pig farm; biosecurity; pork; sows; feeding

Pork production: The right start for small piggeries – put the menu first and get the feeding right

The right balance in a pig’s diet is the key to successful feeding and profitable pig farming, whether they are free-ranging or penned. Pigs are monogastric omnivores like humans, and cannot digest the amounts of fibre that ruminants thrive on. They eat a combination of plant- and animal- based ingredients. 

There is no way a farmer can run a profitable pig business unless he feeds properly. Healthy pigs need a nutritious, well-balanced diet at every stage in production; if the nutrition is poor the pigs will not be productive and the business will not be profitable.

“Pigs need the right nutrition to perform well. You can’t take shortcuts in feeding,” says vet and pig specialist, Dr Peter Evans.


Energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and water are the five ration requirements for pigs. But pig nutrition is fairly specialised and farmers need the advice and expertise of animal nutritionists when making decisions about rations.

Protein is vital for good muscle development and too little protein in the ration leads to poor muscling. But protein is also expensive and the animal only uses what it needs for optimal growth and development, so too much protein is just a waste of money.

Common sources of protein are fish meal, meat meal, blood meal, soya meal, peanut meal, canola meal, milk powder and milk waste.

Energy in the diet comes from wheat, maize, barley, sorghum, soya beans, fruit pulp, bakery waste, milk waste, fats and oils. Pigs that are free-ranged on pasture generally need more energy than pen-raised pigs and when temperatures fall energy needs go up.

Vitamins and minerals and the essential amino acids (of which lysine is one) will also go into the ration. Lysine must be supplemented in the diet because lysine deficiency will slow growth and production. Maize, a major energy source in pig rations, is known to be short of lysine.

It is important to feed the right ration for the different development stages in a pig’s life. Younger pigs need a high protein, high energy mix.

The feed is formulated depending on the pig’s stage of production. Young pigs need high energy, high protein diets which taper in protein and energy content as the pigs grow towards finishing or maturity.

Piglets need a creep feed with a protein content of between 18% and 20%; growers (20kg – 60kg) need 15% – 16% protein in the ration; finishers (60kg – 105kg) need 13% – 14% protein; young boars need 15% – 16% and mature sows and boars need 13% to 14% protein.

Pregnancy rations should have less energy and more fibre with calcium, phosphorous and minerals; after the piglets are born the lactation rations must have more protein, phosphorous and minerals and less fibre.

Table scraps and kitchen waste are acceptable but they are not a substitute for a properly balanced ration.


Every livestock farmer should be aware of the feed conversion ratio (FCR) of his animals. The FCR tells you how much feed the pig needs to produce a kg of meat which is the farmer’s product. Dr Evans says that farmers should also know the average daily growth (ADG) of their pigs. “Knowing these things will tell you what your profit margins will be,” he explains.


Balanced nutrition for newly weaned pigs from week four to week ten is crucial. “This is one of the most important phases in the production cycle from a nutritional point of view,” says our vet. “The ration needs a high milk or whey powder content because the pigs will still be used to the mother’s milk.”

Buying pelleted food from the mill is the best option especially for the smaller farmers.

The monogastric stomach doesn’t like sudden dietary changes (think of babies and imagine what would happen if they went straight from breast milk to steak), so the aim is to get the stomach used to the addition of carbohydrates.


Mixing your own ration can be cheaper. You don’t have to pay for the milling and mixing costs and transport may also be cheaper. Small-scale piggeries that need 100tons of feed a month or more could consider their own mixing plants.

“The thing is it must be done accurately,” says Dr Evans. “Feed texture is part of the quality of the ration and influences pig performance. It should not be too finely ground or it will cake, but if it’s too chunky it’s difficult to digest.”

During the post-weaning phase from four to ten weeks the pigs are at their most vulnerable when it comes to feeding. Changes in the diet must be carefully handled at this stage and the animals stay on milk or whey powder to avoid sudden pressure on their guts.

Buying pelleted food from the mill is the best option especially for the smaller farmers. It’s easier, cleaner and there’s less waste. When you are in the learning phase you want to learn about the pigs and how to house and run them in the best possible way.

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