Just like human beings, pigs are omnivores, meaning they will consume both plants and animals. They will eat almost anything.
They are great natural forages and opportunistic eaters. Feral pigs and wild pigs (like wild boar) will eat a wide range of foodstuffs including; vegetation, roots, fruits, eggs, and even dead animals. They have an efficient digestive system and can process a wide range of food.
Their excellent foraging ability allows them to survive in a wide range of areas and climates. They can survive pretty much anywhere as long as there is a small amount of food and water available.
Domesticated pigs (farm pigs, meat pigs, pet pigs) are primarily fed on a diet of corn, soy meal, oats, or farm grain-based feeds, unlike their wild cousins. These ingredients are used because they are easily digestible, high carbohydrates, calcium, and low in fiber. However, pigs also require vitamins and minerals for good health.
Vitamins, minerals, and nutrients can either be supplemented via other foodstuffs (such as fruit and veg), or they can be fed to your stock by using a commercial swine feed that has them mixed in.
Commercial and ‘ready-made’ pig feeds are usually available at feed stores or through livestock feed manufacturers. Commercial pig feeds can come in various different forms and mixes, they are designed to meet a pig's nutritional needs during certain parts of its life.
Commercial pig feeds can come pre-mixed with vitamins and minerals, antibiotics, or even probiotics. Feeds that have antibiotics and probiotics added are usually referred to as medicated pig feeds.
When rearing pigs, to get the best out of them they need to be fed a balanced diet. It is also crucial that they have a constant supply of fresh water. Water is extremely important in a pig's diet. 1/2 to 2/3 of a pig body weight is water. Water is also directly related to feeding take, therefore your pigs should have fresh & clean supply at all times if you want to maximize their performance.
The breed of a pig, to an extent, can determine what diet they should be fed. Pigs that are being reared for meat will require a slightly different diet when compared with breeds that are primarily kept as pets.
Owners of breeds like the Vietnamese Pot Belly will need to feed a different diet to that of pig destined for the table – like a Large White.
Some breeds of pig are better forages than others. Traditional breeds, like the Gloucester Old Spot, are extremely good at turning over pasture and foraging. The traditional breeds generally put on weight at a slower rate when compared with modern commercial pig breeds, therefore the need to feed them specialist pig feed can be less.
However, the traditional breeds are generally more hardy so might be better suited to places where the weather or climate is more extreme.
The age of the pig is one of the biggest factors to determine what it can eat. There are specific types of feed are available its various stages of life.
Young piglets can start to show an interest in solid food as young as three weeks. Once they are starting to show an interest in solid feed the weaning process can begin.
During the weaning process, a sows piglets are given their first access to solid feed, in addition to their mother’s milk. Over a course of a few weeks, the piglets are gradually weaned off their mother’s milk and onto the solid feed; until the sow is removed completely at around ten to twelve weeks.
Throughout the weaning process, they are fed a specific type of feed that’s designed for their nutritional needs at this age. This type of feed usually goes under the name weaner feed, starter feed, piglet feed, or another similar name.
After the weaning process is finished, weight is used to determine what type of feed a pig should be placed on next.
Pigs weighing between 40 to 125 pounds are referred to as growing pigs. Pigs weighing between 125 pounds and 230 pounds are called finishing pigs.
During these two stages, the pigs are usually placed on slightly different types of feed. Growing pigs are usually fed a grower type feed. Grower feeds are usually nutrient-dense and contain a certain amount of protein.
As a pig gets older and gains weight, it requires more and more protein. Therefore, during the finishing stage, the pig may be placed on a finishing type feed that has less mineral content and contains more protein – when compared with the grower feed.
Feed manufacturers, and those who make their own pig feeds, all have their different variations on specific mixes that go into these types of feeds. But generally, they tend to fall into these three basic categories, namely: weaner feed, grower feed, and finishing feed.
The purpose of a pig also determines the type of feed it requires. Pigs that are being reared for meat production will, in general, follow the previously mentioned route of weaner feed, grower and then finishing feed.
