Are New Zealand dwarf pigs better than sheep for weeds? Full-scale test in champagne

Since mid-January, experiments on animals have been carried out in a vineyard in Champagne with dwarf pigs from New Zealand. Their asset is that they are light and more effective than sheep for weeds.

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The whole warehouse or almost the vineyard will be put to use. A horse that leads boxes of grapes and then sheep to weed without herbicides and polluting machines, but with mixed success and even gas! Now pigs appear at the foot of my vine. Attention, not any. These are friendly pigs, dwarfs from New Zealand with a cream or even light brown coat. Two samples have been snoring in the vineyard in Champagne on the Marne since mid-January 2023.

It all started with an observation made by grape and soil experts. It is not easy to find the best ecological and economical way to fight thistle and other “weeds” in the rows. Far from it. In particular, the soil of the Champagne slopes should not be damaged. Because mechanical machines are too heavy, some winegrowers tried sheep. Sometimes with good surprises and animated floors. But the sheep are capricious and they can attack the young shoots of the vine above all.

Faced with this situation, Olivier Zebic, an innovative agricultural and wine consultant based in the Marne, in the middle of the Champagne AOC, became aware of a particular breed of pig. Mahori domestic pigs are called ‘Kunekune’. “I told myself that if they liked the sheep, but all year round would be fine. In addition, they eat the roots, preferring the aerial parts of the vine. It is great for removing pimplesu weeds. First of all, given their size, they don’t roam the earth like a boar. Very impressive“. An expert for 20 years, this agricultural engineer, originally from Avize (Marne), studied at INRA in Montpellier, also knows that every eco-grazing practice is closely observed. Returning to Champagne for several years, he measures and observes ecological problems. He wants to incorporate the effects of all kinds of pollution in nature and the stone into the building.

The expert posted this experiment on social networks related to the champagne house and was overwhelmed by calls from professionals. He was amazed at the success. “I first started in 2022 in Bordeaux. We have seen very good results“He still compares to sheep.”A sheep shears, but it is not always productive. And not 100% of the parcel. The problem is that when the grapes grow, they prefer the young shoots, so they have to be removed.” In New Zealand it says “We put electric collars on them, we are not far from violence against animals… Some of them even have mouths. It’s terrible, they don’t eat the vines.”

An agronomist, scientist and landman trained in oenology is in contact with the innovative agricultural town Hektar (co-founded by Xavier Niel). By participating in the Innovation Jury. “I saw that they are small, dwarf, with one peculiarity: they cannot raise their heads. So don’t attack the vines at height”. Olivier Zebic therefore brings some of them from the other side of the planet to test their talents in Bordeaux. “I said to myself, something has to be done, I’m in Reims, so obviously I started talking about it at conferences. At the Viti wine fair in Epernay. Many winegrowers were interested and even had fun.”

Among them is Bonnaire champagne, located in Craman, in the famous vineyard area of ​​the Côte des Blancs. “The first grazing session in Champagne for the Kunekune pigs on our plot “Les Terres des Buissons” in Cramant. Due to their unique morphology, these pigs offer a possible alternative to mechanical weeding. To be continued”, – the house writes on Facebook. Jean-Etienne Bonnaire, the winemaker in question, confirms that it’s an experience that deserves some perspective. But it is interesting and curious.

“I’d like this to be over, tells us because it is an alternative to soil compaction, better than mechanical support. It is more ecological. Even if you have to feed and transport the pigs. It is interesting because the work can be precise without damaging the vines. With tractors you can deal damage, whereas Kunekune pigs won’t go deep into the ground. These animals look for roots of quackgrass. But we will remove them as soon as the buds appear. We will not take any risks. We will go until the end of March. After that, it will be necessary to see the efficiency of the work. This technique has never been tried in champagne. It is also necessary to see that they will not damage the devices and ratchets (what remains of the vine after the root). We have many interested colleagues. The neighbor even asked me if it was for sale, but no, it’s experimental. A technical impasse has arisen with the sheep. Even if it’s better than driving a car”.

They can be used as a school, because the results are a lifelong test. “I think we should stop using herbicides. Olivier Zebic continues. But the alternative is agriculture, which is an ecological disaster because it destroys it. We have vegetation, but we have to fight this grass. So these dwarf pigs could be the solution for the future. The more it progresses, the more I think it’s a solution, put it, it’s average, it’s expensive… Good for Instagram, but not enough.

I want to set up a chain of dwarf pigs in Champaign to provide a solution if it works.

Olivier Zebic

agricultural adviser

Currently, only two Kunekune pigs graze in Kraman near Epernay. The other six should arrive from Bordeaux on February 8. “We organize reproduction. I want to build a chain in champagne, and if it works, I will provide a solution.” Knowing that this is only one step, Olivier Zebic believes in it It is better to put ten pigs than two. With a possible effect on mold. “Because this parasitic disease is stored in the dead leaves in the winter and the pig eats them! This is personal speculation. There is also real interest from winegrowers. If we cultivate the soil, we are subject to its erosion and in the context of climate change, there will not be much left.

Question value, this system wants to be competitive with dwarf pigs. It will not cost more than the other, but it will not be less. However, it will take some time to draw clear scientific conclusions. A gathering of Champagne winemakers (AVC) has recently identified areas to work on in the medium term, one of which is agriculture. The file remains open, it will be continued. A pig who denies it.

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