Feed costs represent 65% to 75% of the variable costs of swine production. As a result, feed costs play a major role in determining the profitability of a swine enterprise.

While corn and soybean meal are the main ingredients for supplying energy and protein to swine in Ontario, there are many suitable less costly alternatives that can meet nutritional requirements.

The purpose of this fact sheet is to provide an overview of some basic swine ration considerations and provide nutrient values for a variety of ingredients that can be fed to pigs.

Price relationships

Price relationships can vary greatly depending on seasonal variability, and global and local markets. To supply a nutritionally balanced diet at a minimal cost, pork producers and nutritionists must be able to evaluate the cost effectiveness and nutritional value of various feed ingredients.

Least-cost computer ration formulation programs are available to design rations that will meet the animal’s nutritional requirements for the least cost. Feed manufacturers and large farms can effectively use these programs because they can purchase and maintain large inventories of a number of ingredients.

Even producers who do not have the storage or processing facilities for large quantities of ration ingredients should be aware of feeding alternatives and possible ingredient substitutions that may improve profitability.

Energy and protein are the main nutrient components in a swine ration. Grains such as corn, barley, wheat and oats have traditionally supplied energy, while protein has come from meals produced from oilseeds such as soybean. Feed ingredients also supply essential vitamins and minerals to the pig.

Alternative feeds

Many alternative feeds useful in swine rations are byproducts of the food industry. These are termed “recycled food products,” and they are regularly used in manufactured feed to provide required nutrients at a reduced cost. Many of the byproducts from these processes are approved as single ingredient feeds in the federal Feeds Act and Regulations governed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) (list of approved feed ingredients) and can readily substitute for a portion of the energy or protein supply in a complete feed.

The CFIA has restrictions on recycled feed products related to meat, spent cooking oils, degraded and contaminated products. Any product that contains or has come into contact with meat or meat byproducts is not approved by the CFIA as a feed ingredient unless it has been processed in an approved manner. It is important to note that a farm may have additional constraints on ingredient use if enrolled in certain programs such as Organic or Ractopamine Free programs. Ensure that any ingredient you feed is approved by the CFIA as well as any certification program your farm participates in before feeding.

Alternative feeds can be used to provide a portion of the energy or protein in swine rations. The appropriate amount to use will depend on:

  • cost
  • nutrient availability (amount × digestibility)
  • quality of protein
  • amino acid profile
  • palatability
  • presence of anti-nutritional factors
  • storage life
  • age of the pig for which the feed is intended

The following are some considerations when formulating swine rations.


Cost is one of the most difficult factors to determine when considering the use of alternative feeds.

A producer must take into account the amount of nutrients supplied by the replacement feed. This can be extremely difficult since most ingredients cannot be directly compared due to:

  • differences in nutrient content
  • variability in digestibility of those nutrients

A good feed formulation program will account for these factors and allow rations to be formulated to meet the needs of the pig.

It is important to note that the ultimate cost of any ration change must also take other factors into consideration such as:

  • impact on animal growth and carcass quality
  • transportation
  • special processing needs
  • storage

Energy content

Approximately 50% or more of the cost of feed can be attributed to providing energy (calories) to the pig, so it is important to not under- or over-supply energy in diets.

When formulating rations for pigs, it is common to use the digestible energy (DE) or net energy (NE) systems.

The main difference between these two systems is that NE accounts for the amount of heat (or energy) lost by the animal from the digestion/absorption/deposition processes needed to turn the feed into protein and fat.

Some ingredients are much harder for the animal to digest (such as high-fibre ingredients), whereas others are easier (such as fats). For hard-to-digest ingredients, the DE system overestimates the amount of energy available, but the NE system corrects for this and provides a more accurate representation of what the animal can actually use for metabolic processes, growth and reproduction.

The use of the NE system for formulating diets becomes extremely important when using alternative feed ingredients, to ensure animal needs are met and least-cost diets are produced.

Protein quality

Protein quality refers to the amino acid content of the feed ingredient.

Since lysine is the most limiting essential amino acid in corn-soybean meal-based rations, it is important that lysine be considered when valuing replacement feeds.

For example, corn gluten and wheat contain a high level of protein relative to the amount of lysine. If a ration was prepared with these ingredients based solely on the protein concentration, the pigs would not be provided with sufficient lysine to support optimum performance. As a result, rations for swine should be balanced according to the level of lysine, instead of crude protein.

Nutrient availability (digestibility)

Nutrient availability, or digestibility, is the extent to which a nutrient within an ingredient can be used by a pig.

Digestibility of a nutrient is often reported at an apparent level and a standardized level. It is best to use standardized levels when formulating diets, as they are more accurate.

