human interaction and handling. In most cases, we try to just check in using a barn camera to be as minimally intrusive as possible. Maternal instincts and ease of birth are hereditary and are traits we select for. A careful sow will get up and down slowly and chatter to her piglets as she does so.

Some pigs stay down the entire birth, others jump up and spin around for each one. One of our sows had 8 piglets, insisted on standing at the gate for dinner, ate dinner, and then went back to have two more piglets. If a sow is getting up for each piglet, we may quietly move each piglet over to the creep until she is done. You will know she is done when she passes both intact horns of the placenta. Remove the placentas shortly after she delivers them.  Some sows will try to eat the placenta. We tend to remove it as it poses a slight choking hazard to the sow. I want to say let her eat it and get the nutrition, but I’ve seen them gag on it and the idea of hand raising a litter and losing a sow overrides my desire to let nature take its course on this one.

If she starts labour and passes at least one piglet, and then stops contracting for more than 45 minutes, our veterinarian suggests using a dose of oxytocin. This must be done carefully and NOT before she passes her first piglet. We recommend only administering oxytocin under veterinarian supervision – find a vet you like well ahead of needing one!

Sandy gave birth in the night and had 12 piglets when we checked the camera. The placenta is still in the stall with her. It can be glimpsed right behind her and near her back leg.

Once done, she will not be terribly active, some pigs will stay down for up to 10-hour stretches, and some will be up a little more often.  Birth is exhausting! Feed her as usual and gradually up the feed over the next few days. She gets her usually breakfast and dinner, as well as an extra half serving for each piglet. So if she has 8 piglets she gets her usual serving plus 4 extra adult pigs worth of feed twice a day – pretend you are feeding 5 pigs (1+0.5×8=5). For a litter of 6, she would get 4 pigs worth of food (1+0.5×6=4)

We feed our sows outside the stall for the first few days as some refuse to soil their stall and they can eat and poop in peace outside for a few minutes before going back in. It also prevents piglets from getting trampled while mom is focused on eating rather than her piglets. This routine will vary between each setup–this is just what works for us. We keep a shallow water dish in with mom and one outside for her to use when she eats.  The dish must be safe enough and shallow enough so piglets don’t wander in and drown in it.


While the sow eats, I do general health tasks like weights and shots. I also look for things like scours (yellow runny poop), eye infections, injuries, or anything else out of the usual. Early intervention is key if a piglet is in distress. If everyone is healthy and eating, we stay out of the way. Although I have been known to trim an umbilical cord to ground length if it is so long that it is causing drag for the piglet and its tripping over it.

Day old piglets

Tracking weights helps us calculate piglet rate of gain (ROG), make sure all the piglets are making healthy gains and track herd/litter trends. We weigh on days 1 & 3 and weeks 3 & 8. Newborns are typically 1 to 3lbs. To overgeneralize, 1lb would be small, 1.5 to 2.5 lbs is a good size, and 3lbs is pushing too big (hopefully it didn’t get stuck!). The bigger the litter the smaller the average-sized piglet in my experience, it doesn’t take them long to make up the extra weight though. Piglets may lose weight for the first day or two while they are getting colostrum but will start gaining quickly after that going to 6-10lbs by week 3 and then 15-30lbs by week 8 depending on how much creep feed they are getting or how much food they are stealing from their mom.

Keeping track of them to do weights and shots can be a challenge with a large and similarly coloured litter. Using a livestock crayon or buckets (one for “done” and one for “need to be done”) can be helpful. On day one, I do myself the favour of video recording each piglet and stating the sex, number of teats (left and right), number of wattles, and weight. Then I record them in my spreadsheet with details of their markings so that when I follow up in a few days, I get progressive weights on the right piglets. Having this information recorded also makes litter notifications a breeze. We send out a notification to IKHR for every litter – whether we register them or not. I usually notify within a day or two of the litter being born.

Part of my piglet record-keeping spreadsheet. I enter them in the same order as I video record them – it helps me keep track when I do shots and weights.

Around three days old we start letting the piglets outside and increase the length of time out for the following week until they are out full-time. The sow will show them how to graze and engage in piggy behaviours – give her the opportunity. This is also the time when they get their first shots. Head over to our herd health LINK TO HERD HEALTH POST post for the worming and vaccine schedule we use as well as notes on how we. troubleshoot piglet issues.

Pastured pigs are on dirt and theoretically don’t need an iron shot, but if they are inside for the first few days in a farrowing stall, they may become lethargic and die from low iron.  We don’t take the risk.  Selenium is an essential nutrient that is low in our soil and like all livestock in our region, we also make sure they get a vitamin E/selenium shot. A lack of the shot and/or lack of selenium in feed is known to cause Mulberry Heart Disease (MHD), which is fatal.

