Q: What do pigs eat? Do farmers still slop their hogs?
A: Pigs eat a combination of grains, plus vitamins and minerals, as part of a nutritionally balanced diet. Farmers don’t slop their hogs anymore because it does not provide the best feed or nutrition for their pigs.
Pigs are fed a diet that is formulated for their age, weight, and growth needs. Most pork producers today use a feed nutritionist to help them design diets based on a pig’s needs and grains which the farmer grows.
The largest part of any pig’s diet and most commonly used ingredients are corn, dried distillers grains (a by-product of ethanol production) and soybean meal. Other ingredients include a vitamin pack mix, some calcium and other trace minerals along with lysine to help balance out the diet. This is sometimes called a premix and a feed company may combine all of those ingredients into one product or a farmer may mix his own on the farm.
When pigs are very young and first weaned at about 21 days of age they are fed a special feed for a few days to introduce them to eating feed. This feed is called starter feed or sometimes creep feed. While the piglets were nursing on the sow, they may have been offered a little of this feed. Starter feed usually contains plant based proteins along with plasmas and other protein sources like fish meal and is typically in pelleted form. These feeds are specially formulated to meet the needs of very young pigs much like baby formula is used for babies instead of milk. Pigs of course grow much faster than people so after a week or so pigs are switched to diets based on their feed needs.
While corn, dried distillers grains, and soybean meal are the primary feed ingredients, other grains may be substituted if there is value in doing so. For example, a farmer might feed a lower cost grain, but the pigs may need more feed to get to market weight.
Likewise, a more expensive grain diet might get the pigs to market faster while eating less. A farmer will keep track and make decisions on what is best for the pigs and for his farm. All feed ingredients are ground to the same size and mixed together. This allows for better digestion of the feed and makes sure that every bit contains the same amount of nutrition.
Years ago, farmers fed their pigs a variety of feeds as well as leftover human food, which was called slop. In time farmers learned that slop wasn’t the most nutritious food for pigs. Farmers realized that better nutrition resulted in a healthier animal and better quality meat.
All feed nutrition is designed for what is best for the pig, just like all other decisions on our hog farm. By feeding our animals right, we are producing quality meats for everyone.
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