Feed ingredients that are high in fibre have lower digestibility values compared to other ingredients. Table 1 shows the basic nutrient content and availability for a wide variety of ingredients that can be included in swine rations.

SID is the standardized ileal digestible (percentage of the total that is digestible by the animal).

STTD is the standardized total tract digestibility (percentage of the total that is digestible by the animal).

Table 1. Nutrient composition of ingredients for swine on a dry matter basis
Feed ingredientDry matter (DM) (%)Digestible energy (DE) (kcal/kg)Net energy (NE) (kcal/kg)Crude protein (CP) (%)Total lysine (%)SID lysine (%)Crude fibre (CF) (%)Ether extract (EE) (%)Total P (%)STTD of P (%)
Alfalfa meal92.31,83089716.30.745625.01.70.3055
Bakery meal90.74,3003,20012.50.42610.85.80.6225
Barley, hulless89.63,2662,46412.80.51651.13.20.3636
Beet pulp, dried88.92,9101,6607.90.515017.20.80.1060
Blood plasma92.04,5462,50677.86.90870.82.01.2898
Brewer’s grains, dried92.02,1001,15526.51.088014.24.70.5839
Canola meal93.13,2731,89037.52.077410.53.21.0832
Corn, high moisture67.03,8903,0406.20.28801.82.60.3128
Corn distillers, dried grains with solubles (6%–9% oil)89.33,5822,34327.40.90618.98.90.6065
Corn distillers, high protein91.24,0402,34245.41.22697.33.50.3673
Corn distillers, solubles87.83,3252,31218.70.80584.912.11.24N/A
Corn gluten feed87.12,9902,04317.40.63667.14.20.7832
Corn gluten meal90.04,1332,46458.30.93810.74.70.4947
Corn grits, hominy feed87.53,3552,5749.10.38713.27.40.7334
Faba beans88.13,2452,14327.21.65858.61.30.4236
Fat, beef tallow100.07,9956,8950.00.0000.00.00.000
Fat, choice white grease100.08,2907,1490.00.0000.00.00.000
Fat, corn oil100.08,7547,5490.00.0000.00.00.000
Fat, soybean oil100.08,7497,5450.00.0000.00.00.000
Field peas88.13,5042,41922.21.63856.21.20.4256
Fish meal, combined93.73,9582,35163.34.56860.29.72.9382
Flaxseed meal90.23,0601,83033.31.19779.26.50.8728
Meat and bone meal95.23,3031,96150.12.59732.59.25.2670
Meat meal96.13,4522,01056.43.20782.311.13.1686
Milk, dried skim94.63,9802,69536.82.42940.00.91.0698
Milk, dried whey97.23,4942,70411.60.88970.10.80.6992
Milk, dried whole96.05,1503,90024.41.97890.024.00.7790
Oats, hulless91.84,1263,16414.70.56902.210.70.38N/A
Soybean meal, 44%88.83,6812,14843.92.76886.61.20.6448
Soybean meal, 48%90.03,6192,08747.72.96893.91.50.7148
Soybeans, roasted92.44,1932,87437.62.23814.120.20.5348
Wheat, hard red spring88.73,3132,47214.50.39822.61.80.3956
Wheat, soft red winter86.43,4502,59510.90.358211.51.40.3056
Wheat bran87.42,4201,64615.10.52737.84.70.9956
Wheat middlings89.13,0752,11315.80.6578<
Wheat shorts87.92,9852,07416.80.5976<

References for nutrient values: NRC 2012, INRAE-CIRAD-AFZ Feed Tables 2021, Pork Information Gateway.

Anti-nutritional factors

An anti-nutritional factor is any factor in a feed ingredient that interferes with nutrient digestibility. These may include trypsin inhibitors, tannins, lectins or glucosinolates.

For example, raw whole soybeans contain a trypsin inhibitor. As a result, they must be heat processed or they will cause a decrease in performance due to decreased protein digestibility and absorption.


Palatability is the term used to describe the extent to which a pig likes to eat a feed ingredient or ration. As pigs grow older, flavor preferences change, just as they do in humans.

Pigs, in fact, have more taste buds than humans (15,000 compared to 9,000) so flavours, or off-flavours, can have an impact on what feed alternatives are feasible.

For example, dried whole milk is very palatable in pig rations, while triticale has poor palatability at high inclusion levels.

Inclusion rate

Inclusion rate will vary for ingredients depending on palatability, nutrient availability, protein quality, nutrient interrelationship, and the method of processing and feeding. See Table 2.

