With corn prices remaining high, producers looking for alternative feed grains might want to look to their local brewer for inspiration. While barley is probably most known for being a key ingredient in beer, it also can be a key component in swine diets.

Jay Lampe, research assistant at Iowa State University, has been comparing the performance, carcass and meat quality traits of hogs fed barley diets and corn diets. Results have shown barley to be a viable alternative to corn diets in most instances.

Lampe fed pigs, weighing 60 pounds at the start of the trial, diets of yellow corn, white corn, two different combinations of white and yellow corn, and barley. All diets also included soybean meal, though the barley diet consisted of only 6.9 percent meal, while the corn diets all contained 13.8 percent meal. Less soybean meal was used in the barley diet to balance the amino acids and nitrogen, says Lampe. Other ingredients in the diets included dicalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, choice white fat, salt, vitamin premix, trace-mineral premix and Tylan 40.

Half of the pigs studied were gilts and half were barrows. They all came from two sire lines, a Hampshire and a Duroc line. All hogs were from the same Duroc sow line. The pigs were fed to an average weight of 286 pounds.

The study showed no significant differences among the five diets for average daily gain, feed intake and feed-to-gain during the grow/finish period. This would indicate that feeding a diet of barley, rather than corn would not slow down your pigs’ growth performance.

However, growth isn’t everything – you certainly don’t want a barley diet to sacrifice carcass traits or pork quality. But, according to this study, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

There were no significant effects on backfat thickness or fat-free-lean percentage, says Lampe. However, barley-fed pigs did have a smaller loin-muscle area than pigs on either the yellow corn or white corn treatments.

Lampe also tested for intramuscular fat, 24-hour pH, 10th-rib pH, juiciness, chewiness, tenderness, Instron tenderness, percent loin water purge, percent cooking loss, Japanese color score and Hunter L* value. A trained sensory panel determined the product’s juiciness, chewiness and tenderness. 

The barley diets tended to have higher quality fat, which is significant because the Japanese market values pork with high-quality fat.

“Carcasses produced through barley diets provided a whiter fat with a significantly better iodine score than the corn diets,” says Lampe. The iodine score reflects the meat’s saturated fat content, which is important to the Japanese in terms of loin preferences as well as for other specialty dishes.

“Feeding barley could be an alternative for hogs headed to export markets,” says Lampe. “Currently, packers aren’t paying producers a premium for hogs going to export markets. But if that changed, barley would become more feasible.”

More Canadian producers have been including barley in their feed rations, partly in response to export opportunities. In fact, the barley study came about in part because of an Iowa Pork Producers Association trip to Japan. Japanese meat buyers mentioned that they preferred Canadian pork because those producers fed a lot of barley. That started the research ball rolling.

Barley’s advantages are somewhat regional, as barley is more easily attained in areas like Canada, Minnesota and the Dakotas. In areas where barley is not readily available, the cost of feeding it to hogs will likely be too high to make it feasible.

Overall, Lampe found barley to be a suitable alternative for corn in swine diets. Ultimately, price may be the deciding factor on individual farms. An economic comparison between barley and corn diets is underway at Iowa State, and is expected to be complete in early June.


In the article “Brewing Interest in Barley” in the April issue of Pork, the genetic lines involved in the Iowa State University study were mistakenly reported.

The item should have read: “The hogs studied all came from two sire lines, a Duroc line and a Hampshire/Duroc line. All hogs were produced from the same commercial sow line.”

Pork editors regret the error.