Published Jul 3, 2018

Feeding Small Grains to Pigs

By Celize Christy

Darrell Steele, a member in Washington County, has gotten the cover crop itch and started with a typical cover crop of cereal rye on his corn and soybean farm where he raises hogs too. After attending a soil health workshop he wanted to test out extreme-cover cropping and is beginning to grow “sexy” diverse cover crop mixes. Seeing the benefits of soil quality improvements from other farmers he began to think about how he could ever grow more diverse cover crops in a corn-soybean rotation, enter barley. He says, “the main reason I got into growing small grains is because of erosion, I wanted a practice that would help my soil.” To grow more diverse cover crop mixes they need to be planted early–in July or August when corn or soybeans are in the way. But since Darrell raises and feeds his own hogs he could grow a small grain like barley and feed that to his pigs allowing him to plant a diverse cover crop mix following July harvest.

Darrell Steel speaks to reporters at Rob Stout’s farm about the cover crops and barley he’s been growing.

Feeding Barley to Hogs

Since Darrell also raises hogs, he began to think of how he would not only use is barley as a cover crop, but also as a grain crop to feed his hogs. Small grains, like the barley Darrell is growing, are planted in rotation with corn and soybean, which keep a continuous living cover to help protect soil and water quality. Along with environmental benefits, small grains included in corn/soybean rotations are found to reduce costs, improving yields of corn and soybeans which provide a better cash flow.

Pigs have been primarily fed corn-soybean grain-based diets, but producers more and more are seeking alternative grains that can also meet all the nutrient requirements for their pigs. Swine diets vary for different stages of development from gestating sows to finisher pigs. Small grains are cereal grains such as barley, oats, rye, triticale, and wheat. Small grains, depending on the grain, are higher in crude protein, digestible phosphorus, and lysine than corn, but are lower in energy content. The main concern in adjusting feed rations for swine is the lysine content because lysine is the first limiting amino acid in swine grain-based diets. Is there enough lysine in the diet when including small grains? According to a report from ISU Extension on feeding small grains to swine, “small grains contain 30 to 50% more lysine compared to corn,” which also reduces the need for soybeans in the diet as well.

Questions to Ponder

Small grains are feed alternatives to corn and soybeans that have been useful feedstuffs for pigs. When well balanced small grains are able to take the place of corn and soybeans in swine diets, they provide an opportunity to reduce diet costs farmers face. Feed costs make up a good amount of livestock producers’ inputs, for swine farmers lessening feed costs is music to their ears. What percentage of my pig diet can include small grains? What should a diet with small grains look like for a farrowing sow vs. a finishing hog? What is the difference feeding one small grain vs. another? These are the questions I hope to work alongside our farmers to answer. As the new Swine and Poultry Coordinator at PFI, I hope to work with farmers on the idea of incorporating small grains in the diet rations of their pigs. Farmers have expressed their interest in incorporating small grains in their pig rations, but lack information on how much to include. Similar to Darrell who began to grow barley on his farm and is interested in feeding barley to his pigs but mentions, “I don’t know how much I’ll yield and then put into my rations for the pigs.” Through the work and research we hope to carry out, we will have information to share with farmers on how to manage incorporating small grains in diets of pigs.