I’m sure you have heard that pigs can eat nearly anything, that’s true! Pigs are definitely one of nature’s versatile eaters.
Just because pigs can eat all manner of feeds, doesn’t mean they should. To grow well and be healthy, what are the natural feeds pigs should be eating?
Pigs are naturally omnivores, meaning pigs can digest a variety of foods. For the best growth, pigs should eat a ground or pelleted pig feed that is supplemented with forages, like hay or grass and locally available non sellable fruits and vegetables.
The Best Feed For Pigs will talk more about which ground or pelleted feed your pigs need.
|Natural pig feed option||Adult pigs||Growing pigs|
|ground or pelleted pig feed (formulation adjusted to pig)||yes||yes|
|pasture as a large part of diet (limited ground feed per day)||yes||no|
|pasture as a portion of diet (amount chosen by pig)||yes||yes|
|whole grains (only if being digested, check the manure)||maybe||probably not|
|partially processed grains (like rolled oats)||yes||maybe|
|hay, all types and cuttings||yes||as a snack|
|vegetables||yes||as a snack|
Pigs naturally eat all kinds of foods
Pigs are able to eat all kinds of foods, since they are omnivores with a digestive system very similar to ours. Domestic pigs eat grain, vegetables and hay.
Wild or feral pigs would eat all those things plus anything they could find while foraging, including bugs, roots or carcasses.
This wide variety of foods is why the wild pigs, especially in Texas, are doing so well, they can live on anything! Trash, crops, roots, you name it!
So, what should your pigs eat? To get the best out of your pigs, this means the best growth while they live a happy life, you should feed a diet of pig feed, that is supplemented with other easily found foods in your area.
For instance, in my area we have a lot of hay and, in the fall, spare vegetables, like pumpkins and squash. Pigs like hay and love pumpkins and squash! I could give other fun snacks, but they would be expensive since they aren’t local.
Pigs are versatile, choose feeds available in your area
Pigs will grow best on a ground feed that is formulated specifically for pigs. However, if you do not have access to feed or feed is prohibitively expensive, give them something else to grow on.
Notice I wrote “grow on” not “live on”, there’s a reason for this distinction.
Pigs are so capable and so versatile, sometimes people get the impression that pigs live on near nothing, not true! Pigs need plentiful calories to grow well!
If you want your pigs to thrive, they need more than enough to “live on” they need enough feed to thrive and grow on!
What in your area is a commonly available feedstuff that is high value feed? This could be root vegetables, alfalfa, grains that grow well in your area, food waste, etc.
It may be easier to think of what is the main thing people in your area eat? Pigs can probably grow on that, too.
If you can’t come up with a high calorie feed, grain or something close, you’ll have pigs that grow more slowly. Not a problem, just something to be aware of.
Be sure to use locally adapted pigs, it will take a few generations of selection for you to get pigs that will perform well in your specific environment.
Pigs grow best on ground or pelleted pig feed
You can feed your pigs nearly anything you want to, especially if it’s people food like vegetables or old bread. However, pigs will grow best on ground or pelleted feed formulated specifically for pigs.
The reason pigs grow best on pig feed is that the pig feed is formulated for the specific needs of the pigs as they grow.
Ground or pelleted pig feed are both good feeds to use
Your feed source may have the choice of both ground and pelleted feed, it seems to depend on the local preferences.
The only difference in pelleted versus ground feed is the final form of the feed. They can both be made out of the exact same ingredients, just read the label to see.
Some people prefer pellets, I have heard they are less likely to be wasted, but in my area, pelleted feeds are always much more expensive (around 2x the cost!) so I use ground feed.
If pellets and ground are the same ingredients and the same cost for you, use whichever appeals to you. Both should flow through a feeder just as easily.
You can ferment ground pig feed for increased digestibility
I have seen multiple folks online using fermented feed, just adding water to a bucket of ground feed and letting it ferment for a few days, then feeding it.
They are saying it improves digestibility, meaning you use less feed for the same results. Nice!
I’ve never used fermented feed. I like the idea, but do not want to cart around the heavy buckets! If feed is super expensive where you live or just hard to get, fermenting your pig’s feed is something you should look into.
Pigs enjoy variety, including snacks like grass or vegetables
Pigs like to eat a variety of feeds in addition to their normal ration of pig feed. You’ll see the pigs in the above video love to eat the pumpkin. They also like other fruits and vegetables and forages, like grass, alfalfa or hay.
While pigs can eat other things than pig feed, pigs generally do not grow well on just alternative eating. It’s hard for them to get the calories they need from just grass and the occasional vegetables.
If you are interested in reading about pigs raised without grain, read Sugar Mountain Farm’s article on what their pigs eat. They try to feed other high calorie foods like whey, for the most part their pigs are not normally eating just grass.
Pigs need more calories than forages alone can provide
Most pigs, regardless of age, need more calories per day than what they can get from forages alone.