Selenium/Vitamin E and Iron – Piglets get these on day 3 and week 3 as well as all the regular herd vaccinations

Piglets will start to eat mom’s food within the first few weeks as well as learn to graze with her, mouthing grass as early as their first week of life. By 8 to 12 weeks, they will be ready to wean. All piglets are tagged at weaning (whether they stay on or farm or leave). Identification is required for registration and for butchering. We find tagging when young is much easier than tagging an adult. We disinfect the ear with rubbing alcohol and crimp the tags towards the base of the right ear between the 2nd and 3rd ear veins. Tags (F18) and the crimping tool can be ordered from your PigTrace account. You need a PigTrace account and premise ID to get tags.

After weaning, a sow will usually go back to heat within a week of weaning. We may occasionally breed back right away but often we breed around every 10 months. We make sure to breed each sow at least once a year and never more than twice a year.

As a reminder, this information reflects my experience, information passed on to me by my mentor and consultations with our farm vet. My experiences may be very different from your own and I am happy to learn from you too. I am always eager to hear from the Kunekune community about both successes and failures.

Kunekune 101: Coefficient of Inbreeding – COI

The Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) is a number that can be a tool or a stumbling block. It can also be very confusing for first-timers. My advice is to pick livestock that fits your program goals, and not get overly focused on COI.

That being said, I do use COI in my program – as a tool and not as a marketing gimmick. Given my familiarity with my herd, it may be a tool that I use to obtain a closer related pairing (high COI) or a more distantly related pairing (low COI). With the limited foundation genetics available in Canada or even North America – most Kunekune here are going to be at least somewhat related. As of 2022, all registered Kunekune in North America came from 11 boars and 13 sows that were imported from New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

I check COI on all potential breedings I do and on pigs that I am going to purchase. The number I get doesn’t force any decision. I simply use it to determine if that individual would fit well in my program. If there are some traits I really like in an individual, I might do a tight (high COI) breeding to lock those traits in. I own a daughter and nephew from a boar I love that produces amazing (and yes, Supreme Champion) offspring. I also have a half-brother and sister with genetics I want to perpetuate in my herd. I have lots of unrelated pigs and don’t need to breed the related stock together, but I have the option if I think it will take the breed standard and my pork production forward. When breeding season is upon us, I may decide to lock in some outstanding traits of related individuals to produce a higher COI litter, or I may try to diversify and introduce a new desirable trait by outbreeding to a more distantly related individual with the trait I want that will also produce a lower COI litter. Another reason I might do a high COI litter is to weed out and cull traits I don’t like. Then I might do a low COI breeding with the offspring to diversify to see what traits unrelated genes bring me. Options! I love them.

For the sake of discussion, let’s call a COI of 1-10% on the lower end of the Kunekune genetic spectrum and a COI of 11%+ on the higher end. In a different species like dogs (with a larger pool of foundation genetics and limited cull options), what constitutes high COI may be different. For reference and perhaps an oversimplification, a first cousin pairing results in a COI of 6.25%, a half-sibling pairing results in a COI of 12.5%, a full sibling pairing results in a COI of 25%, subsequently breeding siblings from that brother and sister pairing results in a COI of 37.5%. At any point, the results of those litters can be outbred to reduce the COI.

COI Math

COI math can be a bit deceptive if you don’t think it through. COI is not necessarily compounded and can change drastically between generations.

You can breed two high COI pigs and get a low COI litter. The trick is that the two parents need to be unrelated to each other. Two low COI pigs can have very high COI offspring – imagine a brother and sister from the same low COI litter – both have low COI because their parents were unrelated, but if you breed the brother and sister – BAM – you are in the double digits of COI. On the other hand, a high COI boar from a brother/sister pairing bred to a high COI sow from a different brother and sister could produce a low COI litter.

When you purchase a pig that has a low COI, it means you are purchasing a pig that had parents that were more distantly related. That may hide a few more and less desirable traits that you see at face value but it will not guarantee that the piglets it produces will be low COI. If you want to breed for low COI or high COI piglets, you really have to enter both parents into a COI calculator to see what you will get. In the example here, you can see the sire (Robert Bakewell) has a higher COI of 13.28% and produced offspring with a COI of 6.46%. Note: the IKHR vs. AKKPS tools may calculate different results.