If you are keeping breeding sows they will require a different diet/feed when compared with pigs being raised for meat. Once a sow reaches breeding age you are not trying to fatten them for slaughter, therefore a breeder type feed is more suited for pigs in this category. These types of pellets are high in nutrition and contain less protein.
If you are keeping a pig as a pet then the same rule applies. You do not want them to put on unnecessary weight, therefore they should be fed a breeder type pellet or a specific type of pig pellet designed for this purpose. Owners of pet pigs, micro-pigs and Vietnamese potbelly pigs, and pigs that are used in land management will want to consider this.
If you are planning to enter pigs into competitions, and farming shows, you will want to consider using a specialist pig feeds designed for this task. When it comes to showing pigs, different breeders have their preference of what feeding methods work for them. You’ll have to experiment and ask around and find what works few if you go down this road. A good place to start is on a pig forum.
Pigs generally should be fed twice a day, using a trough or some other feeding system. How much food you give them depends on how old they are, what breed they are, and if they have access to other types of food.
Most commercial pig feeds come with instructions on how to feed your pigs, so check the label or any paperwork that comes with your feed to ensure you are feeding the prescribed amount. If there are no instructions with your pig feed then consult with the feed store, they might be to give you advice on the quantities that should be used.
When it comes to feeding pigs, the rule of thumb is: a pig requires a pound of food for each month of age, up to a maximum of 6 pounds per day. Do not feed your pig more than this. You’ll waste your money and make your pigs fat. Only sows that are lactating need more food than this. Investing in some weighing scales to ensure your feed quantities are correct is a good idea, it can save you from under or overfeeding your pigs in the long term.
Another rule of thumb is that all the feed should be eaten within 20 to 30 minutes. There should be no feed left over after this time period. If you find access feed lying about, gradually reduce their feed intake until there is no excess food leftover. Once you find the sweet spot where your pigs are not leaving access food, you can then slowly start to increase their feed again, therefore helping to put on weight.
If your pig has access to natural food sources (fruit trees, dense grass, or pasture), these must be taken into account. Natural food sources can be used to your advantage as they can help reduce your other feed costs. Pasture fed pigs will generally require less pig feed than those kept indoors, or in places where there is little or no vegetation.
Likewise, you can supplement your pig feed with other foodstuffs such as silage, hay, fruit, and vegetables. If you’re feeding large quantities of fruit and vegetable reduce the amount of daily feed using a 1:4 ratio.
If you are feeding your pigs hay or silage make sure it’s free of mold. Moldy silage can potentially contain harmful bacteria such as Listeria. This is especially important when dealing with pregnant sows as it could cause them to abort.
Make sure that you store your pig feed someplace dry and safe. Never feed pigs old, wet or moldy feeds as it may harm them or even kill them.
Also, it’s worth noting that additional foodstuffs can slightly influence the taste of pig's meat. It’s well known that pigs fed a large number of acorns and apples tend to have sweeter tasting meat. There are specialist pork and ham producers that feed their animals on special diets such as these and their pig meat retail for very high prices.
Depending on where you live, and what country you reside in, determines whether you can feed your pig's swill. Pigs swill is generally considered to be cafeteria waste or food waste that has come into contact with any other meats. Whether you can do this depends on your countries laws, therefore you should check them out before heading down this route.
As you can see there are many factors to consider when feeding pigs. The age and purpose of animals are two of the most important ones. We’ve also discussed that there are specific types of feed designed for certain tasks and stages in pig rearing.
One thing that’s absolutely clear in this pig feed guide is that your hogs should be fed a well-balanced and nutritional diet to help maximize their performance. Also, don’t forget that water is just as important as feeding your pig, so make sure they have access to a fresh supply at all times.
A good indicator of whether or not you are getting your pig's diet right is to look at their manure. This is a window into their gut health. Pig manure should solid looking and fairly hard. It should not be runny. If your pigs' manure is like this then you’re getting your diet right.
If they are producing very soft or runny stools then try changing their diet. If they have diarrhea they might be ill, in which case it might be best to call the vet – this is especially important when dealing with piglets.
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