You’ve no doubt heard that pigs can eat nearly anything and with a bit of research you can find people all over the world raising pigs on very different diets. What is the best thing to feed pigs to keep them happy and healthy?
The best thing to feed pigs is a ground or pelleted feed made of grains and a vitamin and mineral mix, which is formulated specifically for pigs.
Best Feed For Raising Pigs is an article I wrote that will give you the details of which feed pigs need and when you should switch them to a different feed formulation.
The best feed for pig is ground or pelleted pig feed
To be sure your pigs are getting all of the energy they need for growth, feed them a ground or pelleted pig feed that you buy at the feed store or feed mill.
Pig feed is formulated to meet the needs of your growing pigs and the basic formulation changes as the pig grow. All you do is choose the feed based on the weight of the pigs.
You have the choice of ground or pelleted pig feed
Chances are you will find both pelleted and ground feed available for your pigs, which one should you choose?
I always feed ground pig feed. It is available at the local feed mills and is the most economically priced way to feed pigs. However, pigs are more likely to waste ground feed than they are pelleted feed.
If you are feeding pigs outside, consider pelleted feed simply because the pigs can spill the feed pellets and still find them in the grass or dirt. Pellets will also flow through a gravity feeder.
Pelleted feeds will cost more per pound than ground feed, which may be worth it to you if you feel your pigs get more use out of the pellets.
As far as nutrition goes, both ground and pellets work just fine for feeding your porkers. If the price were the same for me, I’d choose pelleted.
I have to admit, I like the convenience of a pelleted feed, but am not willing to pay the cost premium. Around here the price difference between ground and pelleted feed is substantial!
Pigs enjoy eating hay, grass or vegetables
I give my pigs some hay or grass to go with their feed. They seem to enjoy eating the hay and it helps them to digest their feed better. Pigs like older or imperfect produce and vegetable peelings, too.
Feed any “extras” as a snack, not a big portion of the diet.
Do Pigs Eat Hay? goes over the positives and negatives of including hay in your pig’s diet.
Pastured pigs need pig feed
If your pigs are on pasture, they still need feed! Having your pigs out to get some of their own food is great for the pigs and will save you a bit of money on daily feed costs. Just be aware that it will also slow the growth of your pigs.
Pastured pigs can get up to 30% of their diet from the pasture. This means they still need 70% of their diet from feed!
Also, it is important to know that the bigger the pig is, the more forage it can use, so small feeder pigs will not be able to digest much forage until they get older. This is why pastured pigs need free choice feed.
How To Naturally Raise Happy Pigs gives you the list of things your pigs need to be happy!
Give pigs all they can eat of feed and water
Your pigs should have all of the feed and water they want to consume, all day, every day. This is called “free choice” feeding. Pigs need to live in an all you can eat buffet type situation to grow at their best.
Anytime you limit the amount of feed your pigs can eat in a day, you are also limiting their growth. Keep your pigs on free choice feed and let them decide how much to eat.
In order to use all of this food, they have to have plenty of water. Water gets overlooked, so I specifically am pointing it out because your pigs need three times the water that they do feed.
If you want good growth rates in your pigs, water is key. If the feeder is full, but the waterer is empty, your pigs will not eat until they have more water.
Here’s a great article from Iowa State University on pig growth rates and daily gains, if you want to look more into the details.
Feeding alternative feeds slows growth of pigs
A pig can only eat so much feed per day. The more high calorie foods eaten, the more the pig can grow. Having a lot of lower calorie foods in their diet, like pasture, will give them less calories per day for growth.
These lower calorie alternative feeds can be vegetables, hay, grass or anything else your pigs might like to chomp on. Low energy foods are fine as snacks, but not as the main part of your pig’s diet.
Do not rely on foraging only for your pigs
Most pigs need more than forage to grow, especially if you are pasturing your pigs on grass. Grass is a lower calorie, lower protein food.
This is why the common feeder pig can not grow well on grass alone, they don’t have the digestive system grass only requires. Grass only is ruminant territory and pigs are not ruminants, they are omnivores (like us).
Giving your pigs higher quality forages, like legumes, will give them more nutrition to work with than just grass, but it will still need to be supplemented with feed in order for your porkers to grow their best.
Update: Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm has been able to work with his pig genetics to raise pigs on pasture only! Read his articles, at the link below, for the details. Please note: this is the result of 20+years of selective breeding.
Pig feed can be unavailable or uneconomical
There are a some areas of the world where pig feed is unavailable or crazy high in price, making finding an alternative feed source mandatory for raising pigs.
The catch here is that anytime you feed pigs a diet other than ground or pelleted pig feed, you are going to get slower growth. Nothing wrong with that, just be aware of it.
Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont does not feed grain to their pigs, it’s too expensive where they live.
They feed an alternative source of calories, mainly dairy waste like whey and cheese trimmings, to their porkers or extra fruit, apples and pears, any time these sources are available.
You can grow your own pig feed. If you can eat it, so can your pigs. I’m talking about kitchen scraps and unusable or unsellable vegetables from the garden, in addition to locally available forages.
Some folks are even growing protein, in the form of maggots to feed their livestock, usually chickens but it would be the same for pigs. Here is a rancher from Texas who has a mealworm operation.