A close genetic pairing (high COI) concentrates genetics. It will accentuate bad and good genetics. So some hogs will win the genetic lottery and get the best of their ancestors, some will get a bit of both, and some may be the worst of their genetics (maybe or maybe not trainwrecks – but at least we can say they would likely not an improvement to the breed). That is where a pork and cull program is important if you want to dabble in the taboo arts of high COI pairings. This is why raising some pigs for pork is an advantage – the best can be kept as breeders and the rest can be raised as pork. Some might say, “breed the best and pork the rest.”

I probably wouldn’t recommend that a beginner starts with two highly related pigs as it takes some time to get an eye for what you want and what you don’t want. If you pushed me for a number, I might say start with a pair that produces a litter of a 10% COI or lower.

There are online tools through the membership portal at IKHR (Inbreeding Analysis) and AKKPS (Trial Breeding). Be warned – you can enter the exact same parents into both COI generators and get completely different results. I stick to the IKHR tool as they have a bigger database and it is my primary registry. The two COI calculations below are for the same pairing, one yields 4.27% and the other 7.5%. That is a big difference for the exact same litter of piglets.


So I’ve postulated some ideas here that go against the mainstream marketing campaign of low COI pig mills. In those cases, I can see how it makes sense to always keep COI low if most or all animals in that population go on to reproduce and are not carefully removed from the breeding population through harvest or castration. Don’t get me wrong, I like low COI for lots of reasons, but not to hide genetic deficiencies. I want to improve the breed and weed out traits that negatively impact health and soundness – I just think that can sometimes be done with low COI pairings, and sometimes with high COI pairings.

My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Science specializing in Biology, so the importance of diversity in populations does not elude me, but that same student in me always wants to dig a bit deeper. Can you have a diverse population and high COI individuals? Yes. Can those high COI individuals be outbred to share and diversity their genetics? Yes.

Can those high COI individuals represent the best of the breed? Yes! Let me show you. There are some AMAZING pigs in the herd book that have very high COIs. At the time of writing, the IKHR Herdbook contained 14 “Supreme Champion” pigs that were judged to be the best of the best. Included are famous foundation pigs like Robert Bakewell and Hamish. For fun, I calculated all their COIs.

All 15 Supreme Champion IKHR Hogs

Now a few earlier hogs do not have enough ancestors in the database to have meaningful COIs (they are recorded as 0%), so I am just listing the data there is. From top to bottom the list of IKHR Supreme Champions has COIs of: 21.48%, 13.28%, 13.28%, 31.25%, 16.91%, 12.5%, 6.55%, 5.91%, 11.8%, 3.57%, 7.7%, 26.96%. With the threshold of a 10% COI, I would say 4 Supreme Champions have low COIs and 8 have high COIs – some are not just double digits, they are just about as high as they get – 20 to 30%.

I will hypothesize that market preference and increased availability of different bloodlines have lowered the COIs of Supreme Champions over the years in the competitions, but as you can see from the 2021 Winter Supreme Champion, Sassie, it is still being done with success. What I am saying is that a high COI doesn’t mean you won’t get a great pig, in fact, the majority of the best shown Kunekune in North America at IKHR sanctioned shows to date have high COIs. So it is safe to say some of the BEST pigs have a high COI. It is, however, important to qualify that there are also probably a lot of trainwrecks out there with high COIs, so go thinking I am touting it as a miracle number. It is just a tool. It would be fair, from an understanding of genetics to say some of the WORST pigs probably also have a high COI. I am sure these high COI pairings exposed weaknesses that should/could/would have been culled (think Bacon) to remove those weaknesses from the population. A low COI becomes more and more important to me if I were to buy a pig that doesn’t represent the best of its parents or from a breeder selling every single piglet as breeding stock. In those lottery cases, I’d lean towards a low COI pig that had more genetic forgiveness rather than gamble if I would be given a genetically superior or deficit piglet. That would all change if I trusted the breeder to select and cull.


Now after all that brain dump on “what I think about COI”, I still mostly produce a lot of diverse, low COI breedings and really only dabble with the occasional high COI breeding when something excites me. I am often more of a spectator than a participant. It just hackles me up when low COI is touted without rationale or context.

If you are genuinely interested in using high COI pairings like many old-line swine breeders use to improve their breeds, check out Corva Bella Farm. Cristiana has written extensively (here’s a sample) on her work closely breeding a related population of Kunekune. She even produced the Winter 2021 Supreme Champion (Sassie) that was a result of a Brother/Sister pairing. Then go to some old-line swine groups and see what has been done in other heritage breeds.