Keeping pigs on pasture or in the woods is an old idea that is having a resurgence in popularity. This is super news! Pigs love to be out and about rooting and exploring.
The catch is that some folks misunderstand the digestive system of their pigs and think that the piglets can live on grass or whatever they find in the woods and nothing else.
Your pigs need more than just grass! (The rare exception is pigs selected to perform on grass without other sources of calories, currently Sugar Mountain Farm is the only place I know of that has developed forage only genetics.)
I think the misunderstanding comes from the fact that some animals can easily live on grass alone, these animals are called ruminants. Ruminants are cud chewers like cattle and sheep.
As long as there is plenty of grass per animal, ruminants can easily live on grass only. But, pigs are not ruminants, pigs are omnivores, like us. This means we need more than just leafy material (like lettuce) to grow and so do our pigs.
Sows or gilts that are bred are on a maintenance diet, meaning they are being kept at the appropriate body weight for their size.
Eating 50% feed and 50% forage works well for these gals, since their needs are low, compared to their weight. Adult pigs on a maintenance diet do well eating a large portion of forages or other feedstuffs aside from grain.
Contrast sows to growing pigs, growing pigs need more calories to grow, since growth happens after maintenance needs are taken care of.
Younger pigs need more protein than older pigs, but have less capable digestive systems, so they need more feed and less forage in their diet to grow their best.
Since growing pigs have high calorie needs, they have to eat a higher percentage of grain (70%+ of their diet) compared to the adults to keep at the same level of health, calorie wise.
Can Pigs Live On Grass Alone? goes more into this topic if you are interested.
Pigs can eat nearly anything, but is it economical?
Maybe you’ve heard that pigs can eat anything? Actually, that’s pretty close to the truth!
However, the real question you should be asking is “What is the economical thing for my pigs to be eating?” This goes for anyone growing out pigs for themselves as well as anyone raising pigs for customers.
Here is a list of just a few things that may be available in your area that would be pig appropriate if they are free or very low cost to you:
- food scraps
- restaurant waste
- unsellable vegetables from produce growers or roadside stands
- by products/distillers grains etc.
These are a few things that come to mind quickly, the list of possibilities is nearly endless.
Here are a few pointers before you make a final decision to use a locally available alternative feed:
- Is this a good source of nutrition? For example: feeding candy or gum scraps is not a good source of nutrition
- Can you balance the rest of the feed ration around the alternative feed? For example: if you are feeding lots of low protein hay, you’ll want to keep the protein in your feed a bit higher than normal to make the total ration correct
- How will you get the alternative feed? Do you have to provide trucking or go out of your way to get it? Is that trip worth your time? (It might be, only you can decide.)
Let me show you what I mean with an example: in our area there are multiple produce auctions within an hour’s drive, the one we sell garlic at is 30 minutes away. We drive to this auction 3 times per week in the garlic selling season.
Often times, as the produce auction goes towards the end of the year, there are bins of pumpkins or assorted more decorative squash that don’t sell or are not picked up by the purchaser.
These are great opportunities for anyone raising pigs to get some free vegetables that the produce auction want rid of.
So why don’t I get them? I did the math and the feed value of the unwanted squash and pumpkins is not worth my gas money.
If I’m there anyway, sure, I’ll be glad to have the snacks for my pigs, but to go there specifically for them or worse yet to pay for them, just doesn’t make money sense.
To be clear, if I had other reasons, like I felt it was more important to use the pumpkins or feeding pumpkins was a huge part of my selling proposition to my customers, I’d definitely go get them.
Since I don’t do specialty sales and the pumpkins do not pay for themselves in feed value, I only get them when everything else works out.
I am honestly surprised that one of the local Amish farms does not raise pigs just to take advantage of this extra produce in the area, since they would be close enough to make getting the pumpkins worth their effort.
Hopefully, someone who is close to the auction, which is in a produce growing area, will see the opportunity and take advantage of the free or very low cost feed that is right in their backyard.
Observe the pig to see if the food is working well
You may be wondering the next question of how do you know if a food is working well for the pig? Just because you can get an alternative feed locally, does not mean that the pigs will do well on it!
The easiest thing to do is to give them enough to eat that they always have options. This means you should give your pigs all they can eat ground or pelleted feed and the new feed.
Never force your pigs to eat a new feed. If they don’t like it, find something else.
Your pigs should be eagerly trying out a new food, they are adventurous eaters! Give them options and they will choose the feed that suits them. If they don’t like it, move on to something else.
The exception here would be smaller feeder pigs and larger, harder to eat foods like pumpkins. These pigs would just be too small to eat the pumpkin whole. I break them on the ground, then the piglets dive right in.
The second thing to do is to watch when introducing a new food is the manure. If the pig happily eats the new food and the poo continues to look normal, chances are the pig is doing okay.
Here’s a great PDF with an extensive table showing alternative pig feeds from the Iowa Pork Industry Center. Scroll down to page 4 for the table.