Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Whenever I go across the small villages within Uganda and Tanzania to teach about pig farming, or “piggery” as they say, I never forget to educate them about pig feed! In fact, pig feed has been my most asked question at every rural African village or homesteading conference that I speak at: “My pig isn’t growing the way that it should. Pork Rhyne, how much am I supposed to feed my pigs?” Or “Pork Rhyne, I just got two pigs, but I don’t want to feed them those nasty Glyphosate chemicals they spray on corn and soy. What can I feed them instead?” The questions about feed can be endless, but in this article I want to give a simple explanation as to what feed is to give you a better idea on what to feed your pigs and what each ingredient is so important!
Understanding Pig Feed Formulation
Basic Ingredients in Pig Feed
Pig feed formulations are generally made up of four main ingredients:
An Energy Source
A Protein Source
Vitamins & Minerals
On average, 80% of the feed is going to be an energy source. 15-19% of your feed is going to be a protein source. Vitamins and minerals will make up the other 1-5%. Let’s talk a little about each of these feed ingredients and why they are important to your pigs’ diet.
Energy in Pig Feed
What is an energy source? Energy in pig feed is basically carbohydrates at the end of the day. We're talking about your cereal grains like oats, corn, and other grains such as rye. These are grains that provide a lot of carbs that allow for the pig to have the energy it needs to move daily.
Keep in mind that the energy level in each pig feed will vary based on the ingredients. Some energy from feed will be lost in the pig’s waste, but the digestible energy (DE) of each ingredient is what is actually available to the pig.
Protein Source in Pig Feed
Protein is used for building muscles, breaking down into essential amino acids, and helping with bodily functions. This is going to be the most expensive ingredient when you buy feed. That's why 18% crude protein feed is way more expensive than 10% crude protein feed.
The most common protein sources in pig feed are soybean meal, canola meal, sunflower meal, cottonseed meal, and field peas. Although soybean is “king,” field peas are a great substitute if you are wanting to produce alternative feeds for your pigs.
Crude protein is the main difference between different types of pig feed. Part of the reason why, especially if you're growing pigs for pork production, is that young pigs need a lot more protein in their diet than older pigs.
Different ages of pigs require different protein level feed. As the pigs grow older you don't want them to be on starter feed, weaner feed, or grower feed. You want to get them to more of the maintenance feed, which is normally somewhere between 14 to 16% protein content. Then from there, if you have older stock, let's say just breeding stock, for example, their crude protein doesn't need to be more than 14%.
When the pigs get older, their feed efficiency (converting grain into meat, protein, and fat) goes down, but their ability to convert forage into muscle and fat goes up. Again, this is a reason why your sows and boars don't need 18% protein. Regardless of how much protein you feed your pig, if there is no lysine in their feed, your pig will struggle to gain muscle mass. This is because lysine is the gatekeeper for all protein development within the pig. Without lysine, the crude protein in the feed will not be bio-available for use, therefore it gets wasted, which means you’re losing money every time you feed your pig.
Lysine is always present in a store or mill bought feed, so you rarely have to worry about your pigs getting enough lysine. However, if you are mixing your own feed, I highly recommend you add lysine for the best results possible.
wATCH THE VIDEO INTERVIEW: PERFECT Pig Feed Mixing
Vitamins & Minerals in Pig Feed
This is one that I've noticed a lot of new and beginning farmers who are trying to make their own feed end up running into an issue on. They might feed the pigs some forage, some corn, some soybean meal, but neglect to feed them any minerals.
If your pigs aren’t going out on pasture regularly and you're not buying a complete swine ration for them, then you want to make sure that you give them access to minerals.
Without minerals, you're going to see a lot more sickness happening with your pigs. They're not going to be as energetic, just as humans who are low in iron won’t be as energetic as people who are high in iron. Phosphorus and calcium (usually as limestone) are two other really important minerals to add to the pig diet.
Generally, if you're feeding a complete feed, the vitamin and mineral content is already figured out for you. If you are making your own pig feed formulation, be sure that you add these in.
If your pigs do have access to pasture and forested areas, they can literally eat minerals straight from the earth. They can eat the dirt and the plants which provide macro and micronutrients that really allow for the pigs to thrive and stay healthy. But as a precaution, always give your pigs free choice minerals if you are mixing your own feed. This will help in case your soil isn’t rich enough in minerals such as calcium and phosphorus.
Fiber Content in Pig Feed
What I mean by fiber is really forage. The scrap vegetables, fresh grasses, hay, sillage, and cereal grains that you give the pigs access to all count as sources of fiber.
Other fiber sources include (but are not limited to) wheat bran, wheat middlings, oat husks, rye bran, sugar beet pulp, corn cobs and bran, distillers grains, rapeseed, and soybean hulls.
Fiber is very important for regular digestion in pigs. It also allows for the pigs to feel full sooner rather than later. A lot of pig farmers use forage as a way to help the pigs be fuller quicker and stay full longer, whether it be hay, silage, or actually having them out on pasture.
Mixing Your Own Pig Feed
Instead of buying a complete feed, you may want to mix your own pig feed formulation. 100lbs of 14% Grower Pig Feed Formulation
Soybean meal (48%crude): 15 lbs
Corn, ground: 82.5 lbs
Vitamins/Minerals: 2.5 lbs
For the most part, you can't go wrong with that kind of rationing.
If you're making your own pig feed, do your due diligence first. Consider your pigs’ stage of development, their environment, the time of year (feed intake varies in different seasons) and the breed nutrient requirements as you create your feed mix.
There are plenty of resources to see what the actual feed value is or nutritional value is for any alternative feeds that you're wanting to use, whether it's distiller's grain, whey, etc. Visit your state extension website, they have plenty of information on feed formulations for you.