“How do you go without feeding in the winter?” “Can they live on pasture, even in the snow?” These are some of the most commonly asked questions I get, and understandably so. Sure, it’s easy to imagine “pasture-raised” animals when the temperatures are in the 80’s, the grass is growing so much that the yard needs to be mowed every week, and wild berries and foliage can be found everywhere you look. But what about when your wooded area looks like a bunch of sticks? Or when all the green has turned to brown in your pasture? What about then?
Well, let me tell you from experience, Kunekunes are incredibly hardy and resourceful animals. We have successfully kept them pasture fed throughout the winter months, without supplementing their diets with any grain. And if you think about it, you can see that it’s nothing miraculous. We live in Northeast Alabama, and believe it or not, there’s not a whole lot of difference in our climate and many regions of New Zealand. Of course I’m not talking about the coast line areas, but the inland areas. They also get the occasional snow in the winter months, and plenty of heat in the summer months. The original herd of less than 20 Kunekunes that was found in New Zealand was kept by a man who was not running to the feed store every week to feed them. They were pasture fed and free-range. So Kunekunes being raised on grass/fresh food scraps is nothing new, but there are a few requirements to doing it successfully, and that’s what this post is all about.
When it comes to Kunekunes, like other pasture-raised animals, you basically have 4 options when it comes to feeding them year-round:
- Stay understocked for the amount and quality of pasture you have.
This is how, in the beginning, we successfully managed to endure the winter months without feeding any grain (now, we did offer fruit and vegetable scraps from anywhere we could round them up, but even still, the supplemental feedings weren’t much). The general rule for Kunekunes is ‘6 adults per healthy acre of land.’ We had poor grass, so we had to account for that and provide more land per pig. At the time, we only had 4 adult Kunekunes, along with a few cows, roaming 6 acres. This meant that there was plenty to go around, even with the poor quality, so everyone did just fine.
- As your herd grows, so does your available pasture.
This is where we are at now. Our herd has grown significantly since the very beginning of our “Kunekune journey,” which our land sustains nicely during most of the year. However, for the barrenness of the winter months, we are over-stocked. As a result, we are having to supplement them with a small amount of grain for the time being. We recently purchased more land that joins our previous property line, and plan to fence it in next spring. But, through the remainder of this winter, we have to supplement. Had we been able to prepare the new land in time for winter, then we would again be able to go the whole winter without needing to feed grain.
- Invest in green grass, year-round.
If your pasture is made up of good grass, sown in the fall and again in the spring, staying green most all of the year, then you can confidently maintain max capacity all year when it comes to your Kunekunes, without the need for grain supplement. Many people sew winter rye and clover during the fall, and they sew fescue, bermuda, and/or even crabgrass in the spring. Those who do this are able to avoid the worries of a dead pasture during the winter.
- Feed grain.
If the amount of your pasture land is limited, the quality is limited, and you’re unable to sew grass seed, then there’s just no way around having to supplement your Kunekunes with grain, especially during the winter months. We have been there and know your pain! But that’s the beauty of farm life…there’s always a goal that you’re working toward, whether it’s building a barn, buying a certain breed of animal, or, in this case, improving the quality of your pasture areas. So take it in stride, and know that it’s a temporary phase. One day you’ll be able to sew the grass seed or buy that plot of land. For now, just be thankful for what you’ve got and enjoy the journey!
*Because heavy snowfall does not occur very often where we live, I cannot attest to how Kunekunes do in that kind of condition. Where we live, it may snow a very small amount every other winter, so that is all that I can personally advise for. We have had winters that brought a little snow, where we successfully did not feed any grain, and the Kunekunes continued to forage through the snow quite well. Since having Kunekunes, we have not yet had a winter snow that was very deep, or lasted very long though.
*This article is specifically directed at those whose Kunekunes are free-range. If you have your pigs in a confined area, allowing for less than the general rule of thumb (6 adults/healthy acre), then you will definitely be required to provide feed.
*There are circumstances that call for supplementing feed, especially for sows. Read about those here.