September24 , 2022

Daily Diet, Treats, And Supplements For Pigs

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Daily Diet, Treats, And Supplements For Pigs

If you’re reading this resource, there are likely some special pig residents in your life who you’d like to provide the best possible care for! The compassionate lifelong care of pigs at animal sanctuaries starts with the food they’re provided. While obesity can be an issue for any pig, large breed pigs and potbellied pigs are especially prone to easy weight gain and a host of obesity-related health issues. Because of this, maintaining your pig residents at a healthy weight is an integral part of compassionate care. While pigs are all individuals who have their own preferences and needs, there are some general principles to consider regarding their physiology and nutritional needs. Unfortunately, when it comes to large breed pigs, most of the available nutrition information focuses on industry recommendations aimed at productivity and profitability, so it can be difficult to know exactly what diet is best for their long-term well-being. In this resource we’ll talk about the components of a healthy diet for mature pig residents (both large breed and “mini” pigs).

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Daily Food For Pigs

Pigs are foragers, and free-living pigs spend a good portion of their day traveling in search of food. When they are not foraging, they are typically resting. When foraging is not necessary (or possible), pigs are often less active and spend a larger portion of their day at rest than they otherwise would. Given their propensity for weight gain, finding ways to encourage activity, in addition to providing an appropriate diet, is important. Therefore, in addition to considering what to feed your pig residents, it’s also important to think about how to feed them.

A pig’s diet should consist of a complete diet pig food (we’re going to call these “pig pellets” throughout this resource, though they don’t necessarily have to be in a pelleted form), as well as forage and supplemental produce. Because of their love of eating and their propensity for weight gain, pig residents must have their portions managed to ensure they maintain a healthy weight.

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Pig Pellets

Part of your residents’ diet should consist of measured amounts of pig pellets. Whether you are feeding large breed pigs or “mini” pigs, we do not recommend using commercial pig food designed for large breed pigs, as these are not designed with the pigs’ best interest and needs in mind and are instead formulated to encourage rapid growth and weight gain. While each manufacturer has a different formula, these pellets are typically higher in protein (and sometimes fat) and are significantly lower in fiber than what is ideal for sanctuary pig residents. Commercial large breed pig pellets are intended to be fed in large quantities, often on a free-choice basis. Because rapid growth and weight gain are the ultimate goals, manufacturers don’t want the pig to fill up on fiber, as they will end up eating less. In a compassionate care setting, where the individual’s well-being is the focus, it’s important to balance a restricted diet not only with adequate nutrient intake, but also with a feeling of being satiated, so a higher fiber diet is recommended.

When considering the best formula for sanctuary pig residents, a high-quality “mini” pig food or a custom recipe are your best options. These can be offered dry or soaked in water to soften.

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Custom Recipes

If you are able to, having a custom food milled is a great option, especially if you care for large breed pigs, but this may not be practical for everyone. To ensure you are feeding the best food for your residents, we recommend working with a nutritionist and also getting your soil and water tested to determine what minerals, and in what quantities, should be added to the food. There are a few sanctuaries that use their own custom pellet with great success and that have shared their recipes with other sanctuaries in the past. Because these formulas have been designed specifically for the sanctuary’s residents, if you decide to use a custom recipe from another sanctuary or pig caregiver, we recommend working with your veterinarian or an experienced nutritionist to assess the nutritional content and adapt the recipe as needed to best meet the needs of your residents (based on soil and water testing, as well as the specific needs of your residents). As an added bonus, when using a custom recipe, you can talk to a nutritionist or your veterinarian about additions to support hoof health or address other concerns you may have.

Commercial “Mini” Pig Food

Unlike the commercial options available for large breed pigs, when it comes to “mini” pigs, there actually are multiple high-quality commercial pellets available designed with the individual’s well-being in mind. Given this fact, if the pigs in your care are “mini” pigs, using a high-quality commercial formula might make more sense than looking into a custom recipe, but if you care for a large number of residents, or have specific dietary concerns you are trying to address, you might opt for a custom pellet instead.

If you care for large breed pigs and find that using a custom pellet is not possible, using a high-quality “mini” pig pellet is a good option. Two brands that are often recommended by folks in the sanctuary community, both for large breed pigs and “mini” pigs, are Ross Mill Farm’s Champion Potbellied Pig Food and Mazuri Mini Pig Food (which offers different formulas based on the individual’s stage of life). There are other brands that offer comparable nutrition, so be sure to explore the options in your area.

