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The Kunekune Are Coming!
Potbellied pigs move over; the Kunekune are coming!
With a face only a mother or pig lover could appreciate and hair thick and long like the coat of a dog, these New Zealand pigs are truly unique. They are also very expensive, as befits a breed that was nearly extinct 20 years ago and today numbers only about 2,500 worldwide.
Kunekune breeder Katie Rigbee has tasted Kunekune pork at a native Maori cookout and declares it delicious. At $10,000 a breeding pair or $1,500 for a piglet, however, she doesn't advise including the rare animals on your menu anytime soon.
"The bulk of the animals are in New Zealand, although the United Kingdom has quite a few breeders and pet owners," says Rigbee. "There are 300 or less in the U.S."
Kunekune, which means short and fat in Maori, range in size from 100 lbs. to 200 lbs. when full grown. Unlike the commercial hog of today, which has been bred for leanness, the show quality Kunekune is described by Rigbee as being "unhealthy" fat.
Turned outside, the pigs don't root and dig like most pig breeds, but fatten on grass and have been used to control orchard grass. The average litter size is 4 to 6 piglets, although Rigbee has delivered one litter of 12. The pigs don't breed true to a single color. A single litter can include pigs that are orange with black polka dots, black with white and brown spots, creamy white or black with mahogany stripes.
Rigbee is founder of the original registry for the pigs and was the first importer of the animals to the U.S. Initially, she brought in four boars and 12 sows. In 1999, she brought in an additional four boars. Rigbee's breeding stock represents a cross section of available breeding stock in New Zealand and has been the source stock for most Kunekune in the U.S. today.
The limited available blood lines makes a careful breeding program necessary to prevent problem genes from cropping up. Currently, Rigbee is working with Iowa State University on a breeding program to eliminate a strain of porcine stress that has shown up. She is also working on a software data base that will hold all the genetic records of the Kunekune.
Rigbee warns prospective buyers to check registration records carefully for possible inbreeding. Registry members agree to follow guidelines. Neutering of all but the best piglets is encouraged, and a breed- wide floor price is required.
Interest in the animals is high, says Rigbee. "I have had inquiries from Scandinavia, Canada, South Africa and elsewhere," she adds. "They are everything we hoped the potbellied pig would be."
While the potbellied has earned a reputation as a household pet, Rigbee warns that it tends to become aggressive if not properly handled and fed. She insists that the Kunekune is much more friendly, without any aggressive traits.
Rigbee currently owns 47 Kunekune along with potbellied pigs, South Pacific Nesting Pigs, and Captain Cooker pigs. She has authored two books on the nutrition and care of pet pigs.
A cheerleader for pet pigs, Rigbee won't sell hers to just anybody. She insists on knowing what the zoning is for a prospective owner. "I won't place a pig with someone who is going to be a backyard breeder or a closet pig owner," she says. "If I can't find good homes for them, I've decided that they'll stay here."
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Katie Rigbee - 1269 3100 Ave., Abilene, Kansas 67410 (ph 785 598-2434; E-mail: raregene@oz-online.net).

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2001 - Volume #25, Issue #3