Exploring Opportunities in Using Alternative Feedstuffs

by 5m Editor
21 June 2004, at 12:00am

By Ruurd T. Zijlstra and John F. Patience and published by Prairie Swine Center - The current market prices of pigs and protein sources have forced the pork industry to explore ways to reduce feed costs while maintaining swine performance. Inclusion of opportunity ingredients that are normally not considered for diet formulation may be one such method.

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Some opportunity ingredients and their proper inclusion into swine diets will be discussed. For alternative ingredients, several factors should be considered including: (1) gross composition and quality, (2) nutrient composition and nutrient availability, (3) suitability and palatability, (4) freedom from potential health hazards, (5) special handling, processing, and storage requirements, (6) availability and consistency, (7) nutrient stability, (8) effect on pork quality, (9) storage space, and (10) cost (Myer and Brendemuhl 2001). These components will be discussed briefly below and in more detail in the presentation.

Meat and bone meal

The current high level of prices in soybean meal together with the extremely low price for meat and bone meal make the inclusion of meat and bone meal of ruminant origin financially attractive. In the near future, it will be determined whether the inclusion of meat and bone meal into swine diets will remain allowed. Some packers have already excluded pigs fed meat and bone meal from their plant to attempt to create an edge in the market place by marketing pork from pigs fed diets without animal


As with other byproducts, the nutrient content of meat and bone is highly variable (Chiba 2001) and depends on the relative amounts of meat and bone in the byproduct. For example, protein may range from 42 to 55%, calcium may range from 8 to 16%, and P may range from 4 to 6%. If the meat and bone comes from a single source, for example one packing plant where the material going into the product is relatively homogeneous, the variability of meat and bone meal in the feedmill will be less than a situation with meat and bone meal coming from a variety of sources. In the case of the former, higher inclusion rates of meat and bone meal are acceptable than in the case of the latter. The other variable is processing, as controlled heat treatment will produce a superior product compared to a situation with overheating.

Formulating diets with meat and bone meal can be a challenge, due to the calcium and phosphorus content, as well as frequently high sodium contents, combined with low digestible energy and low amino acid digestibility. If a scientific approach is taken during diet formulation, growth performance on grower-finisher pigs should be maintained. Indeed, in some parts of the world, meat and bone meal would typically constitute 5 to 10% of the diet of growing pigs and inclusion rates as high as 15% have been observed.

The scientific approach should consider the flowing critical factors: presence of anti-nutritional factors, palatability, and variability in nutrient content. For meat and bone meal, the most important of these factors is the variability in nutrient content. The meat and bone meal should thus be assayed not only for crude protein, but also for calcium, phosphorus and sodium; if possible, multiple samples should be tested to determine the degree of variation. Checking with the supplier to determine the components of meat and bone meal would also be recommended. Amino acid digestibility and availability is a real concern, but because these are not easily analyzed, so a conservative estimate during least-cost diet formulation would be recommended to avoid under-formulating the diet for critical nutrients.

To avoid reductions in growth performance, meat and bone meals have previously been recommended by some at levels not exceeding 5%. Still, some pork producers are presently using dietary levels higher than 5%. The recommended inclusion rate of many western Canadian meat and bone meal sources can be elevated to 7.5%, although the inclusion should be gradual to avoid a sudden change in diet taste. If the described scientific approach will be taken, growth performance might be maintained, and the reported linearly reductions in performance using increasing levels of meat and bone meal may be avoided. The reductions in growth performance were likely due to imbalances in dietary energy and amino acid content.

Finally, the introduction of meat and bone meal is a potential bio-security risk to the swine operation. However, if a heat treatment is applied to meat and bone meal properly together with strict quality control, the risk of bacterial contamination will be minimal. The health of the herd should be considered and discussions should take place with the herd veterinarian before implementing a feeding program with meat and bone meal.

Overall, ruminant meat and bone meal are presently a good buy; however, extreme care must be taken during diet formulation to ensure that digestible amino acids, calcium, and phosphorus content are balanced.

A main issue for the feed industry is the separation of ruminant meat and bone meal from ruminant diets, and production of swine diets containing ruminant meat and bone meal is thus not recommended. On commercial swine operation with out cattle, the use of ruminant meat and bone meal should presently not be a concern.

Field peas

Peas are an excellent source of energy and also protein. Surprisingly, some people still consider field peas an alternative feed ingredient; thus, field peas remain underutilized in the swine industry. The gradual increase in acreage in western Canada has allowed field peas to become a commodity ingredient, apart from some issues with supply due to drought in recent years. Another issue is that field peas have recently become expensive, and were therefore forced out or included to a lesser level in diets in Alberta.