Comparison Of Popular Pig Pellet Formulas

Below is a look at the protein, fat, and fiber content of a few popular “mini” pig formulas as well as a sample custom recipe that is used by multiple sanctuaries and was designed with a nutritionist as well as experienced veterinarians. While protein, fat, and fiber are not the only important nutrients in a pig’s diet, these are the levels that are often quite different from a commercial food designed for large breed pigs and can help you evaluate other “mini” pig food brands. Please keep in mind that recipes may change over time, so it’s good practice to look at the current nutritional analysis for any food you are considering.

Suggestions For Pig Pellet Storage

In addition to feeding a high-quality food, you must be sure to store the food properly to ensure your residents reap all the nutritional benefits. Food will keep best if kept in a cool, dry, dark place. All food, including unopened bags, should be stored in tightly-sealed metal cans or bins to prevent rodents from getting into food. If the recommended shelf life is not indicated on the food’s label, you can contact the manufacturer for this information, but be aware that the shelf life will be impacted by storage conditions. Storing food too long or in undesirable conditions can not only lead to rancid or moldy food, but can also cause food to become depleted of vitamins and minerals. You should never feed rancid or moldy food to pigs as it can make them very sick.

Forage

In addition to feeding quality pig pellets, pig residents should have access to forage. Supplementing your pig residents’ diet with grass hay and opportunities to forage can not only allow you to feed them smaller portions of pellets while keeping them satiated, it also honors who they are as foragers.

Pasture/ Woodland Vegetation

Whenever possible, it’s important to design outdoor spaces for your pig residents that offer foraging, grazing, and rooting opportunities, though we recognize that outdoor spaces and foraging opportunities will be impacted by your regional climate. While offering foraging opportunities is important because it is a natural pig behavior, providing healthy residents with ample foraging opportunities in a large, varied space has the added benefit of increasing activity levels. Activity, along with an appropriate diet, is key to preventing obesity. If possible, offering a mix of pasture and woods is ideal.

Grass offers a high-fiber addition to a pig resident’s diet which can help keep them satiated and promote a healthy digestive system. Pigs can tear up a pasture quickly, so it’s important to provide them with enough space so they don’t decimate the pasture and turn it into a mud pit. While pigs may avoid certain plants that are toxic to them, there’s also a chance that they will not, so be sure to remove those from their living spaces to eliminate the risk of ingestion. Depending on the make-up of your pasture’s vegetation, you may find that the plants your residents don’t like start to take over the pasture. Reseeding annually may be necessary.

The amount of forage available to your residents will affect the amount of pig pellets they require. Sanctuaries in climates where foraging opportunities vary greatly by season may find that they can reduce pellet portions when vegetation is plentiful- in some cases reducing the pellet portion size by 50%.

Grass Hay

Like fresh grass, grass hay offers a good source of fiber. Some sanctuaries feed grass hay to their pig residents year-round, while others offer it only during times when they do not have access to fresh grass or other vegetation. Be sure to offer a grass versus legume hay- legume hays are not a good choice because they are often lower in fiber and higher in calories, protein, and calcium than grass hay. Timothy or Bermuda grass hay is a better choice. Be sure to remove and replace hay if it becomes wet or soiled.

Supplemental Produce

Supplementing your pig residents’ diet with fresh produce will not only keep things interesting for residents, by offering high-fiber and low-calorie veggies, you can help make them feel more satiated. Pigs can eat some starchy vegetables, but these should be fed in moderation. While they can eat fruit, it’s best to limit foods that are high in sugar, so fruit is best thought of as a treat offered in smaller quantities than something like leafy greens.

Foods to consider including:

Leafy greens such as lettuces (not iceberg), Swiss chard, kale, spinach, or bok choy

Cucumbers

Summer squash varieties such as zucchini or yellow squash

Winter squash varieties such as butternut or pumpkin (canned pumpkin puree is also a good option)

Cooked sweet potatoes

Snow peas

Beets

Carrots

Bell pepper

Tomatoes

Cauliflower and broccoli (some prefer cooked)

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Apple (seeds contain amygdalin. Generally, large quantities would be needed in order to cause serious toxicity, but the amount depends on the size and weight of the individual. Seeds can be removed if you are concerned- especially if you are caring for very small pigs.)

Melons

Stone fruits- stone removed

Cherries- pit removed

Grapes

Bananas (peel does not need to be removed)

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