If the ingredient is fed above suggested maximum inclusion rates, animal performance and pork quality may be compromised. Working with a nutritionist to ensure a balanced diet will limit over-feeding of specific ingredients.

Table 2. Factors affecting inclusion rate of feed ingredients for swine
Feed ingredientFactors affecting inclusion rate
Alfalfa mealhigh fibre content; low energy; good source of carotene and B vitamins; low digestibility; unpalatable to baby pigs, better suited for older pigs
Bakery waste, driedvariable in nutrient content depending on the proportion of bread, cakes, dough, tarts or pies; high in energy; similar to corn in protein and lysine content; salt content can be high
Barleyhigher fibre and lower digestibility than corn
Beet pulp, driedhigh fibre content; low digestibility; acts as a laxative
Brewer’s grains, driedhigh fibre content; low energy; low lysine; source of B vitamins
Canola mealhigher fibre than soybean meal; less palatable to younger pigs; primary protein source in Western Canada
Cornhigh energy; low lysine; high digestibility; palatable
Corn, high moisturehigher moisture content (28% vs. 15% for dry); low lysine; diet should be balanced on a dry matter basis
Corn distillers, dried grains with solubles (6–9% oil)high fibre; high fat; low lysine; bulky; source of B vitamins
Corn distillers, high proteinhigh protein with moderate lysine content
Corn distillers, dried solublesexcellent source of B vitamins; better balance of amino acids than other distillers products
Corn gluten feedlow lysine; high fibre; low energy; variable nutrient content; unpalatable; bulky
Corn gluten meallow lysine; low fibre content; variable nutrient content
Corn hominyhigher fibre and protein than corn; may contain higher energy if fat is not removed
Faba beanshigh fibre content; anti-nutritional factors; low vitamin content
Fathigh energy; useful for dust control; will go rancid if not stabilized with an antioxidant
Fish mealvariable nutrient content depending on the source; high in lysine, methionine, calcium and phosphorus; high inclusion can result in fishy flavour in pork
Flaxseedrich source of omega-3 fatty acids and lignans
Flaxseed mealreasonably high protein with moderate lysine content; total phosphorus is high but digestibility is low; not readily available in North America
Lupins, sweet whitehigh fibre content; anti-nutritional factors; low availability of lysine
Meat mealhigh in lysine, calcium and phosphorus; variable protein quantity and quality; lower digestibility and availability of protein than to soybean meal
Milk, skim or whole (dried)high quality protein; very palatable; highly digestible; high lysine content; expensive
Oatshigh fibre, low energy
Oats, hullesslow lysine; palatable; variable protein content; expensive
Field peaslow levels of anti-nutritional factors; variable protein content; good amino acid profile; low in methionine
Ryesimilar to wheat in nutrient content; susceptible to ergot contamination; anti-nutritional factors; dusty and unpalatable if ground too finely
Soybean mealwith (44%) or without (48%) hulls; good amino acid balance in combination with corn; palatable
Soybeans, roastedhigher energy and lower protein than soybean meal; can cause undesirable after-taste in pork at high inclusion
Sucrosevery palatable; very digestible; increases feed intake
Triticalehigh protein and lysine content compared to corn; large variation in nutrient content between varieties; some varieties have anti-nutritional factors and poor palatability
Wheat, hard red springlower in energy than corn; similar to corn in digestibility and palatability; higher protein but similar lysine to corn; dusty and unpalatable if ground too finely
Wheat, soft white winterhigher in energy than corn; similar to corn in digestibility, palatability and protein; dusty and unpalatable if ground too finely
Wheat branvariable protein content; high fibre; low energy; low digestibility; acts as a laxative
Wheat middlings and shortscompared to corn — higher in protein and lysine; similar in energy; digestible; palatable
Whey, dried or liquidgood quality protein; dry product can be expensive; feeding liquid whey increases manure volume by 2 to 3 times

Nutrient variability

Nutrient variability refers to the variation in nutrient content of different samples of a given ingredient.

Many alternative feeds such as bakery waste are extremely variable in their nutrient content. This variability makes it more difficult to ensure that the ration is properly balanced.

Repeated testing of samples can be useful in assessing nutrient variability in a given feed ingredient.

Read the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ (OMAFRA) fact sheet Nutrient testing for more information on sampling and testing procedures.


Stability is the extent to which a nutrient or feed ingredient will remain intact in its original form.

For example, vegetable oils that are not stabilized with an antioxidant will go rancid quickly. Rancid oils are very unpalatable and will compromise feed intake.


Additional information can be found in these documents:

This fact sheet was reviewed and updated by Laura Eastwood, swine specialist, and Michelle Linington, acting feed ingredient and by-product specialist, OMAFRA.