Why Should I Use or Not Use Forage?

One of the most important reasons that a small scale producer would consider utilizing forage would be to save on grain and protein costs. Since most forages contain more protein than do grains, savings can be realized in both protein and grain costs.

Forage can simplify the feeding and management of the breeding herd.  Sows on good quality pasture can be fed less often and with a smaller amount of concentrate.  Sows appear more content when the diet contains a significant amount of forage, compared to limit-fed sows that receive only 4-5 pounds of concentrate each day.

The fiber content of forage can reduce constipation problems during late gestation and early lactation. Feeder pigs on starter diets with increased fiber levels experience fewer diarrhea problems. Sows on pasture tend to have fewer health problems.

There are some potential problems with forages for hogs. Fresh forages are low in dry matter. This means the pig must consume more material to receive the same amount of nutrients found in grain. Therefore, forages are less practical for pigs less than 40 pounds and sows in lactation. Also, many forages, especially pasture, are only available part of the year. This means that feeding programs may need to be modified from one season to the next. Pastures can experience a build-up of parasites and bacterial contamination over time, especially if grazing is not rotated.  

Be aware that feed value of pasture can be over-estimated due to losses from wastage due to trampling and rooting. This is especially true in the spring and fall.  Optimal savings from forages can only be realized with good management. 

And finally, hogs housed in a pasture setting get more exercise and therefore have higher energy requirements. Sows may require more feed in this setting and market hogs may gain more slowly than those in pens or enclosed facilities.