Feeding Meishan Pigs (and all heritage hogs) For Growth
Here on the farm the most common questions we receive about the Meishan Pig breed are often related to feeding Meishan Pigs
- What do you feed your Meishan Pigs for the best growth rate?
My answer might surprise you. Because I think its more important to talk about what you shouldn’t feed your Meishan Pigs. Or any pasture pig for that matter.
Fiber Is The Hidden Enemy of Growth:
Social media “experts”, popular magazines on newsstands , many “breeders” and even some breed registries are constantly extolling the use of hay, and spent brewers/distillers grains as staples in a pigs diet. Especially pasture raised pigs.The attraction is low cost (often free in the case of spent grains). A 900 lb 4 x 5 round hay bale can cost about $20-$45 in most markets. The same weight of a pelleted hog feed can cost to $150-$300. In addition these are feeds that are usually already being used on the farm if goats ,sheep ,cows or equine are present. Most people agree that there are advantages to “pasture raised” animals. And isnt hay just dried pasture grass? Isn’t this just “pasture raising ” when the pasture isn’t growing?
Fiber is not your friend.Not even free fiber:
I want to state unequivocally that the greatest enemy to growth when feeding Meishan Pigs or any pig is higher levels of fiber. And both hay ,spent grains and some other “recommended hog feeds” are very high in fiber.I am not expressing a popular position here. But based on the science and based on my 9 seasons of personal experience this is simply a fact. I have proven it to myself with two different species of heritage hogs(Meishan Pigs and American Guinea Hogs). And my personal experience is backed up by scientific research.
But I thought Meishan Pigs Thrive on Fiber?:
When the Meishan Pig was imported into the US their purported ability to thrive on a high fiber diet was one of the attractions. However a subsequent study performed at Kobe University in Japan found this not to be true. That study found no difference in the digestibility of fiber between Meishan Pigs and commercial Landrace pigs. All pigs don’t digest fiber well.
High Fiber Levels Rob Your Growing Pigs of Nutrients
North Carolina State did a study on the impact of increasing fiber levels in swine feeds. Please look at a key statement from that study:
“Studies have shown that for every 1 percent of extra fiber that is added to the diet, the digestibility of protein, energy, and dry matter decreases by at least 1 percent.”.
Think about that. As fiber goes up digestibility of protein and energy go down at the very same rate. Fiber BLOCKS the absorption of key nutrients in hogs. Even if that fiber has a high content of the very nutrients that your Meishan Pigs needs for growth. Spent brewers/distillers grains have had the sugars and carbs removed by the fermentation and distilling process. However they still contain very high levels of protein ( typically % ). And protein is an essential building block for growth. But only if that protein is digestible. And in these forms it is not.
Look at this statement from a March 2018 article in National Hog Farmer
The article compares the benefits of fiber in a human diet (positive)compared to the diet of a growing pig (negative).
“In pig nutrition, we take a different view. In the young, which has limited feed intake capacity, the bulkiness of higher fiber diets often leads to slower growth rates and poorer feed efficiency. Therefore, fiber levels are often kept quite low in diets of the young pig…”
Then why is there so much fiber in my hog feed?
If you are using a commercial hog feed start checking your labels. Does it give a minimum or maximum on NDF (non digestible fiber)? The few times I use pelleted feeds the label on my hog feed is 15% fiber minimum. So really it could be any number.Why so high? Follow the money. Fiber is the cheapest component in formulated hog feeds.Hulls, spent grains and other by product sources are much cheaper or even free. The feed business is highly price sensitive. I have had access to free spent brewers grains. There was a powerful incentive to use them in our feed profile. I have fed them to both American Guinea Hogs and Meishan Pigs. And they were fed as only a small portion of the overall ration. And in both cases, not only did growth grind to a halt, litter sizes were smaller. Feeding Meishan Pigs and American Guinea Hogs elevated levels of fiber wasn’t allowing them to absorb the other nutrients in the balance of their feed.
But can’t I supplement the fiber and get better performance?:
No you can’t. I tried everything I could think of to change that outcome. From adding hog minerals to the brewers grains to soaking the grains in dairy products. Feeding the grains along with produce . Feeding only a small portion of the ration as grains(less than 20% by weight).Nothing and I mean nothing worked. And if you really read the studies you understand why. Fiber blocks nutrients.It is not just that these high fiber foods lack nutrients.You cant supplement to offset that effect.If you are feeding hay or other high fiber supplements. You are simply wasting the other nutrients available to your Meishan Pigs when high fiber is present. And that waste ends up creating more manure in your fields.
Reduce the Fiber Reduce the Smell:
Undigested feed stuffs become manure. Hog manure of any breed smells. As you increase the fiber levels above single digits your Meishan Pigs are denied the nutrition they need. In addition those wasted nutrients are increasing your pasture manure load . The following is from another article on the subject which references the same North Carolina State study:
“North Carolina State University has shown that by formulating pig feed so that it is low in fiber (5.5% NDF), waste production can be reduced by 35 percent compared to a regular corn-soybean meal diet (10% NDF) and by 58 percent compared to a diet supplemented with 20 percent soybean hulls (18% NDF).“
Reduced waste means a higher rate of digestion.It means better feed conversion.It means less manure,less odor and allows a higher stocking density of pigs on a pasture. All without their uncomposted manure “burning” your grasses. Or your nose.
Whats Achievable? A Case Study:
Growth is a function of genetics and nutrition. As a case study in 2018 we raised two litter mate gilts to slaughter.We picked the largest gilt in the litter and one of the smallest. We raised them on pasture, pasture woodlot combination and woodlots only on a rotational basis. They were supplemented with a low fiber diet . Low levels of supplement when on lush pasture .More heavily supplemented when on woodlots exclusively. One of our customers had them processed on the same day at the same processor
Gilt A hanging weight(skin on head on)= 264.5 lbs
Gilt B hanging weight (skin on head on)= 222.5 lbs
Both pigs were over 300 lbs live weight. The weight difference (42 lbs)in two identically raised sister gilts is a function of their expressed genetics. We achieved these results in 10.5 months.Piglets from the very same litter raised by a customer who insisted on using both hay and spent grains (supplemented with whey and other dairy along with produce) failed to reach 250 lbs live weight in 14 months. Same litter, different fiber levels of feed.Vastly different results. Here are some pictures of our processed Meishan Pork . Please note the reasonable fat cap and beautiful marbling.This is prime craft pork .Better quality larger cuts and faster growth. All through proper diet. And a proper diet is low in fiber!
Even better is that today without using high fiber sources we have reduced our feed costs to zero. How did we do that? Well that will be the subject of our next blog post.
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