This week, one of our pigs gave birth to a litter of piglets. These were her first piglets, but they were also the first piglets to ever be born on our farm! I’ll be honest, this is a milestone that we never expected to hit. Raising pigs was not a part of our vision when we started farming. In college, I never even set foot in the swine research barn. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with swine (I do love bacon, after all), they just weren’t for me, and truthfully, I found them a bit intimidating to work with.
We got our first pigs two years ago as a solution to a problem. We milk our goats on a seasonal schedule, with all of our does kidding around the same time. While seasonal milking makes sense for our operation for a lot of reasons, it does present a challenge in that we do not have a consistent supply of milk from day to day. Milk production is not linear; it’s more of a bell curve, with goats hitting their peak roughly six weeks into the lactation. In order to feed our goat kids and make our goat’s milk soaps, we need to maintain a baseline level of milk production throughout the season, but when the goats begin to approach peak production, we have more milk flowing in than we can process in a single day. Before we got pigs, we were pouring the excess milk into our compost pile, but that just didn’t feel right to us. I remember that I was just scrolling on Instagram when I found out that pigs have traditionally been kept by cheesemakers to convert the whey (a liquid byproduct of the cheesemaking process) into a more readily marketed product in the form of pork. I began to research milk fed pork, which led to researching pasture raised pork, which led to researching different breeds of pigs that would do well on pasture, which led to us buying our first kune kune pigs.
The kune kune pig breed was developed in New Zealand, most likely from stock that arrived from Asia in the mid to late 1700s. In the Māori language, “kune” means “fat and round”, a term that describes the appearance of the breed perfectly. Kune kunes are compact pigs that fatten easily, even on pasture with little to no additional feed inputs. Kune kunes have short, upturned snouts that prevent them from rooting up the ground as extensively as other breeds do, making them a good choice for farmers who wish to maintain the integrity of their pastures. Kune kunes also tend to be very docile, and their small stature makes them much easier to handle than commerical pig breeds. They are known for producing pork of excellent quality, with a well balanced fat to meat ratio.
The piglets that were born this week are really the start of a new business venture for our farm. We are so excited to see these young pigs mature on our pastures to eventually become the first group of pigs that we have raised from birth to the freezer. We plan to offer retail cuts of pasture raised pork in 2024, and we are exploring the possibilities of offering bulk pork boxes and CSA shares in the years to come.