As any other ingredients, field peas range in quality. Unlike for barley and wheat, the actual variation in digestible energy content is presently hard to predict based on changes in chemical characteristics. The main contributing factor for changes is quality is dockage, and for any % increase in dockage, the DE content for diet formulation should be reduced by 1%. Another risk of dockage is the increased likelihood of palatability problems, due to unpalatable weed seeds. The direct implication that above a reasonable cut-off for dockage (1 to 2%), any increase in dockage should be directly reflected in a reduction in price.

Generally, field peas are presently low in anti-nutritional factors and palatability issues are therefore of lesser concern. Inclusion rates can therefore be increased from historical perceptions for appropriate levels. Grinding of peas sometimes becomes an issue and hammer-mil screen and hammers and resulting particle size should be inspected regularly. It can be expected than enough field peas will be available this year, although the cost price may be too high to reach the upper inclusion levels. Nutrients in peas are stable and peas should not affect pork quality. Prairie Swine Centre research dealing with peas will be discussed.


Lentils are a legume seed and are grown primarily as a human food crop. Surplus and cull lentils will be available occasionally for inclusion into swine diets. In Alberta, not much lentils are produced (AAFRD), but lentils are a substantial crop in Saskatchewan (SAFRR). In Saskatchewan in 2003, 510,000 MT of lentils were produced, compared to 1,470,000 MT of peas.

Unlike with field peas, not much research has been done with feeding of lentils to swine. The level of anti-nutritional factors seems to be lower than in several other legume seeds, similar to field peas. The optimum inclusion rate of lentils has not been determined thoroughly; however, one trial indicated that diets containing 40% ground lentils supported similar growth to a soybean meal-based diet and some western Canadian research indicated that 30% lentils could be included in diets fed to grower-finisher pigs without hampering pig performance (Bell and Keith 1986).

The protein content of lentils is on average slightly higher than in field peas. Similar to other legume seeds, lentils have a low sulphur amino acid content, and care must be taken during diet formulation to ensure that enough methionine in the right ratio to cystine is provided in the diet. Disagreement remains in the mean DE content of lentils. Based on its chemical constituents, the DE content of lentils can be assumed to be similar to field peas. Lentils may be hard to get in Alberta for feed use, but will be a good opportunity if they are available.

Generally, the level of anti-nutritional factors in lentils and therefore palatability issues have not been characterized properly yet. Inclusion rates must thus be increased gradually to ensure that voluntary feed intake and growth performance are not reduced below acceptable levels.


Corn distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) is rapidly becoming a community ingredient in the feed industry. The main cause is the rapid expansion of the ethanol industry, especially in the northern plains in the USA. Corn DDGS is a by-product from ethanol production and further increases in availability and perhaps reductions in prices can be expected.

Initial research with corn DDGS has been conducted at the University of Minnesota (Shurson et al. 2003). From the corn, starch is removed during ethanol production and the residual corn DDGS is high in other corn chemical constituents.

Corn DDGS has a similar DE content than the originating corn. Corn DDGS is especially high in oil content, and the main reason for upper inclusion levels for corn DDGS in diets for grower-finisher pigs to prevent reductions in carcass quality and growth performance. Pellet quality may also be reduced following inclusion of corn DDGS, especially in corn diets. Samples from corn DDGS should be analyzed carefully for colour. A yellow colour is indicative of proper drying whereas a dark brown colour is indicative of excessive heat during drying and therefore reduced availability of enclosed nutrients for swine.

Generally, cost will be the issue in Alberta, because corn DDGS will have to be transported from far way. Prairie Swine Centre research dealing with DDGS will be discussed.

Proper inclusion

The most critical item for proper inclusion is least-cost diet formulation based on digestible nutrient content of ingredients (see Swine Nutrition Guide). Diets should be re-formulated on a regular basis, based on specific changes in ingredient prices. A second item of importance may be a gradual increase in inclusion rate of opportunity ingredient to prevent unexpected reduction in voluntary feed intake.


To reduce feed costs, use of opportunity ingredients should be continued focus of feed formulators. The savings in feed costs may be substantial and will directly add to the bottom line in the swine industry. The traditional dependence of soybean meal as the “only proper protein source” will have to be changed drastically to help the western Canadian swine industry to be globally competitive.

Source - Prairie Swine Centre - June 2004