Improved Feed Digestibility via Probiotics


Boar Carrying Hay

Time to time someone tells me pigs can’t eat grass, can’t eat pasture, can’t grow on a low calorie diet, must be fed grain, etc. Aside from the fact that not all pasture is grass they are simply wrong. I’ve watched pigs thrive and grow on 100% pasture. More importantly the point is not to just feed pasture but rather that pasture is a part of their diet, in our pigs’s case about 80% of what they eat based on dry matter weight of the feed.

There may be a reason that our pigs do so well on the high fiber diet of pasture and hay. It is a very small reason. A tiny detail. One of the littlest details you might imagine. But vastly important according to some recent scientific research out of Brazil.

In the current issue of PigProgress there is an article article “Improving digestibility of swine feed using probiotics” they say:

A new Brazilian study shows that a swine feed supplement containing Bacillus subtilis and B. licheniformis markedly improves digestibility, allowing pigs to get more nutrition from lower-energy diets.

This is something we’ve been doing for years with our yogurtizing of milk and whey. It promotes good gut health, just like in humans. Based on years of observing their manure and growth rates I saw that the pigs did better and digested more of their feed when they had some yogurt in their diet. For this reason we culture our big dairy tanks to create an ongoing flow of probiotics into our pigs’s diet.

My suspicion is that the better diverse gut bacteria help the pigs to digest high fiber diets like hay, grass, clovers and other forages in much the same way that bacteria in the guts of cattle and termites help them to digest fiber.

The study went on to say:

“When animals can obtain more nutrients and energy from their feed, producers can save money by using a reduced-energy diet, while maintaining the performance of their pigs.”

This fits very well with pasturing, which is a reduced energy diet. There have been a number of other studies out of the USA and Briton which have also emphasized the benefit of lower calorie, higher fiber diets for pigs and especially for sows. Turns out the scientific community is discovering what many pastured farmers figured out several thousand years ago. Great news!

Little details like gut flora may make the difference between success and failure in any system. The reason some nay-sayers fail at raising pigs on pasture could be as simple as they’re not paying attention to the small things in life, like bacteria.

Good gut bacteria lead to better lives.

Success is in the details.

Related article that just came across my desktop:
Combating Weaner Stress in Piglets

Related blog articles:
Making Yogurt
Makin Gurt
Yogurt Mygurt Easygurt

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Tiny Cottage: 65°F/62°F

Daily Spark: Does a bear shit in the woods? Not if the Agency of Natural Resources can help it!

Dry matter is the standard for how diets are measured for simplicity and because knowing the dry matter weight of each type of food in diet you can then calculate everything else about the diet such as energy, calories, proteins, etc.

About Walter Jeffries

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12 Responses to Improved Feed Digestibility via Probiotics

  1. Dan Moore says:

    Thanks for sharing that information Walter. I’m not in touch with the sources you reference so I wouldn’t have seen this otherwise. Great information.

  2. Mark Payne says:

    I’m sure the factory farms are already looking into a corn based pellet that will give their pigs that….

  3. David Davidson says:

    One of the things am always so improssed by walt is how fine your pigs look. You have hundreds maybe thousands of pics of them over the corse of many years and they just look so great. Pics of them eating hay and grass and grazing and all that sort of stuff. It isnt just one pic but so many thru all the seasons and over so many years that makes the point that what you do works. Hearing there are now scientists out there now recognizing that the way you do it works just is icing on the cake for you I bet! Proof in the pooding shall we say!

  4. Jenny Carpenter says:

    Have you ever considered that maybe you also have something in the land? I read about terriers they associate with grapes growing in certain places and theres some cind of onions that grows in a place that makes them taste just right and they never come out right grown else whers from the same seeds. Could be one of those things like maybe you have certain minerals or plants in your area that make things work better and if someone were somewher where they didnt have the right minerals in the soil then animals would n’t do well.

    • That’s a very good additional point and why it is important to get a soil test so one knows what minerals are available in the local soils and what may be deficient. Of particular interest with livestock, and pigs specifically, is iron and selenium. Many places are low in one or the other. We’re fortunate to have good levels of both and all other minerals. We also have high levels of copper – we’re over a copper ore vein that runs through these mountains. Many forages bring important minerals up from deep down for the animals to eat.

  5. Cynthia L. Durham says:

    I don’t know who ever came up with idea to feed pigs only grain, but they sure didn’t tell my pigs about it! It’s early spring here after a hard winter. My pigs are grazing like cows!! Every bit of green they can cram in seems to be what they’re craving. They eat their grain, of course, but they also get plenty of time every day to go graze the grass! I’m no scientist, but I do think when I get enough milk I’ll try the yogurt routine. In the meantime, I’m was already sharing the goats’ Chaffhaye with the pigs, which is a fermented alfalfa product. They enjoy that too, but they sure are glad the grass has returned to green.

