Feeding pigs

I’m often asked what we feed our pigs and in what quantities, especially by people who are tempted to fatten a couple of weaners for their freezer.

There’s no “right” answer, but in general the slow growing traditional breeds require less protein at finishing than modern commercial breeds.

As we breed and finish Berkshires (early finishers) while also finishing Tamworths, Gloucester Old Spots, Saddlebacks and various cross breeds, we’ve found it’s generally better to use a sow roll with around around 16-16.5% protein or devise an on-farm mixed diet with similar levels.

But to complicate things further, it’s not really the protein level that matters – it’s the lysine to dietary energy ratio that’s important. However, while I do understand the science and how to apply it practically, most people glaze over when I start detailing how we arrive at our feed mix!

The key things to remember are that while cereals like wheat, barley and oats have lower energy levels compared to soya and fishmeal, they also have vastly lower levels of lysine (an amino acid that’s vital to building muscle).

That means their energy to lysine ratio is such that a pig fed on cereals alone will have too much energy to convert to muscle or use for bodily processes and store that as fat.

If you’re going to use own barley or oats for their diet, then you need to include higher quality proteins (such as soy beans, field beans, fishmeal or fish oil) in your mix to bump up the proportion of lysine.

If you have modern commercial pigs, then a diet that’s similar in protein and lysine levels to commercial finishing feeds will be fine.

But if you have slow growing traditional breeds, then you may need less protein so a diet that’s similar in proportions to commercial sow feeds will be needed.

Our finishers are fed half barley and vegetables to half sow rolls up to 16 weeks, one-quarter barley and vegetables to three-quarters sow rolls up to 20-22 weeks and sow rolls alone for the last two to six weeks. They also eat a lot of grass.

We’ve found it difficult to achieve consistent results over the final month unless we feed sow rolls alone—there are too many variables in feeding different types and varieties of vegetables.

We’ve also found barley fed in the last month or so makes them go to extremes of fat very quickly as the lysine:energy ratio is so poor.

In general, the finishers pigs are fed ad lib to 12 weeks, then are restricted to 1.4kg of feed a day (two feeds) up to 18 weeks.

Then they move up to 1.6-1.8kg of feed a day (two feeds) through to slaughter between 22 and 24 weeks as porkers or 26 and 28 weeks as cutters. (Slaughter ages for Berkshires.)

GOS and Saddlebacks are slaughtered from 24 to 26 weeks, Tamworths around 30 weeks but can be older as they can be more slow growing. (If the pigs weren’t on grass, their feed intake would need to be higher from 18 weeks.)

Our adult breeding pigs have various mixes of barley, vegetables and sow rolls, depending on how they’re being used, the weather, the amount of grass available to them, and their condition.

A working boar has 2.5kg a day, dry sows 2-3kg, lactating sows 5kg or more, and in-pig sows graduated amounts over their term, taking them from 3kg to 5kg or more.

Oh, and we’re aiming for around 15mm backfat, which is a a bit more than most commercial operations. It makes for very tasty pork.

18 Responses to “Feeding pigs”

  1. I have bought sow nuts to feed to my saddleback gilts. I feed them a mix of sow nuts and barley. I am new to raising pigs. What is the difference between sow nuts and sow rolls?
    I have found this article very interesting and helpful. I will refer back to it again. Thanks.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  2. Sow nuts, sow rolls and sow pellets are all the same thing – allowing for different brand recipes of course!

    If feeding barley and sow rolls, ease off on the barley for the last few weeks as you may find your pigs end up with a couple of inches of back fat. I haven’t had this happen (yet!) but have had emails from people who’ve had this happen.

    It’s critical to get a good layer of muscle (meat) laid down from weaning up until 16 weeks or so, hence the ad lib diet with a good proportion of rolls and their lysine levels until then. After that you’re looking for a steady size increase without laying down too much fat, hence the weight restricted diet.

    Having said that, if you do want an inch or so of really good, white pork fat laid down, then up the proportion of barley for the last week or two before slaughter. We render our own pork lard and, if we wanted even more, this would be the best way of doing it – but about 15mm of backfat at the P2 position suits us.