At the end of the day, if you see a scary 13% COI piglet or are thinking about doing a 13% pairing, don’t just pick a lower 6% COI piglet or pairing JUST because of the number. There are lots of reasons to consider. If all things were equal between two piglets, yes I might pick the lower COI one, but decisions are never that simple. Pick the piglet/pairing that best fits your farm goals! Remember, there are plenty of Supreme Champions representing the best of the breed that have a high COI. They existed because their breeders did a related pairing that resulted in high COI litter. Aren’t we all glad they didn’t look at the potential high COI and decide not to do it? For me, the key to high COI breeding is knowing the genetic benefits and risks, and having a strong pork program to cull results that do not represent the best of their parents’ genes.

Kunekune 101: Shelter, Seasonal Considerations and Fencing

Pigs require protection from the elements and predators.

Shelter and Bedding

A basic shelter is sufficient as long as it is weatherproof and dry inside. Protection from the wind from at least three sides with room to get out of drafts and warm straw bedding to insulate and cozy up in. To a lesser extent we also use shavings to soak up urine as needed (i.e., for young piglets that “wet the bed”, an established bathroom area during cold weather, or for a sow locked up at night with her piglets).

There should also be adequate ventilation and circulation. We have seen everything from wood A-frames, sturdy metal hoop structures, and calf huts used appropriately. An appropriate shelter will depend largely on what you are sheltering your pigs from – severe winters, ground frost, rain, mud, heat, wind, etc.

If I was starting from scratch, I would definitely build a bunch of these on skids to rotate around the pasture. My rough guess is that it could handle 4-5 adults.

Our pigs typically shelter in a 3.5-sided shelter or small barn with the door left open. We add a layer of shavings or straw to the bottom of the shelter to insulate them from the ground. The size and kind of shelter you have will depend on how many pigs you have and your local conditions and resources. There should be enough space for them to all lay down and to get around each other to get out. They are rather snuggly and will huddle up together year-round – even during the sweltering summer heat. They are also very clean and will not poop where they sleep if given adequate space. Although, they can get a little sloppy in the winter months when it is cold going outside first thing in the morning – can you blame them?

We work with what we have. Our shelters include everything from stalls to loafing sheds. Here are a few of the shelters we use.

Seasonal Considerations

Kunekune can do well in climates across Canada with proper shelter and that shelter may look different than what is required on Vancouver Island, in our temperate rainforest. Here, it rarely dips down to -10 degrees Celcius for a week of winter or over 30 degrees Celcius for more than a week in the summer.

During the winter we are diligent to provide several inches of straw bedding. They have straw bedding year-round, but we are extra generous when it is cold outside. Our friends to the North and inland from us take additional measures such as insulating entire walls with straw. Straw insulates because it is hollow, hay is solid and much less effective – you want straw for warmth.

During the summer we are extra diligent to keep water buckets topped up. Pigs can’t sweat and can overheat without means to cool themselves off. Dehydration can lead to fatal salt toxicity too, so keeping your pigs well hydrated is essential. in add to clean, cool water, we also provide a wallow for them to use to cool off. Allowing them to dig a mud wallow and keeping it topped up with water is a great way to stay cool and mud helps keep the mosquitos at bay. Wallows are easy to make – the pigs do all the work. Leave a hose on long enough to dampen the earth and add more water as the wallow develops, the pigs will do the rest of the work to create a wallow. The best way we have found to do this is to allow our water buckets to overflowing several times throughout the day using a timer. It keeps the water buckets clean and topped up, and trickles in fresh cool water to refill or expand the wallow through the day.

Cedar and Milly are not letting the water bucket overflow go to waste. They get clean, cool water and a filled and cooled wallow every time the timer goes off.

For most of the summer where we live, with our stocking rates, and soil, having the timer switch on for 2 minutes every 2 hours during the day seems to do the trick. This cools and fills the water buckets and is enough to overflow and fill our wallows without wasting too much water. How you do this and how much water you use will depend on your herd density, soil type, and weather, but this method seems to work really well for us in a few different areas. We know they need more water when the water buckets start getting flipped and that they have enough when they stop tipping their buckets. Bucket tipping is a good indicator for us and usually starts in the spring and ends as soon as they have constructed what they think is an appropriately sized wallow. We just “listen” to our pigs.

The one time I am a bad “listener”, is when I have a sow and litter during a heatwave (which I try to avoid, but it happens). New piglets are not the best at navigating mud and water and a wallow looks like one huge piglet death trap to me. During hot days over 30 degrees Celcius, sows get acess to a mister, fan, shallow water bucket (that I have to regularly fill because they’ll dump it and try to wallow in it), and a regular hose down to us make sure the ground is cool and their bodies are cool. I’ll mist the piglets too if they start panting – they hate it but it drops their body temperature temporarily to give them some reprieve. Fortunately, right now where we live we just get a week or two of extreme heat every summer.

