Who doesn’t love a good pork chop, bacon or ham? Pork is an nutritious part of a balanced diet. People eat pork to make sure they get adequate amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals along with a delicious meal. However, a lot of work has to happen before the pork hits your plate to ensure that the meat you eat will be high quality, safe and nutritious.
For pigs to produce good quality pork, they need to eat a balanced diet, just like humans do. In fact, pig and human digestive systems aren’t all that different. They’re both monogastrics, meaning they have one simple stomach that digests carbohydrates particularly well. That means that pigs require many of the same nutrients that humans do: carbohydrates, proteins, fat, and vitamins and minerals. Just like humans, the nutrient requirements of the pig will differ during different parts of its lifecycle, making the job of a swine nutritionist an important one!
As humans, we consult doctors and nutritionists to understand what to eat to stay and live healthy. To best care for pigs, veterinarians and nutritionists can decide on the best diet for them. To help break down the job of a swine nutritionist and explain to students what hogs eat, IALF has a great lesson plan that allows students to go hands-on with STEM and explore the feed components by creating a representative feed mix. The Feed Sacks lesson breaks down the feed components like this:
Carbohydrates: Hogs get much of the energy from carbohydrates. Humans eat grains like pasta and rice, but hogs eat oats, corn, wheat, and milo. Carbohydrates provide most of the hog’s daily calories and therefore make up a large portion of the diet. Students will weigh out oat cereal and corn nuts as the base for their feed mix.
Protein: Proteins are made up of amino acids, and hogs have requirements for a variety of amino acids. Hogs get many of these amino acids from cereal grains, but are often lacking in lysine, tryptophan, and threonine, which are essential amino acids. Often, hogs will be fed soybean meal to satisfy the needs for specific amino acids and protein. Students will weigh out soy nuts and discover that the protein-packed soybeans are much denser than the carbohydrate components.
Fat – Just like humans, hogs need a small amount of fat in their diet for energy. Hogs can get the fat they need from grains, but there can also be benefits of adding fat to the diets of hogs in some life cycle stages. Farmers have to be sure that fat additives like soybean and coconut oil provide an improvement in pig performance that will pay for itself at harvest. Adding fats can also make handling feedstuffs difficult and change the quality of the pork. In the Feed Sack lesson, students will count out white chocolate chips to see how little fat is required in a hog’s diet.
Vitamins & Minerals: Pigs don’t take multivitamins like humans do, so their needs for vitamins and minerals have to be met as a part of their feed ration. Vitamins A and D and riboflavin, among others, can be added to a pig’s diet. Minerals that are commonly added to hog feed rations include calcium, phosphorus, zinc, iron and sodium. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for healthy metabolic function and tissue growth, healthy bones and teeth, blood clotting and muscle contraction. Students are challenged to count out 10 Nerds candies that represent the vitamins and minerals that are so important for healthy hogs.
Science and math play big roles in mixing the correct rations for healthy hogs. Farmers and nutritionists have to work together to ensure that the needs of every hog are being met. Agriculture engineers play a role in creating technologically advanced equipment for hog barns like augers and conveyor systems that deliver high quality feed directly to the hogs. Clearly, science, technology, engineering and math play a big role in the feeding of hogs. IALF’s Feed Sacks Lesson is a great way to introduce the components of a hog (and human) diet and potential careers in agriculture, all while creating a great October Pork Month snack!