I write this post as a result of a online conversation. A conversation that was kicked off by this article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal
which looks at the possible role feed may play in the spread of a new disease in the US swine heard. As a producer, it seems like a pretty reasonable article on the current situation in the pig business related to a virus known as PED-V. Several questions coming out of that discussion were basically, "So what is in pig feed?" "How would I know?" And of course, "Should I be concerned?"
These all seemed like pretty sensible questions that I, a pig farmer, should be able to answer. I now realize that I know answers to some of these questions or maybe I should say I know some of the answer to all these questions. As I conversed, I came to understand that some part of these answers just gets a bit too academic for me. So let me share the part I do know.
Pig feed, in my commercial setting (I will see about 25,000 pigs this year), is made from three main things. Corn, soybean meal, and a product called a "premix". These three ingredients are blended together in various proportions to make numerous "rations" or "phases". Each "ration" and "premix" is professionally formulated by a nutritionist to meet the pigs dietary needs for a particular "phase" in the pigs life. When I need feed I call a feed supplier (a feed milling company) and they use these formulations to prepare the requested feed, then they deliver it to my farm. Here is a video of feeding newly weaned pigs. Feeding newly weaned pigs.
|pigs are 21-24 days of age when weaned|
Think about your children as they grow. They grow through various growth "phases" and you as a good parent attempt to adjust their meals "rations" to recognize the changing dietary needs your children have. Your baby gets breast milk or formula. Then there is a transition time (which can be challenging for everyone) to solid food. The contents of that solid food change as the quantity being consumed increases. You notice your child having growth spurts where they seem to eat everything in the house, then they slow down. In the teen years, at least for my boys, they ate constantly. So mom adjusted what was in the house to be eaten. And so on it goes on through life.
This is the big picture of what is being done with the three ingredients in pig feed. Now to the online conversation and the Wall Street Journal
So how does this work?
Here is the process.
I have pigs that need feed.
In my case I buy young pigs that have just been weaned from their birth mother's at the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure
. They are about 21-24 days of age and weigh 12-18 #. They arrive on a semi truck to my barns after a 4 hour ride. Here is a 5 minute video my daughter made of how we wean baby pigs
I call the feed milling company and tell them what "phase/ration" is needed and how many tons I want. They mill and deliver the request then send me a bill.
Feed arrives on my farm from the feed mill in a semi truck and is put in these bins. Each delivery comes with paperwork that is placed in the mailbox. This paperwork allows me to know what is in the bins. Which ration. Which bin. What is in the ration. What day. Where it was mixed. And many other things. The paperwork allows for trace back should some question arise at a later date about what the pigs where feed etc.
|Bins for pig feed/mailbox for paperwork|
The paperwork that comes with a load of pig feed looks like this. There are three pieces of paper. The center white one identifies the ingredients in the ration. The yellow one on the left is the "pick ticket" which tells the driver which rations are in which compartment of the trailer and where they go when they arrive on my farm. The yellow sheet on the right is the scale receipt that ultimately generates my bill. Maybe I ordered 24 tons of feed but the system actually manufactured 48,230# of feed. Life is that way. I get billed for 48230# of feed.
|Standard paperwork with a load of pig feed|
For this discussion it is the white paper that details the ingredients in a particular ration that is of interest. Below is the label for the first ration my newly weaned pigs will receive. They will eat this feed for 3-4 days and will each get about 2# of it.
This particular ration is named "Prestart 12/15 Pellet MX" which means this is a feed to be used as feed in advance (pre) of starting the pigs on ground feed and it is designed for pigs weighing from 12-15 pounds. It is a pellet type feed, as opposed to a ground meal or mash, and that it is medicated (MX).
All of this is explained in greater detail in the fine print. I describe the medication side of this in this blog about medications in pig feed.
Note: some of this gets down to PPM = parts per million
|this tag states clearly what is in the feed my pigs are eating|
The next picture shows the bottom of the same tag where the ingredients are listed. This is where my education starts to fall short and I am depending on the professional swine nutritionist and the research community to formulate a proper feed. The nutritionist is using all the research he can find (much of it from the land grant colleges of the US), his experience, and his knowledge of the laws and regulations from FDA and others to put this formula together. I don't know particularly, what all these things are but you can see that Animal Protein Products, Animal Plasma, and Animal Fat are all listed. This is the product that the Wall Street Journal
article was discussing. Here is a link to a paper that describes the Plasma Product
in greater detail in layman's language. Please read it at least far enough to realize that the Plasma is reducing the need for antibiotics by boosting immune systems and increasing feed intakes (reducing dietary stress).
"The globulin proteins are commonly called “immunoglobulins”, and they are responsible for enhancing immunity in the recipient animal."
Having an "enhanced immunity" would mean reducing antibiotic usage, and that seems like a good use of the product.
|Ingredient list and feeding instructions|
The next tag is for the second ration the pigs will be fed. This will be their first ground (not a pellet or mash) feed. It is corn, soybean meal, and a premix. It is the last antibiotic these pigs will see before slaughter in 5 months unless there is some specific disease outbreak. Again I refer you to my blog post on medications in pig feed
|feed tag for ground feed ration|
From my online conversation, I am aware that these ingredient lists can be seen as quite scary and some are quite opposed to parts of this. I would remind you that there is absolutely no reason a company or myself would be putting anything in a feed that we thought might harm the pigs or the consumer that is eventually going to put that pork on their dinner table. That would be shooting ourselves in the foot. I will close with this humorous clip by Penn and Teller and a discussion of Dihydrogen Monoxide
I am very grateful for the really smart people in agriculture that work tirelessly to come up with innovative ways to put food on our plates that is safe, wholesome, and as environmentally friendly as possible.