Iowa is famous for raising corn, soybeans, eggs (chickens), and…pigs! The state is one of the top swine producers in the country raising more than 20 million pigs at any one time. Each year, Iowa markets more than 49 million pigs according to the 2012 USDA census. Total cash receipts in 2013 exceeded $7.5 billion. So it is kind of a big deal. And who doesn’t love bacon?
Pigs, also called hogs or swine, were among the first animals to be domesticated. This may have happened as early as 7000 B.C. Most of the pigs in the United States are produced in Midwestern states like Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and Nebraska. That is because of the availability of food like corn and soybeans for the pigs to eat. North Carolina also is a huge swine producing state.
Real quick…here are some basic terms that you might hear when discussing pigs.
Barrow – a neutered male pig
Boar – a mature male pig that can reproduce
Farrow – to give birth to a litter of piglets
Finished – ready for market (approximately 275 lbs.)
Gilt – a young female pig, usually under 12 months of age
Litter – a group of piglets born at the same time by the same sow
Piglet – a young pig
Sow – a female pig that has given birth to a litter
Wean – to remove a piglet from it mother’s milk and give it solid food to eat
One hog consumes approximately 9 to 10 bushels of corn (~560 pounds) and 1 to 2 bushels (~100 pounds) of soybeans from birth to market. As the pig grows, all of that corn and soybean feed helps keep the animal happy and healthy turning into lean muscle. The primary goal is a lean animal for human consumption, but manure is an important by-product, too! Approximately 10 finishing pigs can provide enough manure to provide nutrients for one acre of cropland!
Pigs are known as monogastrics, which means they have only one stomach, just like humans. Young piglets will drink their mother’s milk until they are 16-22 days old. Once they are weaned from their mother, they are fed a diet primarily made up of ground corn and soybeans. The corn is a carbohydrate and supplies the nutrients needed for heat and energy. Soybean meal provides them the protein they need to build muscle. Vitamins and minerals are also included in their feed ration. An animal nutritionist will work closely with the pig farmer to create a balanced diet for the pigs to grow strong and healthy. Check out our lesson plan on pig feed rations here.
Scientists are working hard to figure out how to ensure pigs stay healthy with their diet. They also work to figure out how to increase feed efficiency. One project that the USDA is overseeing is probiotics for pigs. Humans might eat yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles or other foods that have live cultures of bacteria. Some of these bacteria are good for your digestive system and help keep you healthy. Pigs are the same in that they need a healthy digestive system. So one USDA research project is probiotics for pigs. A healthy digestive system increases the feed efficiency and allows pigs to turn more of the corn and soybeans they eat into lean muscle.
There are many different breeds of pigs. The Yorkshire is one of the most common, although many farmers raise cross-bred animals to achieve high quality in their final product. Yorkshire pigs are white with erect ears. They are known for their muscle, with a high proportion of lean meat and low back fat.
Durocs (the red ones with the drooping ears) are the second most popular breed. The are valued for their product quality, carcass yield, fast growth, and lean-gain efficiency. They also have very prolific females that have a long lifespan.
Berkshire are usually black in color and have very fast and efficient growth. They are efficient in reproducing. They are known for their meat flavor.
Other popular breeds include the Spotted, the Landrace, the Poland China, the Hampshire, the Chester White, and the Tamworth. Each is has positive characteristics depending on what you are trying to achieve. The Landrace are really long animals and might provide an extra cut or two of the loin. The Tamworth is known for outstanding flavor in bacon.
Pork is the meat that comes from a hog. People eat many different pork products such as bacon, sausage, pork chops, and ham. Even pepperoni (like on pizza) is a pork product! Pepperoni is the most popular pizza topping in the United States. A 265-pound market hog will provide approximately 160 pounds of pork in various cuts.
In addition to meat, pigs also provide humans with other products including valves for human hearts, suede for shoes and clothing, and gelatin for food. Pig by-products also help make water filters, insulation, rubber, antifreeze, plastics, floor waxes, chalk, adhesives, crayons, fertilizer, glue, brushes, buttons, and more.
Iowa has more than 6,200 hog operations. These operations employ more than 40,000 Iowans in the day-to-day care of hogs. But there are loads of other jobs that part of the swine industry as well. Truckers, veterinarians, scientists, processors, genetic specialists, and meat cutters are just a few of the many careers in the swine industry. So the pig industry in Iowa is kind of a big deal.
**Some content re-purposed from Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.