Can you feed distillers’ dried grains with solubles to nursery pigs? Yes, according to University of Minnesota research.

A research team led by Mark Whitney, University of Minnesota swine Extension educator, conducted two growth-performance experiments to evaluate the effect of feeding increased DDGS levels in nursery pig diets. The researchers specifically focused on growth rate, feed intake and feed efficiency. They also sought to determine the maximum inclusion rate of new-generation DDGS products.

In the experiments, researchers used inclusion rates of 0 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent in the nursery diets. Each experiment involved 96 pigs in a three-phase feeding program. This regimen included a Phase-I diet, which was a commercial, pelleted diet fed during the first four days after weaning; a Phase-II diet, fed for 14 days in a meal form; and a Phase-III diet, fed for 21 days in a meal form. Only Phase-II and Phase-III diets contained the various levels of DDGS evaluated.

Researchers weaned the pigs at 19 days, weighing an average of 15.6 pounds each, in experiment one. Pigs were weaned at 17 days, averaging 11.6 pounds each, in experiment two.

Results from the first experiment showed no effect on growth rate, feed intake, feed efficiency and final nursery weights as dietary DDGS levels increased. “Pigs were able to effectively consume and convert high DDGS levels -- up to 25 percent -- without any adverse effects on pig growth,” Whitney says.

In the second experiment, when pigs ate increased levels of DDGS during the Phase-II diet, feed intake and growth rate decreased. However, there was no effect on feed efficiency. With the Phase-III diet, DDGS inclusion levels had no effect on average daily gain, average daily feed intake, gain-to-feed intake or ending-nursery body weight.

“Overall, the study shows that DDGS products from new-generation ethanol plants are an acceptable, partial substitute for corn, soybean meal and dicalcium phosphate in nursery pig diets,” Whitney says. “If you formulate diets based on metabolizable energy and digestible-amino-acid levels, it's possible to include up to 25 percent DDGS in Phase-III diets with no detrimental effects on growth performance.”

The researchers did find that in young (17 days), light-weight piglets adding more than 5 percent DDGS in the Phase-II diet may reduce feed intake and growth rate. But there were no negative effects evident in pigs weaned later (19+ days) or at a heavier weight.

DDGS can cause some problems in finishing hogs because it tends to soften the animal’s fat. Of course, that’s not an issue for pigs in the nursery stage, making DDGS a good fit as a dietary inclusion there. The issue of soft fat is a result of adding more polyunsaturated fat to the diet in the form of corn oil in DDGS as opposed to starch, Whitney says. It causes the same problem as adding a large amount of vegetable oil to finishing diets.

Japanese customers are especially sensitive to soft carcass fat. Some importers have said that they don’t want product from producers feeding DDGS because they suspect some problems with carcass quality.

One way to avoid DDGS-related problems is to have a consistent product source. “You have to keep an eye on product quality and look at lab analyses for each plant,” Whitney says. “The best thing to do is establish a relationship with one or two sources that have analyzed the company’s DDGS products.” This is why it’s helpful to work with a swine nutritionist. “You do have to monitor the quality of the products,” he emphasizes.

Based on his studies, Whitney says that pork producers can add 5 percent to 10 percent DDGS in a Phase-III diet as a part of a feeding program for nursery pigs without concern. If you’re working with wean-to-finish pigs, it’s best to add DDGS when pigs reach 20 to 25 days old. Include DDGS in late-nursery diets to acclimate the pigs to the new diets prior to moving them to grow/finish facilities in conventional systems.

Whitney points out that some earlier studies, which looked at feeding DDGS to nursery pigs, had mixed results. But there are a lot of questions surrounding those trials. For starters, he questions whether the results are even applicable today since ethanol plants and their technology have changed so much, and there are many new-generation ethanol plants being built today. Also, producers wean pigs at different ages today then when the trials were conducted. Producers used different feed-management systems at the time; and the ingredients and complexity of the diets were different. Finally, DDGS characteristics are different today. “That’s why it’s so important to have new data,” he says.

Besides the diet aspect, DDGS could provide a viable alternative to corn and soybean meal. “If prices work out in your area, you should try to feed DDGS as much as you can,” Whitney says. “Data from John Lawrence at Iowa State University indicate that, historically, DDGS sells for about 85 percent of the value of corn in the upper Midwest. If that trend holds true, most of the time livestock producers can save considerable amounts of money in feed costs by including DDGS in diets."

There will certainly be more research and more answers, but even with the limited studies, Whitney believes that DDGS has potential in nursery pig diets.


Digging Deeper into the Nursery Phase

So far, there have been only a few studies evaluating the use of distillers’ dried grains with solubles in nursery pig diets. According to Mark Whitney, swine Extension educator at the University of Minnesota, more research is needed to evaluate factors that may explain performance differences that have been observed in nursery pigs.

Some other areas that need more guidance and answers include:

  • Nutrient composition of DDGS sources and digestibility.
  • Anti-nutritional compounds involved.
  • Effects of processing and/or drying procedures on DDGS product quality and digestibility.
  • More refinement of diet formulations.
  • Different grain sources and the prospects of those DDGS byproducts in pig diets.
  • Potential health benefits of feeding DDGS to nursery pigs.
  • The economic implications of feeding DDGS.