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Pig feed – making your money go further

If you use commercial pig feed, your feed bill can make up around 80% of the running costs of raising weaners. You can keep the cost down by supplementing with other ingredients such as thinnings or trimmings from fruit and vegetables. Pigs really appreciate variety in their diets, and will tell you so very noisily.

scoop of commercial pig feed, imageBecause pig feed is such a major expense, it is vitally important to choose the right feeds to allow your weaners to grow quickly without putting on too much fat. Pigs need different balances of nutrients at different stages in their development, and getting things right throughout takes knowledge and experience. Commercially blended feeds do much of the hard work for you, but are expensive. Another option is to blend your own pig feeds, but this means learning more about pig nutrition from resources such as The Pig Site.

Types of pig feed

Feeds come balanced for different needs, and for weaners they fall broadly into three stages. Starter rations (sometimes known as ‘creep feeds’) are suitable for all breeds from 5 to 15 weeks. After this the weaners move onto grower rations, which have lower protein and energy content, and finally onto finisher rations. Just to complicate matters there is no standard way of naming pig feeds and no agreed age bands: some manufacturers smudge them into two feeds (starter/grower and grower/finisher) while others split them into four.

The costs of pig feed vary widely between manufacturers, but buying locally will probably save on delivery costs and you’ll be supporting a local business into the bargain. Plus, you’ll have an experienced ally who’ll be more than happy to advise you if you hit a snag. Check feed manufacturer’s descriptions to see the weight range each feed is formulated for. Pig feed is sold in different forms described as pellets, pencils, rolls, cakes, nuts and so on. These are just descriptions of how the mix has been shaped, and nothing to do with the nutrient content. You can choose whichever you prefer to handle, but larger forms such as cakes or rolls tend to be better for damp weather outdoors.

Sows kept for breeding have very different nutritional needs, as do dwarf and pot-bellied pigs. Many manufacturers offer specially blended feeds for these.

How much feed to give your pigs

The daily ration of pig feed should be split into two meals. Pigs prefer their feed wet, so adding water or surplus milk to their feed will be appreciated, as long as the milk has not entered the kitchen. It may be tempting to allow your pigs to eat as much as they like, but the appetite of pigs is legendary and this is likely to lead to too much fat being laid down. This can be a serious problem, with 15cm (6″) of back fat reported by one smallholder we spoke to. Commercial pig feeds usually have guidelines printed on the bag (typically 450g (1lb) of food for each month of age up to a maximum of 2700g (6lb) a day) but remember that supplementing the diet and allowing the pigs to range will reduce the amount needed. For pigs that free range or are offered lots of veg, put down enough commercial feed as they can eat in fifteen minutes. If there is still some left, feed a little less the next day: if they run out sooner, a little more. You can offer unlimited amounts of vegetable material once the commercial pig feed is gone.

Tips for feeding time

Pigs are strong and boisterous animals with a well-developed sense of humour, and will be so eager to get their feed from you that they may knock you over when they get big enough. If you can, position the feeding trough where you can fill it from the other side of a (strong!) fence. If not, throw a generous handful of feed into the enclosure as you enter it. The pigs should leave you alone for long enough to eat it – repeat as necessary to cover your approach to the trough.

If you have three or more pigs there may be a scrum at the trough, and smaller or weaker animals may not get access to the food they need. If this is the case, adding a second trough and splitting the food between the two will solve the problem.

Feeding vegetables to pigs

Wild pigs are omnivorous animals that forage, primarily eating leaves, grass, roots, fruits, flowers, brambles, acorns, earthworms and just about anything else they can find. Pigs with access to plenty of land will eat all sorts of things, and this will reduce your pig feed bill considerably. They love digging, and if they are turned out into an area that has been used for a crop like potatoes or Jerusalem artichokes they will enjoy rooting out every last tuber for you, leaving the area nicely dug and manured. In fact this ‘pig tractoring’ is a great way to bring overgrown land into production.