  3. We have just fattened and killed our first pigs, they were large white cross landrace we started them on weaner pellets up to 20 weeks then went onto barley and soya mix at a 5:1 ratio feeding them 2 kg a day along with 2oz of minerals per pig in the mix. They were fed on this and veg and kitchen waste till they went at the end of june at about 6 months old. The dead weights were 112kg, 104kg and 92kg. and they had about 20mm of back fat. We are already planning the next pigs at the start of next year. We also found that it was cheaper feeding a soya barley mix rather than sow rolls.

  4. I know pigs like many fruits but do they eat plums? I have a lot of windfalls but the fruit is not ripe.

  5. That’s my question too. We are going to have access to plenty of Damsons, is it OK to feed them to pigs? will the stones cause them problems?

  6. I can’t see any problems with them eating damsons. Pigs have strong jaws and will simply crunch up the seeds.

    In fact, I remember reading a while ago of pig farmers in the US who were feeding their pigs a couple of pounds of plums a day to up their intake of anti-oxidants.

    Also, when I used to shoot feral pigs in Australia, I noticed they enjoyed eating bush plums and other fruit with large, hard seeds/pits.

  7. We regularly feed excess stone fruit to our pigs without any problems and they love it!!
    On the same theme can I feed chestnuts to my pigs?

    • Finishing pigs on chestnuts used to be common in Europe, so yes you can feed them to your pigs. It would be wise to introduce the chestnuts to their diet gradually unless you’re turning them out into woodland, in which case they’ll manage fine.

      • hi sorry to bother you again,i have a two year old gloster old spot boar and he served my two sows a few weeks ago and i was thinking feeding him is expensive plus he bullies the others so i was wondering if he would be edible or would i be better selling him, he is a very docile fella but eats to much

  8. “Our meat pigs are fed ad lib to 12 weeks, then go on a restricted diet of 1.4kg of feed a day (two feeds) up to 18 weeks.”

    i’m unclear. do you feed 1.4 kg twice a day (total 2.8 kg daily) or do you split the 1.4 kg between the two feedings (total 1.4 kg daily)? thanks dave

  9. The pigs are fed twice a day, as close to 12 hours apart as possible. So for the weaners, 1.4kg per day each equates to two meals of 0.7kg, one in the morning, one in the early evening.

  10. I’m strictly a dweller of urbia, and I am in the U.S. (Kansas City, MO, to be specific.) One of my dreams is to acquire a dressed half or whole hog like the ones you raise for my freezer.

    I’m disgusted that commercial pork in the U.S. has fat that does not set up. Our bacon, yes, but not pork fat. The meat is also really bland, and unless it is barbecued (my husband is a champion smoker/grill cooker) or pulled pork at a restaurant, I don’t enjoy it a lot.

    Great info though. and best wishes. it sounds like fun.

  11. i have been feeding my pigs,1 boar 2 sows and 2 weaners on sow rolls but now have some bags of bruised barley,do you have to soak it overnight before feeding if so what kind of ratio many thanks,a small highland crofter

    • You can feed bruised barley straight, but in long spells of freezing weather I soak it in boiling water until it has cooled to blood temperature. It helps keep their core temperature up—especially when feed straight out of steel bins can be well below freezing.

      As for amounts, don’t give a lot to pigs being finished for pork as they will run to fat. I give our weaners and porkers no more than 10% of their ration as bruised barley, and use it more as a supplement in cold weather when they need extra rations.

      Boars, dry sows and sows in the middle of their pregnancy get up to one-third barley in winter, less in summer. Sows that are just about to go in with the boar or are in the first month of pregnancy don’t get more than 10-15% barley. They need the nutrients of a properly balanced feed. Sows that are in the last third of their pregnancy or in milk with piglets are entirely on rolls.

      When I’m feeding barley in winter and grass is non-existent, I also add broken potatoes, neeps and carrots to the ration. (Potatoes need to be cooked so the pigs can digest them.)

  12. Francesca Christie Reply 7 July, 2012 at 20:51

    Thanks so much for the info. Our first raising pigs, we fed only soaked barley-with some pasture. The pigs were soooo fat. This time I will take your advice and ease off on the barley in the last month or more. I really appreciate the information you provided here!
    I live in Canada.


  1. Feeding pigs « Musings from a Stonehead - 1 June, 2010

    [...] wrote about our feed regime in July 2007. We’ve fine tuned it here and there for individual pigs, but generally the [...]

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