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Following the pig feed to the pork chop

June 29, 2016
Picture of feed and meat.
It is well known that feed costs represent the biggest input for producers — up to 70 percent of the production costs. Yet, without enough quality feed, producers can’t produce enough pigs of good condition and good weight. In other words, they won’t make money.
Converting quality feed to quality meat is what producers aim to do. But what is the process? How does a pig convert a grain-based diet into a delicious grilled tenderloin or pork chop?


It all starts in the pig’s mouth

To help with digestion of the nutrients, feed grains are ground into smaller particles before mixing with the other components of the final feed. All pig feed starts as mash feed — ground and mixed — but may be further processed into pellets or mixed with water for liquid feeding.
The starting point for the conversion of feed to food is the mouth of the pig, which may be the most important phase. Here, the feed is further broken down by the grinding action of the teeth and by natural chemical breakdown with salivary enzymes. Afterward, the feed passes through the pharynx and esophagus and enters the stomach.

Fun fact: The pH during this phase is between 1.5 and 2.5. Lemon juice, which is acidic enough to irritate your skin, has a pH around 2.2.


Getting things ready in the stomach

The stomach is where interesting things start to happen. Here, digestive enzymes, like pepsin, are released and combine with the feed, furthering the digestive process. Gastric glands secrete hydrochloric acid, reducing the pH and killing bacteria that may have traveled with the feed. Throughout the stomach, a coating of mucus protects the tissue from the low pH.

shutterstock_334181504_blog.jpgFun fact: In order to not overload the small intestine, the pyloric sphincter, located at the bottom of the stomach, regulates the amount that passes through. At this point, the mixture, called chyme, is very fluid in consistency.


Nutrients find a home

As the chyme is released into the small intestine, digestion continues and absorption of nutrients begins. The pancreas plays a vital role here in releasing additional digestive enzymes, breaking down the proteins, fats and carbohydrates from the feed.
Passing into the second and third section of the small intestine, absorption of nutrients takes place through the intestinal mucosa, which is comprised of finger-like projections called villi. Once absorbed, nutrients like amino acids and simple sugars pass through to the circulatory system. Dietary fats enter the lymphatic system and are released into general circulation via the thoracic duct.
Finally, any undigested feed passes into the large intestine. Though some nutrient absorption takes place here, the main function of the large intestine is the absorption of water. With most of the water now gone, the undigested feed is condensed into a semi-solid material and passes out of the pig.

shutterstock_41476087_blog.jpgFun fact: The pig’s small intestine is around 60 feet long (or 20 yards), and the large intestine is around 16 feet long.


Making every bite count

The average conversion of feed to pork is around 2.4, meaning that for every 2.4 pounds of feed eaten, the pig will gain 1 pound. Every bite of feed not digested by the pig represents a loss for the producer. Making sure every bite counts is essential.
Enzymes added to the feed can help producers get the most out of their feed by improving digestion of nutrients. Specifically, Alltech uses solid state fermentation, a process that dates back to 2600 B.C. in Egypt, to produce a feed enzyme complex. Allzyme® SSF provides enzymes that work in synergy with the pig’s digestive system, helping it to digest feed and convert it to food as efficiently as possible.