I see pictures sometimes on the pig pages of pigs annoying their owners by tipping water dishes or laying in dishes instead of using topped-up kiddie pools that are provided. To me, they are just begging for a better alternative to the pool. We don’t fight the water bucket tipping and insist on them using pools, we embrace their piggy desires and let them have what they want. We are a bit strategic though and have all our watering stations in cooler areas with shade and out of the way where they can do their thing and not be underfoot.

I am not inherently opposed to kiddie pools. I use them occasionally when I shift pastures in the summer and there is no established wallow yet or if I change a herd composition and there are more pigs than the immediate room in the wallow. A pool is sometimes the best option I have while they work on making a wallow, but if given the choice, all my pigs prefer a good wallow – or even a thin film of water tipped out of a bucket onto the cool ground rather than a pool. When I do use a pool, I have a dairy foot bath. It is tough, low, large, and can stand the weight of a cow. I wouldn’t even bother with an actual kiddie pool. A sandbox is a step up in toughness and accessibility from a pool, but if you have the time – “just add water” to the soil and let the pigs do their thing.

Here Cedar is enjoying the wallow she made from the water bucket overflow. Three full-grown pigs would rather use the wallow than even one of them using the pool provided. It is easy to see their preference.

If the weather gets really hot (+30 degrees Celcius), I will sometimes run a mister out by the wallow and increase the bucket fill timers to ensure continuous cool water is accessible. Timers are great, but on super hot days, I am definitely out there checking on them regularly to make sure there hasn’t been a malfunction and everyone is well hydrated and has a way of cooling down. I never change herd structures on a super hot day – they can overheat squabbling over pecking order or a newcomer may be bullied away from essential water. I don’t take that risk.

Behaviour is another strategy that pigs use to deal with the heat. They often graze early or late in the day while it is cooler and nap in the shade during the heat of the day.  Our pigs have access to lots of trees for shade, but shade sails or other secure structures can be helpful where trees are scarce.

During the spring and fall, wind storms are common on the coast. They often result in trees coming down and downed power lines. It is important to ensure shelters are not in areas where trees are likely to fall on them and that fences are checked for intactness after storms.


As far as pigs go, Kunekune are easy on fences. The only time I’ve found them testing a fence is at mealtime to budge ahead of one of their buddies or a sow in heat that wants to go looking for love. Even in those cases, a 4′ wire fence is adequate. The key is to have a tight and low enough fence so they can’t get their nose under it. A fence that a pig can get its nose under (with the exception of electric) will be lifted in a heartbeat if the pigs are sufficiently motivated (think food or hormones). Here are a few various fences that work on our property.

For predator protection, we have an 8′ perimeter fence. We have an orchard and vineyard so the entire property is well fenced. If we didn’t have a tall fence to start with or if we had more predator pressure, we would likely have put in an electric line on the top of a regular fence to keep bears from easily slipping over the fence. We get the odd deer or bear, but so far they have not stayed long or made trouble.

In the vineyard/pasture, we have 30″ by 16′ hog panels that we can erect between t-posts for temporary pastures and rotations. An electric fence could be used to cross fence the land, but our pigs would need to be trained to it first (it doesn’t take long). Cross fencing allows us to rotationally graze our stock and keep them out of the grapes and haskap when they are budding and fruiting. After our fruit has been harvested, we let the pigs right back in there with the vines and bushes. They keep the grass and weeds down while fertilizing. In the spring it always feels like we need more pigs! In the orchard, we have found that wire sleeves around immature trees has been effective at preventing damage. Pigs love a good scratch and until our trees can withstand a good rub, we will keep them wired

Young apple trees are protected by wire cages around two rebars on either side of the trees. They are kept in place with zap straps. The trunks are protected from rodents with tree guards which will come off before we let the pigs can graze around them.

At the end of the day, there are lots of great ways to fence in and protect your property and Kunekune. What you use will depend a lot on your farm and personal preferences.

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!

Kunekune 101: Transportation and New Arrivals

Two eight-week-old piglets (~20lbs each) fit into a medium-size kennel, they grow quick can be up to 40lbs by 12 weeks – so keep that in mind!


By law, all breeding pig stock must be tagged (or microchipped or clipped) and all movements must be registered on PigTrace Canada. This is not required at this time for non-breeding stock intended for slaughter. To sign up for PigTrace you will need to get a Premises ID if you don’t already have one. Here is the link for the BC site.