A line of pigs feeding, imageIf you have the space to grow enough, pigs can be fed generous amounts of root vegetables such as carrots, mangels, rutabaga, turnips, swedes and beets as staples to reduce feed bills. You don’t have to wash or peel them, but they should be roughly chopped to make them easier to eat. You can also feed the pigs potatoes, but these should be cooked first. Green potatoes are poisonous for pigs, as they are for humans, and parsnip leaves can cause blistering around the snout. Chard, spinach and beet leaves should only be given in small amounts.

Feeding scraps (swill) to pigs

It used to be common practice to collect food waste in a bucket in the kitchen, and then cook it overnight using the residual heat of the kitchen range. The bucket would have taken things such as vegetable trimmings and peelings, meat scraps, stale bread and whatever else was coming from the kitchen, moistened with a little water or surplus milk. In the morning the still-steaming bucket was emptied into the pigs’ trough, and anyone who has done this will tell you it was probably the highlight of the pigs’ day.

However following the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in the UK in 2001, it is now illegal to feed catering waste to any farmed animals. ‘Catering waste’ includes anything that has been through a domestic kitchen, ending the days of the swill bucket. You can still feed peelings and trimmings to your animals, but only if they have not been through the kitchen. Many homesteaders have opted to trim and peel their vegetables on a porch or in an outbuilding so that the pigs don’t have to lose out.

Feeding swill is also banned throughout Europe and Australia, and in some states of the US. In other areas there are regulations governing what can be included in swill and how it should be cooked: check with your local agricultural standards agency.

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18 Responses to “Pig feed – making your money go further”

  1. Jane says:

    We have a very overgrown fruit orchard, the floor of which is strangled with bind-weed. Would it be a good idea to let the pigs tractor it? Are there any implications for the trees, the land or the pigs in this situation? Thankyou!

    • Andy McKee says:

      The pigs will be fine, and are actually quite fond of bindweed so you can let them graze there quite happily. However, don’t use them to tractor the area – if they start to dig they will damage the trees’ surface roots, which are used to supply the trees with water.

      Even pigs can’t eradicate bindweed completely, but grazing them under the trees every once in a while will certainly discourage it.

  2. Adam burford says:

    Wat else is a good way to feed my pigs cheaply? Im just using pig pellets and cereals please help

    • Andy McKee says:

      You’ll need to learn more about pig nutrition, so that you can make up your own blended feeds on the fly to balance whatever fodder crops you’re giving them. It’s not a simple answer as their nutritional needs vary depending on sex, age, weight and reproductive status – I’ve linked to The Pig Site in the article, and suggest you start there. Good luck!

  3. Ian' maina mbuthia says:

    I m a pig farmer and i m intersted to know where i can get pig feeds and market

  4. Wilbroad Musanshi says:

    Pig tractoring is a news to me, can pigs allowed to tractor in the dambo(swamp)area?

    • Andy McKee says:

      Outside my experience I’m afraid, but I was able to establish that pigs have been kept on dambo land with some success… and if they are confined to a small run, they will tractor.

      I think what you really need to know is whether tractoring damages dambo land, or improves it. For this you need to talk to some local pig keepers on similar land. Good luck!

  5. terungwa orkuma says:

    i am starting a small pig farm in my village and need some information on how to compound feeds

  6. Alex Lashi says:

    I have learnt so many new things from αℓℓ that i have read and am thankful to you for your effort bring out αℓℓ the tips needed for reasing pigs. I ωιιƪ like to know if pawpaw ωιιƪ be a good food for pigs. ƮħǝήƘ Ɣøû.

  7. Kevin Naidoo says:

    Hi Andy
    I’m a South African pig farmer. Farming on a small scale. I have just started the farm this year and have 80 sows and 5 boars with over 400 piglets. Currently I’m feeding them pre mixed feed which is costly. I found your information useful kindly forward me contact numbers and or email addresses of other farmers that you may no of in South Africa
    Thanking you in advance
    Mr NK Naidoo

    • Mark Gatter says:

      Sorry, but as we’re a UK enterprise we don’t have a database including numbers or email addresses of farms overseas. If you search online you’ll probably find some – good luck!

  8. jeff says:

    can i use barley malt from a beer factory for feeding pigs

  9. Nozipho Vezi says:

    I am a pig farmer and I enjoy it . I’m breeding more than seventy pigs. And my challenge is their food it is so expensive . I would like to get information on how I can make my own pig feed .