Use of small grains in pig production

By Dr. Hans H. Stein

July, 2011

We are now at a time of the year when most of the small grain crops have been harvested, but we are still a few month away from having new-crop corn available. In many areas of the Midwest, it is, therefore, possible to purchase wheat, barley, or oats at a price that is less than that of corn. In many cases, this is an opportunity to reduce diet costs. With corn trading close to 7 dollars per bushel, there may be opportunities for reducing diet costs if small grains are available.

Inclusion of wheat in diets fed to pigs

Wheat may replace all the corn in all rations fed to pigs. If diets are formulated correctly, pig growth performance or reproductive performance will not be influenced by the use of wheat. Because of the greater concentrations of amino acids and digestible phosphorus in wheat than in corn, the cost of wheat can be 2 – 4% greater than the cost of corn (on a per-bushel basis) without reducing the profits from swine production.

Wheat is grown in limited quantities in the major corn-growing areas in the Midwest and although most of the wheat is intended for human consumption, there is always some wheat that does not meet quality specifications, and therefore, does not make it into the human food industry. These qualities of wheat may be used in animal feeding. This year, there has been some wheat that did not have the required bushel weight, and therefore, was not accepted by the flour mills. However, even low bushel weight wheat is an excellent source of feed for pigs and where it is available it is priced very competitively compared with corn. Read more about including wheat in diets fed to pigs in the brochure “Feeding wheat to pigs” that can be downloaded from

Barley can replace most of the corn in growing finishing diets

Barley is the major feed grain is some countries in northern Europe and in the Western part of Canada. U.S. grown barley often has a lower bushel weight than barley grown in Europe and Canada and the concentration of digestible energy in barley is 10-15% less than in corn. However, the concentration of digestible amino acids and digestible phosphorus is greater than in corn. If barley can be purchased at a cost that is about 85-90% of that of corn (on a per bushel basis) it will usually result in improved profits.

Barley may replace all the corn in diets fed to weanling pigs and to gestating sows. However, results of recent research indicate that in diets fed to growing- finishing pigs, barley can only be used by up to 60% of the total ration. If greater levels of barley are used, pig growth performance will be slightly reduced. For lactating sows, only 50% barley should be used if fat is added to the diet, but if 5 to 6% fat is used, barley can replace all the corn in lactation diets.

Oats can be used in limited quantities

Oats may replace up to 40% of the corn in diets fed to all categories of pigs and this inclusion level usually improves the palatability of the diets. For gestating sows, a greater inclusion rate may be used. Oats has an excellent amino acid profile that matches the amino acid requirement of the pig better than that of any other cereal grain and the inclusion of protein-ingredients can be reduced if oats is included in the diet. The bushel weight of oats is relatively low and the energy concentration, therefore, is also low. However, if oats can be purchased at a cost that is less than 80% (on a per bushel basis) of that of corn, it will reduce diet costs.

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