Wheat bran is not an essential raw material for pigs

Wheat bran is becoming increasingly expensive, but evidence shows pigs can survive without it.

Granulated Wheat Bran In Bag And Spikelets On White Background
New Africa | BigStock.com

Nutrition practices that worked in the 1970s are not necessary equally effective in 2020s.

For my colleagues in the U.S., this blog’s headline might even seem funny. In fact, I do not recall seeing any pig formula containing wheat bran in the U.S. in the 20-plus years I have been working there in one role or the other. In fact, fiber-rich ingredients are often used to either reduce cost (when pork prices plummet) or feed energy (for gestating sows, for example), but nobody is attached to wheat bran.

In contrast, in many countries in Europe, wheat bran is considered perhaps the most essential ingredient in pig feeds. I have even been told that wheat bran is needed to enhance digestibility of all feed nutrients. When did fiber become a pro-nutrient when we were all thought fiber (not all fibers are the same) tends to reduce organic matter digestibility. That is from a basic animal nutrition course at undergraduate level.

Behind every myth, there (must) be some truth. In Europe, we eat lots of bread, and we cultivate wheat as the predominant arable crop. In fact, some decades ago, some smart(er) countries had laws for wheat self-sufficiency, but this disappeared after globalization made the earth flat again (irony intended). Thus, in the past, wheat bran was overflowing all over the continent, and pigs were fat(ter) and consumed large amounts of feed. So, nothing better than a daily ration of wheat bran and liquid whey from nearby sources.

Since then, wheat is not so abundant in Europe and, with Ukraine’s wheat in jeopardy, we are going to miss even good old bread – according to some extreme TV enthusiasts. The point is that wheat bran is becoming increasingly expensive, and I have a difficult time convincing farms and feed mills that pigs can survive without it.

I had the good fortune to connect with a really progressive farmer this summer and, after I removed wheat bran from his growing-finishing feeds, he observed an increased average daily gain that was more than 100 grams per day – and with cheaper feed, too.

So, pigs need fiber (another big discussion) but there is nothing magical in wheat bran that makes it irreplaceable. Nutrition practices that worked in the 1970s are not necessary equally effective in 2020s.

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