PigTrace gives you seven days to report any movements of your pigs. To accurately report a movement you should ensure your customers have a Premise ID before any breeding pig leaves your farm. 

Mode of Transport

Pigs move across Canada in kennels, trailers, or airplanes. Your local airport will be able to give you their regulations on crating and shipping pigs via air.  If you are using a car/kennel or trailer to transport, remember that in Canada you must provide bedding (straw, sawdust, hay). The bedding should be sufficient for the weather conditions to keep the animals comfortable and warm. In trailers, it is particularly helpful to have rubber barn mats as insulation and cushion, but they MUST have bedding on top.  Barn mats get slippery as soon as they get urinated on and can be dangerous without bedding. In the summer a couple of inches of bedding works, and in mild winter conditions 4-6 inches of bedding is good. Make sure the kennel or trailer also has adequate ventilation without being too drafty.

For climate-controlled short trips can be offered every couple of hours. While on the road, offer hay and water, and feed as usual if doing a multiple-day trip. For longer trips, it is suggested that you give electrolytes. This can be Gatorade, Pedialyte, or a homemade pig electrolyte solution. You want to make sure they are hydrated.

Finally, you should take biosecurity very seriously when transporting.  Make sure you scrub and disinfect your trailer if it has been on another farm or to the abattoir.  Don’t forget to disinfect any feed dishes, water bowls, and gumboots you used while transporting.


If you have existing pigs, it is best to keep new pigs separated for the first 30 days in accordance with biosecurity recommendations in Canada, see page 4-7 of the BC Introduction to Small Scale Pig Production. Even when livestock comes from a trusted farm, there is always the potential for contagions to be picked up during transport. In addition, be sure to keep an eye out in the rare case a pig (similar to cattle) develops shipping fever during transport, in which case veterinary intervention (often antibiotics) is needed. Once the quarantine period is over and you are certain your new additions are free of sickness or disease, they may be integrated into your existing herd. As a tip, it is best to mix like-sized pigs and like genders together (barrows mix well with either gender). When we mix different-sized pigs, we let the smaller pigs adjust to the area first (for a few days) before introducing the larger ones, one at a time. It gives the smaller pigs the upper hand.


We like to send our pigs with a sample of their current feed to help them transition onto the feed you will be using.  They are used to eating two meals a day, breakfast (usually somewhere between 7 and 9 am) and a late afternoon dinner (usually somewhere between 3 and 5 pm). They will get to know you as you feed them each day and settle in more and more each day. Have fun getting to know your new additions. It is beneficial (not to mention enjoyable) to develop a working relationship with your livestock.  Giving scratches behind the ear, giving tummy rubs, and touching them on their neck and legs come in handy later when you need to perform husbandry tasks such as giving shots and cutting toenails. Calling your pigs when you feed them is a helpful skill too.  In the event a gate is left open, it is good for them to know a sound to come running to. “Pig, pig, piggy”, and “Sooie” are our favourite calls around here.

Setting Up

When you get your new pigs home, introduce them to a safe and secure area. They should have access to shelter as well as be shown where to find plenty of clean water. It helps to keep them in a smaller area for the first bit so they can orient themselves to where to find food, water, and shelter. Start them off with a solid fence. We don’t currently run electric wire on our farm and they will need to be trained to electric if you plan on grazing them on a pasture or silvopasture without a solid fence.

Kunekune 101: Feeding

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.

This is one of many different water station configurations on our farm. The lower bowl is for some younger piglets for access. You can see it is summer and they are eager to use the water overflow to start their wallow.


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.

Freshly-weaned piglets

  • 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 feeding our piglets 3lbs a day 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 (sometimes carefully up to 3lbs) 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.
This is what one serving (for an adult Kunekune) of our soaked feed looks like in an 8-quart feed pan. The volume changes a bit depending on how much we’ve watered it down, but this is the consistency we try to go for. A growing piglet would get as much as double and a lactating sow would likely get the whole bucket (depending on litter size).

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.

Our pigs love pumpkins as a seasonal treat – we check for the absense of mold and preservatives before feeding

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.

Vineyard on Vineyard

It only makes sense that we put in a vineyard of kiwi vines given where we live. To that end, we had a productive long weekend! The cedar supports for our fuzzy kiwis are in. We have Hayward and Saanichton varieties of kiwis and are hoping to see fruit in the next 6-7 years. When we do, we expect a LOT of it. These still need to be anchored and string the wire. After that, we can put in the drip irrigation and plant our 6 vines. Just to be safe we are going to put some wire around the vines to prevent them from the pigs. The pigs have been safe with our blueberries but until our orchard and vineyard mature both the apple whips and young vines will have an added layer of safety.

