What makes a good pet pig diet?
Cathy (Zolicani) Corrigan, DVM
There are several factors that must be considered before selecting a diet for your small breed of pig. Our goal is to provide our pet pigs with superior nutrition for a long and disease-free life. We must consider the basic nutritional requirements of the pig, ease of production and storage, origin of ingredients, bioavailabiity, the energy needs of the pig, palatability, ease of feeding, price, and access to the product.
1. Basic nutritional requirements
The basic nutritional needs of our small breeds of pigs (for adults) include:
Protein % 13-16
Fat % 3.5
Fiber % 14
Calcium % 0.95
phosphorus % 0.80
Selenium ppm 0.48
Zn ppm 140
Vitamin A (IU/kg) 6000
Vitamin E (IU/kg) 180
Vitamin D (IU/kg) 1120
2. Ease of production and storage
A homemade diet with completely fresh ingredients would be ideal for all of us – but homemade diets that are balanced for a pig are time consuming, difficult to make, and expensive.
A pre-packaged diet, covering the basic nutritional needs, but supplemented with a variety of fresh foods and graze is a reasonable compromise. There are many pelleted diets available for pigs. Most of them cover the basic requirements, but many are produced for production pigs and may not meet our standards for a pet pig’s diet.
3. Origin of ingredients
This is when it begins to get complicated.
The larger food companies often buy ingredients on the commodity market…corn may be substituted for barley because corn is cheaper at that time. OR corn from China or Chile may be cheaper than locally grown corn. Care may not be taken to make sure the product is not contaminated with toxins (like the melamine contamination in dog foods causing kidney failure) or is not a GMO product.
The soil used to grow the ingredients may also be depleted of certain nutrients – either due to over use or because of the geography. The soil in the pacific northwest of the United States has almost no selenium or magnesium, so grains or hays grown in this area do not provide adequate levels of these nutrients when eaten.
Shelf life is a factor also – the longer the product stays on the shelf, the more nutrients leak out of the food due to oxidation. Contamination from moisture, mold, rodents, and bugs is also more likely.
This involves the ability of the pig to digest and absorb nutrients from the food. Some pigs do not have the digestive enzymes and intestinal flora to absorb nutrients. Foods that contain preservatives or have fewer nutrients are harder for these pigs to digest.
Fresher ingredients are usually, but not always, easier for a pig to digest. The more nutrient-dense a product is, the more likely that the pig will be able to utilize it. Production and preservation tend to dilute nutrients or render them unusable.
Another factor to bioavailability is the ratio of nutrients and their use in the body. The Calcium/Phosphorus ration of foods is critical, especially to young growing pigs, or to the elderly pigs, who may be developing bone disease. The dietary requirements of Calcium:Phosphorus should be 1.2 (Ca):1(phosphorus). Appropriate levels of Vitamin A and D must also be available to utilize these minerals properly. In addition, other foods can alter the metabolism. In a condition call bran sickness, too much wheat bran is fed. The wheat bran has a very large amount of phosphorus in it. The “overdose” of phosphorus causes the calcium to leach out of the bone, and the bones spontaneously fracture. This is called nutritional hyperparathyroidism or Nutritional Osteodystrophy.
5. Energy needs of the pig
Young, growing pigs need more food. Creep feeding (having food spread out in the pig enclosure for piglets to root and find – small amounts constantly available through the day) any diet is necessary for growing piglets.
Active pigs need more food than inactive pigs.
Obese pigs need less food (and more activity). These pigs still need a BALANCED diet, just less of the food.
If a pig will not eat the food, or if they eat only parts of it, but not the total diet, then they are not getting a balanced diet.
7. Ease of feeding
A dry packaged food is easy to feed, easy to store, easy to find and buy.
Large batch commercial foods are usually quite reasonably priced.
Small batch, local foods are more expensive, but often are more nutritious. They may be harder to find.
9. Access to the product.
Not much of an issue due to the internet. Except for handmade diets, which can be difficult.