You know the feeling when you meet an acquaintance at a social gathering and accidentally call them by the wrong name? Reddened face, apologies, laughs, and “please excuse me” usually ensue. People-to-people, however, your friend can correct you as to their real name with a, “Remember, we met last year at the Heart of the Farm conference.”
“Oh yes, that’s right, you were just getting started with dairy goats—now I remember. How has that been going for you?”
In the world of livestock, however, the problem of mistaken identity is not so easily remedied. A sheep cannot speak up and say, “Wait, I’m not Coconut, I’m Peppermint!” Using numbered ear-tags (paired with accurate recordkeeping) is a well-used system for keeping track of who’s who for livestock of all types…at least the types with ears. They have yet to perfect ear tags for chickens.
For breeding purposes, the “who’s who” game can be very crucial when tracing genetic lines and making certain that a breeding program isn’t mixing parents with children and other too-close-for-comfort combinations, leading to problems inherent in inbreeding. Kara keeps a thick book of records tracing all her ewes and rams, which makes for complicated but accurate sorting during the breeding season. We want all our little ones to be healthy and vigorous.
As we embarked on our own on-farm Kunekune pig breeding program, we purchased sows from the Jenny/MahiaLove and Rona/MahiaLove lines, and a boar from the Tutaki bloodline to build a diversified genetic start for our future piglets. The ladies (Agatha, Christi, Deloris, and Tilly) came from the renowned Black Valley Farm in Pennsylvania, while Mr. Handsome (Hathaway) came from At Witsend Farm in Michigan. With our special “starter pack bundle,” we were off on our heritage breed porcine adventure.
Deloris (black with white marbling) and Tilly (all cream with dark eye shadow) are younger and smaller than the rest of the crew, so they’ve been hanging out in their own pen while the three larger lovebirds have enjoyed tussling over their share of fodder and aquaponics lettuce scraps. All are quite friendly, eager, and unassuming—belying the mystery mix-up story that unfolded this last week.
Even on the best of farms, oopsies can happen. Like our first set of lambs this year coming a month ahead of schedule because one of those naughty teenaged boy lambs jumped the fence at night…guess she was just too cute. Or there can be times when one of the hens from the younger batch of layers sneaks in greedily with the older batch because THEY GOT FED FIRST, followed by a scramble and “was it you?” game to sort out the mischief.
But I wasn’t expecting a phone message from Kara while running errands in town the other day saying, “Oh Laura, just found out we have a Grand Champion Sow!” A what? Where did this come from? Here’s how the great Kunekune mix-up came about.
Alana, the owner of the farm in Pennsylvania who sold us our gilts (young sows) had entered a promising pig “Meadow” in the 2nd Annual Eastern Show and Sale last year and the little darling had won Grand Champion. Well, this one was for keeps! But pigs as social animals like sheep and chickens cannot live alone, so she was romping with a look-alike cousin.
As the two grew, it became increasingly difficult to tell them apart, and when one of the pair unfortunately died (accidents do sometimes happen on farms), Alana was certain she had lost her dear Meadow. When our order came through for the starter set of Kunekunes, Alana included the look-alike cousin…or so she thought.
The American Kunekune Society has a records system to keep track of registered breeding stock for this special heritage pig. The paperwork for Agatha and Christi had processed fine, but for some reason the registration for Deloris was being held up. The DNA matches just weren’t coming out. “Are you sure you have the right parents listed for this pig?” the officers would ask Alana.
Again, records were checked, until it finally came to light that this mystery DNA pig was not the look-alike cousin at all, but Meadow (now Deloris) herself! Alana was all chuckles as she relayed the news to Kara about this Grand Champion-in-hiding. “Guess I should send you the ribbon!”
“I’ll be sure to let Deloris know at chores tonight,” Kara replied. “So long as it doesn’t get to her head.”
News quickly spread on Facebook about our new celebrity sow. “That’s some pig,” one Kunekune raiser commented. If Deloris had started talking and herding sheep, we probably would have had the film crews from Babe the Pig on our hands!
Deloris certainly hasn’t minded the extra attention, though I can’t say she understands why. Perhaps in her own little speckled pig way she does, but it hasn’t hurt her friendship with little Miss Tilly. Both are just as eager for breakfast, dinner, back scratches, and fodder. And as we look forward to our first batches of piglets later this spring, we’ve already ordered our own supply of customized ear tags. Deloris-Meadow has had quite her own share of Kunekune mix-ups! See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com