Kiwi Update: May 23, 2020

The vines are in and the drip line is set. We’re still waiting on an order of wire vise and for the anchors to settle before tightening the wires. We’re also waiting on some deer wire to cage them in for some pig protection while they get established. Slowly but surely!

How to make a pig water barrel

One random skill I have acquired and become unexpectedly adept at is making barrels into water receptacles for pigs. It is a simple concept but when I first looked into it I found it really hard finding instructions that made sense or worked for me. I love the idea of hooking the nipple right up to the hose but then I would have to fiddle with pressure and plumbing. Not to mention get a hose all the way out to where I need it. I love these because they are simple.

Yes, drinking out of plastic is not ideal, but in my opinion it is a big step up from a more natural option like a stream with giardia in it. My critters get ultra filtered water that even gets run through UV, but these are my back up barrels. These are in the pastures so if someone goofs off and tips over their bowl, there is back up. Water is important for everyone but bigs are extra sensitive and it is peace of mind knowing they have water all the time. Not to mention that at 440lbs and 55 gallons fully loaded, each of these barrels has enough water to last the herd a couple of weeks each. This is a huge bonus for emergency preparedness. We have water stored for our family, of course we store it for our critters too. Otherwise during a crisis I’d be pumping a lot of water through a lifestraw!

So how easy is it? Pretty easy! You just need a clean, food grade barrel (I got 2 for $35 bucks each from Saanich for a student fundraiser), a 1” drill bit, a file (because the size of the hole you need is more like 1.25”), a 1/2” threaded bulkhead, some silicone to seal the bulkhead, a 1/2” pig nipple, and my secret weapon, a garbage picker thing.

The barrel has tiny little bungs at the top so you can’t reach inside to thread the nut onto the bulkhead. The garbage grabber slides in there and holds onto the nut while you screw the bulkhead in. If there is a better way, I have not tried it!

To get the job done:

  1. I just drill a hole and file it down to make it a little wider to accept the bulkhead. I put the hole where weaners and adults can reach it. The little fellas don’t need to use it.
  2. I thread the bulkhead most of the way in using the garbage grabber on the inside and twisting it from the outside. It takes a bit of back and forth but eventually it tightens up.
  3. Then right before I finalLy tighten it I smear a big glob of silicone all the way around the outside. I don’t know if I need to but it has been working with no leaks and I don’t want to find out if I need it or not.
  4. The last step is to add the pig nipple and make sure it is oriented upright.
  5. Once it sets up in 24 hours or so I test it for leaks, lash it down to a sturdy fence, and fill it up.

Trouble training pigs to use one of these? Just add some apple butter, jam, peanut butter (you get the idea) to the nipple. They figure it out, FAST! Within a day they will have no problem using it.

Cold winters? Yup frost will not be your friend. Inside a barn that is above zero I can’t imagine any problems but even if they are frozen during winter they hold up surprisingly well. I left mine out last year – full. We had a week or so of -7C which is cold for Vancouver Island. It made me wonder if the nipple would be okay. When it thawed to 0C+ there were no leaks and the nipple worked just fine. I was impressed? I like having an emergency water (or ice…) supply year round so I choose to leave them full. It’s probably best to bring them in where they are above freezing or drain them. I like to live life on the edge but I also have a bunch of spare nipples just in case!

Pork and Lard

This week we received our first batch of pork back that was harvested last month. It was a lot of pork! The hanging weights on our two hogs were 111 and 127lbs. On the hoof they were approximately 155 and 176lbs, so it worked out to exactly 72% which exactly aligned with the accepted industry standard. Of the 111 and 127lbs, we got 12lbs of lard per hog, about 5-6lbs of leaf lard and 6-7lbs of back fat. We also went for a lovely 20lbs of breakfast sausage and 28lbs of bacon and ham. We’ve tried a little bit of everything so far and could not be happier.

That is PORK! Look at that colour and all that marbled (tasty!) fat!

We love knowing where our pork came, it was humanely (and dare I say, lovingly) raised, fed an ethical, nutritious, vegan diet, and will pass on the health benefits of being raised on pasture, including increased levels of omega 3 in our diet. Especially in today’s global economy, it is satisfying to know that on very little external feed we can raise enough pork to feed our family all year with just 2-3 pigs. Self-sufficiency takes an initial investment, daily commitment and a little bit of work, but the rewards are priceless in our eyes.

