Feeding pigs

Nov 22, 2022

Written by our friends at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development

When feeding pigs, it is important to consider their nutritional requirements as there is no such thing as a ‘standard‘ diet. The nutritional requirements are often simplified and described as a requirement for energy and protein. More specifically, the protein requirement is described as lysine requirement. Lysine is an important amino acid that indicates the quality of protein in terms of the pig’s needs.

The pig’s requirements
The pig’s nutritional requirements for optimal and healthy growth change and are influenced by factors such as:

Age and body weight
A weaner/young pig requires a diet higher in protein and energy than a finisher pig or an adult pig.

Genetic potential of your pigs
Fast growing breeds (e.g. Large White, Landrace, Duroc) require more protein in their diet than breeds that do not grow as fast (e.g. Berkshire, Hampshire).

Housing environment
If pigs are in a cold or hot environment (outdoors during winter or summer), they will use more energy to stay warm or cool; therefore, to maintain growth, higher levels of energy in the diet will be required.

Physiological state of the pig
A pregnant sow will have different energy and nutritional requirements than a sow that is feeding piglets, or a young pig that is growing rapidly.

There is a range of manufactured complete feeds available from stock feeders formulated to meet the requirements of different types of pigs. Feed companies, stockfeed manufacturers, or private consultants can also assist with formulating manufactured diets according to your (and your pig’s) particular needs. In commercial pig production, the cost of feed contributes to 60-75% of the total operating cost. Therefore, failing to match the composition of diets with the actual requirements of the pig not only affects the pig’s health and wellbeing but also its growth and performance (in terms of reproduction and meat production) and the cost of keeping the pigs.

Feed ingredients
Pigs are monogastric (single stomach) animals and are inefficient digesters of fiber (only 50% efficiency depends on the type of fiber and age of pigs). Therefore, they are not suited to eating pasture alone and need to be provided with supplementary feeding. It is recommended that pigs are provided with a complete (manufactured) diet or a home mixed diet that has been formulated to meet the pig’s needs. Cereal grains are a good feed source, although they are best utilized by the pig if they have been cracked, rolled, or soaked.

The major ingredients used by the Western Australian pig industry are wheat, barley, and lupins, but other grains such as peas, canola meal, and triticale are also used. The crude protein content of grains can vary considerably between seasons and sources; therefore, it is important that care be taken if using apparently low-cost ingredients of inferior quality (e.g. weather damaged cereals).

Pigs are omnivores and will eat a range of foods. If mixing your own feed to produce a well-balanced diet, a range of other ingredients should be included in smaller amounts (e.g. meat meal, fishmeal, soybean meal, blood meal, tallow, minerals, vitamins, salt, limestone).

Pig diets can also be supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables; however, you must be certain that the feedstuff cannot be classified as swill. Swill feeding is illegal.

Fresh water should be available at all times and accessible to all pigs (including piglets). The water supply should be cool (maximum 18-20°C). Supply lines should be buried or insulated, particularly if they are black poly pipe outside in the full sun; otherwise, the water will be hot and undrinkable when it is most needed.

If nipple drinkers are used, it should be checked that the water pressure coming through the drinkers is suitable for the age group of pigs to allow sufficient water intake. As a guide: 0.5 liters/minute for piglets and weaners, 1.0 liters/minute for growing pigs and dry sows, and 2.0 liters/minute for lactating sows.
Table 1: Recommended flow rates of nipple drinkers for pigs according to their age
Age of pig Flow rate Maximum pressure (kPa)
Lactating sow  2L/minute  No limit (avoid wastage)
Dry sows and boar 1L/minute  No limit (avoid wastage)
Finisher 1L/minute 140-175
Grower 1L/minute 140-175
Weaner 0.5L/minute 85-105
For more information on pig management, reach out to your local Co-op. For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator!

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