Feeding Barley

Grain Passing out in Manure

Amy asked:
We currently raise our pigs out on rotated pasture in the pacific Northwest. We have a local friend who mixes feed for us – its barley, wheat and peas with a mineral mix. We were allowing the pigs to self feed but I was told the boars and sows would get to0 big so we switched to hand feeding them. We give each of the breeding animals 7 lbs a day of this mix, plus grass hay and raw milk when we have it. We will have 5 Jersey cows in milk this Spring so we hope to cut back on the grain and mainly feed milk and hay. I didnt want to switch them drastically right now as 3 sows and 1 gilt are expecting. What are your thoughts about the amount of a grain mix to feed, especially sows who are expecting?

First thing, and I ask this not just for you but for everyone who is having feeds made up: Are you grinding, rolling, pelleting, soaked, boiled or roasting the barley, wheat and peas? Whole they are not very digestible for the pigs. Instead the whole barley wheat and peas simply pass through the pigs while the pigs starve.

This is on my mind because I recently met some pigs who were in this situation. Nine month old pigs who looked like they were five months old based on size. They were skinny. They had bad hair and skin. Their hooves were brittle. The give away was that their manure was filled with whole barley which is what they had been fed – shown in the photo above. Probably they were not able to get the nutrients out of the whole barley which resulted in the poor growth, low weight, skin, hair and hoof problems. The farmer was effectively throwing their money away and starving the pigs since they could not digest the whole barley. This resulted in some mighty expensive pigs.

This is the second time I’ve run into this. Another farmer I know told me that he bought a whole truck load of barley because it was cheap. But then when he fed it the grain went right through his pigs and they lost weight. He lost money on cheap feed twice over – once paying for the feed and twice with the loss of growing time in the pigs.

This is why I ask about how the grains were prepared for your pigs. Realize that the grain’s objective in life, similarly for fruit, is to tempt animals to eat them by having a high sugar/starch content. Animals eat the grain and fruit but the seeds pass through. In fruit’s case there is a lot to digest for the animal but in grain’s case unless the animal chews their food well or has some other way of pulping the grains they will just pass on through into the animal’s manure piles. The seeds love this as they get activated by the warm moist digestive tract and rich pile of dung where they subsequently grow. They grains use the technique of numbers – some of them will get chewed but many get passed through. Pig’s don’t chew much so they are not good candidates for feeding hard grains whole.

That aside, what you’re feeding is what I call candy. Like most other “candy” feeds such as the commercial hog feeds it is based on a mix of grains. Provided it is properly prepared the grain is very high in calories. If it is properly balanced then it will have the necessary protein. Ask the person you’re having mix the feed if they balanced the proteins. Minerals and vitamins must also be added to the mix. This is very important. You might also want to learn about Pearson’s Square.

My recommendation would be that if you’re going to feed candy then do so in the evening. Have the pigs eat pasture/hay and dairy all day long and then give them dessert at the end of the day.

In terms of transitioning from the grain to the pasture/hay and dairy I would suggest a two to three week period where you soak the grains in the milk to create something that is similar to what their digestive tract is used to while introducing the new feed. Add yogurt too.

Your pigs will also need to learn to eat pasture if they don’t already do this. Eating different things is part cultural and part having the right gut flora and fauna as well as genetics. Realize that pigs that were selected for high growth rates in the factory farms may have short intestines and just not work on pasture. Thus genetics can also play a role. This is why it is important to select the genetics in your herd for those who do well under the management and feed regimes you’ll be using. If one is buying piglets then get them from someone who raises them how you want to do it.

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15 Responses to Feeding Barley

  1. Amy says:

    Thanks so much for this detailed reply. Our feed is ground, 1/3 barley, 1/3 wheat, 1/3 peas with an excellent mineral and powdered garlic added. Do you find the same thing with chickens – can they digest whole grains? I am thinking I will sprinkle the feed over the hay to encourage our pigs to eat the hay- our large blacks eat it well, the others are not accustomed to it.

    Thanks again for advising those of us who are wanting to do right by our animals and also provide a high quality product as well.


    • The ground sounds good. Sprinkling it on the hay should help with transition. You might also try some molasses on the hay.

    • Bill Harshaw says:

      For what little it’s worth, 60 years ago we fed our hens “mash”, which was finely ground, whole oats (not much), and a grain mix which I remember had cracked corn, but possibly whole wheat. Of course, hens need need grit for their craws so they can handle the whole seeds.

  2. anrith says:

    oh god i have a confession to make. i made this mistake this year. i have been feeding whole organic barley and corn. i noticed that there poops were showing a lot of grain like in the photo but i thought it was just the husks. this explains why my pigs didnt gain like they should. i thought maybe they were worm filled so i gave them wormer and that didnt seem to help. i had thought i was saving money and giving them better food but now i realize why it wasnt working. i still have two bags of whole grain left. what can i do with those?

  3. Jim Curley says:

    I am growing several different varieties of peas this year for my pigs. Can they be fed fresh in the pods (and at the end of the harvest with the vines)? Or do I have to dry the peas and grind them.

    PS I can’t let the pigs graze them as I am growing on leased land. My pigs also get dairy and grain.


    Jim in SC

    • I have no experience with growing peas for feeding pigs. I have read that with soy it must be roasted. Not sure of peas. Looking in my book “Nontraditional feed sources for use in swine production” by Thacker & Kirkwood I see on page 185 that they suggest that uncooked field peas may be a problem. By the way, this is a good book. Expensive but worth reading.

  4. Jim Curley says:

    Thanks for the input. I know that soy must be roasted even for humans and that field peas and varieties of green peas can be eaten raw (sometimes it is hard to get my early Alaskans in the house as they are eaten by the pickers).

    I will take a look at getting the book you ref. I have read that cow peas (field peas) are often dried and ground for feed, but I just don’t know if they will pass through if not. Of course, I can do the experiment with the first peas I harvest!

    Thanks again.

  5. Benjamin Arlt says:

    Field peas can be fed up to 40% of the total diet in grower pigs. Please refer to:

    I feed field peas (ground fine or sprouted) and my hogs do quite well.

  6. mike clark says:

    Walter,i have recently read”harris on the pig”i was curious if you had read it.was written in late 1800s,excellent studies on feed,culling,and general pig care.if you haven’t read it drop me an email and I will mail you my copy,think you would really like his take,talk about full circle.

  7. When you say “soaked” are you saying soaked for 24 hours or are you meaning fermented whole grains? Last year I raised 3 mixed heritage breeds and used store bought, ground organic pig feed. I’m raising 3 “pink pigs” this year and I’m a little worried about their growth. I’ve been fermenting organic corn, field peas, oats and barley then adding flax, sunflower seeds and minerals just prior to feeding. What are your thoughts on fermented whole grains?

    • Soak to soften so they are easier to digest. You could ferment them if they’re live grains. I don’t do fermented grains so I can’t offer experience on that. I have heard of many people doing it. What I don’t like about it is the constant buying of the grain. Seed is cheaper than feed. I plant seed which becomes acres of feed. It does take adaptation to grazing and good rotational management to make it work properly. The color of the pig is not the issue but rather the line. See the article Classic Large White Sow which features a typical looking pink pig but she is from a long line of pigs on our farm that are adapted to thriving on pasture. That selection for those who thrive in your conditions with your feed and your climate is key.

  8. Gerald Ridgway says:

    Hi is the 1/3 barley wheat and peas plus minerals good for all size of pigs and what are your back fat levels like for marketing. Thank Gerald

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