Today we are rendering half the lard we harvested. It will go into jars for cooking, baking, and for making soap (more on that to come!). Lard conjures quite a bit of controversy. It all stems from what Corva Bella Farms describes as a “Corporate Coupe”. They had Crisco to sell and lard was demonized to make room in the market for their processed alternatives. It sounds rather sensational and I won’t attempt to review the entire history in this post but if your interest has been piqued, I’d highly suggested popping on over and seeing that original post, “Praise the Lard“. Despite the bad press, the nutrition of lard is undeniable. I had to research this a lot because let’s face it, this is quite a paradigm shift for me too! Even the BCC agreed with the nutritional benefits of lard. Lard shows up as number 8 on the BBC’s list of 100 most nutritious foods. It is listed up there with swiss chard, pumpkin seed, perch, and almonds. I will still add the caveat that while nutritious for a FAT, it is still a fat! Fats will continue to make up a small portion of our diet. This is not a superfood that will imbue you with magical health but when I do need to choose a fat to cook with, you better believe I will reach for the lard first!

Back fat on the left and leaf lard on the right, low and slow.

Here we’ve summarized our favourite points from “Seven Reasons Why You SHOULD Eat Lard“, added a few of our own, and synthesized a further explanation as well as information on how to render lard from Mommypotamus.

  1. Lard is high in Vitamin D: Lard from pastured pigs contains anywhere between 500-1000 IU vitamin D per tablespoon. This is dependant on sun exposure and diet and why this is a unique quality of pasture vs. commercially raised pigs. The only dietary source higher in vitamin D is cod liver oil.
  2. Lard is Heart-Healthy: How can a saturated animal fat be good for my heart? Lard is in fact classified as a monosaturated fat. It’s about 45-48% monounsaturated fat (oleic acid – which is ALSO found in olive oil), 40% saturated fat and 12% polyunsaturated fats. Monosaturated fats are the ones responsible for lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol while sustaining “good” HDL cholesterol.
  3. Lard is a great cooking fat: The smoke point is 370F. You can bake, saute, and deep fry at these temperatures which is a huge perk in our kitchen.
  4. Lard can be ethically, sustainably, and locally produced: Outside our back door does not get any closer!
  5. Lard is economical: At $5 a lb for nutritious pasture-raised lard, it is just a few dollars more than the generic lard you may find in at a commercial chain store.
  6. Lard is easy to make and store: When rendered down the fat is easy to store in a jar in the fridge, freezer, or canned in the cellar. In its pure state it can last up to a year.
  7. Lard is what grandma used to use: In a diet that gets back to eating simply, lard is a standout star of traditional and simple fats.
  8. Lard does not have a strong taste: Don’t worry, it won’t make everything like bacon.

Orchard update

Spring has sprung! This is our first spring on the farm and we have been working hard to get everything set up so we can enjoy some harvests in the next 3-7 years. The sooner we get things in the ground the fewer years we will have to wait to hit full production. In the meantime, we will be enjoying fruits this year from our Gravenstein apple, Bartlett pear, and Italian Purne plum. All three got a pretty intense pruning this spring and we hope they appreciated it! There are a few faster-producing bushes and canes we are hoping to see production beginning on this year too. Namely, the blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, figs, and mulberries. Production should only ramp up on those over the next few years. Especially with the help of our secret weapon, llama poop! Those beans are black gold. They don’t need to be aged and make an awesome “tea” for the plants. All the trees and bushes got their first dose this spring, except for the blackberries, they don’t need ANY encouragement!

Mama needs a truck! There were seven 7’+ trees and six 3′ vines in that compact SUV.

Trees we will be waiting on will be our hazelnuts (Jefferson and Theta), pears (Clapp’s Favorite and Flemish Beauty), and fuzzy kiwi vines (Hayward and Saanichton 12). It could be several years before some of these varieties fruit but there is no time like the present to start!

This isn’t quite orchard related, but tomatoes are a fruit so we’ll let it slide. Yesterday we reused some old PVC that was left here in the bushes and crafted a tomato cage with 100% reused materials. Homeschool took place in the form of measuring, counting, planning, and celebrating our earth and society by using what we had. The string will go in later when the tomatoes go in. We opted for a 5′ structure since our indeterminate heirloom tomatoes will be too hefty for those tiny little cages. Is it just me or can you all hear the Arrogant Worm lyric “uncage your tomatoes” from “Carrot Juice is Murder” when you think about tomato cages? We don’t mind laughing at ourselves. LOL.