Pigs have a reputation for eating any old slop, but proper nutrition is essential for your hogs, sows and piglets to stay healthy and reach their full growth potential. Whether you are raising pigs for show, slaughter, breeding or just as a fun part of your backyard farm, they need to be eating right.
Factors Affecting a Proper Pig Diet
A pig’s nutritional needs change throughout its life. Many different factors influence the best diet for a pig, such as…
- Age: Younger pigs need a different feed composition to foster healthy growth, while adult pigs need a diet formulated for good body maintenance.
- Breeding Status: When a sow is gestating or suckling piglets, her dietary needs change so she can properly feed her young.
- Gender: Male and female pigs have different dietary needs based on their muscle composition, growth rates and activity levels.
- Season: Pigs need different nutrition at different times of year. In cold weather, more calories are needed to maintain sufficient body heat.
- Overall Health: Pigs may suffer from different nutritional deficiencies if their health changes. Their diets will need adjusting if they are sick or injured.
No matter what the exact nutritional needs of your pig, it will need a balanced diet that includes appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. But what can you feed your pig to meet those needs?
Water Is Critical
Water is a more critical part of a pig’s diet than many people realize. Water helps maintain the pig’s biochemical balance, facilitates proper digestion, regulates body temperature and more. Pigs should always have easy access to fresh, clean water that is free from excessive contaminants and chemical residue. Tanks and watering troughs should be rinsed and cleaned regularly to be sure the water is not contaminated. The water should also not be of extreme temperatures – cool but not frigid water is fine in the winter while warm but not hot water is fine in the summer. If the pigs are not drinking regularly, it is best to check the water’s temperature and cleanliness to be sure it is suitable.
What to Feed Pigs
Pigs are natural omnivores and will sample a wide variety of foods. In fact, a highly varied diet is best for pigs, because it ensures they receive appropriate vitamins and minerals from different natural sources that can be easily absorbed. Your pig’s diet should always include…
- Grain: Grains are an excellent source of both carbohydrates and protein for your pig. While different grains have different nutritional value, popular grains for pigs include corn, barley, wheat and soybeans.
- Leafy Greens: Rich, leafy greens are a great source of many vitamins for pigs, including vitamins A, E, K and riboflavin. Offering your pig a mix of greens such as alfalfa hay, cabbage, spinach, carrot tops, green grass clippings and garden greens is ideal to meet those vitamin needs.
- Scraps: Kitchen scraps of all kinds make great pig feed. Popular options include vegetable and fruit trimmings, melon rinds, cooked potatoes, rice, nuts, cooked meat and both bread and dairy scraps. The more widely varied these scraps are the more overall nutrition they will provide.
- Supplements: Depending on your pig’s nutritional needs, it may be necessary to include pellet supplements or vitamins mixed with its other foods. Sodium, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, copper, chloride, iodine and zinc are all popular supplements, but it is important to consult with a veterinarian to be sure you are offering the right supplements for your pig’s diet.
Pigs should be fed once or twice daily, with two feedings typically reserved for young piglets or breeding sows. Do not offer more food than the pig will eat in 30 minutes, as leftover food will quickly rot and could become dangerous to consume. Pigs will not naturally overeat and will stop eating when they are full.
Foods to Avoid
In general, pigs can eat a wide variety of items and will naturally avoid most foods that are unsafe. Very rotten or spoiled food should never be offered to pigs, and despite the fact that these animals will eat a wide variety of foods, they should never be offered scraps of paper, plastic or bits of metal that might be part of food containers – these items can cause serious injuries in the animal’s digestive tract.
The best rule of thumb for feeding pigs is the same as it is for humans – all things in moderation. Pigs can develop different individual tastes just as we can, and offering a wide variety of foods can help sate their appetites while providing good nutrition to keep them healthy and happy.