  6. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Walter, Cynthia’s comment sparked a thought. I’m sure you’ve read Louis Bromfield’s Malabar Farm and Pleasant Valley. My copies have been boxed for over twenty years, so I don’t recall in which he discussed free range swine. (They used a swamp on Malabar Farm, something I’m sure the current EPA would forbid) and fed chopped, silaged green corn with the grain ears included.) In New Mexico, outside Las Cruces, I saw immense silage operations where they used plastic tubing laid in long pits (think a third the diameter of your new “greenhouse”) enabling them to take their very seasonal green yield and use it for dairy feed year round.
    Seems to me a fine way to use field crops or even mowings to route nutrition to pigs. Not as efficient as your warm season pastures, but for folks with cropland or unfenced grassland, maybe an onsite source of winter feed.

  7. Michael Pratt says:

    Hi. I have become 100% intrigued with all of this. Pigs on pastuee…eating hay….ect. My wife and I are new to all of this but want to get moving forward with pigs and other livestock as well.

    We just bought a 10 acre farm with about 6 of it being tilled land. I am planting a hay feild here very soon and my head still spins at all the hay possibilities. I would then like to turn hay feild into pasture.

    So my question would be…..if there was the perfect hay/pasture mix to plant for pigs, what would that be?

    Thank you. And love this site. I have shared you link many times to people that tell me I can’t pasture pigs.

    We live in southern Michigan.

    • Hay and pasture are two competing uses for the same land. We use our rough mountain land which is stoney and stumpy for pasture because the animals move between the obstacles very easily. Our winter hay comes from better land that is not good for cropping corn but is great for growing hay. Varying potentials that compete. If we pasture on the hay fields then we can’t grow that hay to feed the animals during the winter. Your climate will be similar to ours – that is to say you will want a source of pasture through the winter which is hay grown in the summer. The lesson here being to keep in mind that one use conflicts with another use. If you have six acres of good hay field I would hay that if I could keep the animals grazing on the other four acres.

      As with everything, ease into it slowly. Get two to four pigs or so and raise them up over the coming warm season, the easy season. Get infrastructure in place, a perimeter fence, water, wallow, paddock divisions and shelter, etc. Learn about the pigs and what it takes to do them. Develop some contacts for selling the first batch of pork. Find out what your state laws are like. All of these are parts of the plan that need to be figured out. Once you’ve done an easy season do an hard season, winter. Grow slowly.

      As to pasture planting, we plant:
      soft grasses (bluegrass, rye, timothy, wheat, etc);
      legumes (alfalfa, clovers, trefoil,vetch, ect);
      brassicas (kale, broccoli, turnips, etc);
      millets;
      amaranth;
      chicory; and
      other forages and herbs.

      Exactly what varieties will depend on your local climate and soils. Your local agricultural extension may have some suggestions for forage species based on cattle which could be a good place to start and then add more legumes and other things. I avoid the grasses and such that turn toxic with drought, frost or other stress as they make our management system too complex.

      I prefer perennials or things that self-reseed. Some things labeled as annuals are actually perennials in our climate because we get early snows that protect their roots over the winter – e.g., kale, broccoli, etc.

      In our winter paddocks we plant during the warm months things like pumpkins, sunflowers, sunchokes, beets, mangels, sugar beets, etc. These provide food for the animals the following fall and winter. Again remember that land can be used for one thing or another at any time – competing uses.

      Seed companies we buy from: Johnny’s, Hancock, High Mow, Bakers and a couple of others I’m not thinking of at the moment.

      • Michael Pratt says:

        That is some great information, thank you very much.

        I am planting at least 2 acres hay right now…with in weeks. I am considering doing all 6 and then making a couple pastures out of 4 or so acres of the “hay field”. Obviously leaving 2 or so as hay. And maybe rotate all over the years. Hay will also be used for sheep and goat that we will be getting.

        Anything with pigs and will be on a small scale.

        My “other 4 acres” is house, 3 buildings, yard and smaller pasture – I put fenced in next to the barn that will be more for the sheep and goats.

        I really like the the idea of your winter paddock. I will absolutely mimic that.

        We do currently have 2 pigs that we are doing on commercial feed. We love those pigs…….but they will be slaughtered in the next couple months. Feeding on commercial feed is what has got me looking into other methods.

        I am actually thinking that I may not be able to be set up completely in coming months to get pigs for “on pasture”. But I should be more than ready by next year. We will see. Our plan is do just as you said and start “on pasture” with only 2-4 and learn what we can.

        Again, thank you so much for the response. VERY GOOD INFO!!!

        • Grain isn’t evil, just expensive. Starting with commercial hog feed is a very good way to get going because you have someone else, a nutritionist, figuring out the diet for you. That is part of what you pay for with the commercial feed: that they’ve figured the protein, calories, minerals and all that good stuff. Then as you gain experience and a keen eye for the animals’s health you’ll be able to start supplementing with more and more pasture and other things. It’s all balance. Don’t rush.

  8. Josanne says:

    We’ve been feeding our two gilts yogurt since they were small. They are growing so fast! They spend most of the day wandering in the pasture and they have free access to organic pig grower feed. Every morning I swing by our local little grocery store and they give us the almost-expired organic milk which I take home and mix in a big bucket with a bit of yogurt for starter. On warm days I set the bucket in our greenhouse and on cold days I set it behind the wood stove. It’s been a great money-saver AND we have happy pigs.

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