We have all heard the term "designer breed", especially in the dog world. You don't usually hear that term in the pig industry. However, over the decade that I have bred and raised Kunekune, I have watched the breed come dangerously close to becoming a "designer breed". One destined for years of health related issues if we do not take careful stock in our breeding decisions and responsibility we have toward the breed.
Traits that are unique to the Kunekune, and ones that many adore and breed for have, over time, been taken to levels that are detrimental to the overall health and longevity of the Kunekune. I have seen cuteness and fads taking priority over well-being. Cuteness sells, we all know this, but I challenge all breeders who are serious about Kunekune Preservation, to scrutinize your breeding programs and think about what 'true preservation' of a breed means. Does it mean breed and sell as many "cute" Kunekune as you can? Or, does it mean carefully select for traits that are unique to the Kunekune while keeping those traits within a healthy boundary. Thinking long term benefits for the breed, not short term monetary gains for our pockets.
Established breeders know what I am talking about, as we have all seen over the years how traits that are cute when the Kunekune are piglets and in their youth become more extreme as they age and have grave consequences to their day to day well being, breeding capacity and life expectancy. Short snouts, forward inclined ears, folded ears, short legs are a few examples that easily fall into this category.
My next few blog posts will take a look at some traits and how this has played out.
Short Snouts: this is #1 on my list of traits where the breed standard has been taken to "extreme".
Piglets born with wrinkled short snouts are darn cute, capture our hearts and sell with just a photo on social media. I am not an innocent breeder here, as they send my heart a flutter and are hard to resist. Some of my best breeding stock have that super short snout. But I voice caution now, as I have seen many generations pass through my herd and this is what I have learned.
From birth to about 2-3 years of age the short snout is usually not a problem. Breathing seems normal and mouth alignment is in place in most cases and their day to day life no worse for the wear. However, this shortness combined with the natural upturn of the snout with age compounds the extreme nature of this trait and makes breathing more difficult for the pig and can cause the misalignment of teeth in the upper and lower jaw. Pigs snore more when laying down, have a more difficult time with heat and sows in labor have a very hard time getting enough oxygen needed during the stresses of delivery.
By breeding an extreme short snout sow to an extreme short snout boar you will increase the likely hood of offspring having a nose that continues to punch in like a bulldog. A 'short snout' is a Kunekune trait, but short means compared to traditional pig snouts which are quite long. Here are some photos of what I would consider too tight and healthy short snout.
Here are three of my Kunekune that have what I consider "extreme" short snouts. I think each is beautiful and I use them in my breeding program. However, I am now carefully choosing who their partners are so that the snout length can be a little more moderate.
Healthy Short Snout
The breeding stock below show very healthy short snouts. They still have the unique short, wide snout the Kunekune is known for, but without the punched in, highly turned up nose. Breathing is effortless and they have a more correct alignment of teeth. Babe (photo 2 & 3) is almost 10 years old.
Underbite with Extreme Snout Length
Often we might not see the extreme nose until a few years of maturing. That is why when breeding or purchasing it is best to look at both parents to determine if this might be the case with offspring as they age.
Below I have images of two pigs prior to the nose upturn and as mature adults. It is very clear to see how much the upturn punched the nose in more with age.
Let me emphasize that I am not suggesting you cull your super short-snout breeding stock. They have other attributes that they pass on that are improvements in the breed. But breed them wisely, pairing them accordingly so that the offspring will have healthy nose length with the short, wide trait that is desired, yet not extreme. The pig will benefit in the long run and still be a beautiful Kunekune!
In my next blog post I'll take a look at the ears and how their shape and placement play a roll in Kunekune health.