Alternative Feed sources for swine, By Casey Zangaro from Michigan State University

A list of possible feed ingredients for swine diets alternative to the traditional corn and soybean meal components.

pig at a feeding station
Photo by Casey Zangaro, MSU Extension

Protein sources for swine

Soybean meal is the most frequently used protein source in livestock feed. However, if cost competitive, several alternative crop protein sources can be used in swine diets to supplement or replace traditional sources (i.e., soybean meal), though availability and cost vary by region. Most of these crops are grown and processed as a protein source for livestock feed, though some are harvested for their oil fraction and the residual byproducts can be used as a nutrition source for livestock.

Field Peas

Field peas are legumes. They are a great source of essential amino acids, particularly Lysine, the first limiting amino acid for swine. However, the contribution of methionine, cysteine and tryptophan is less and needs to be considered when developing a ration that meets the protein requirements for pigs. Field pea protein may be further processed into pea protein concentrate or pea protein isolate to create a higher protein ingredient, but the processing may create a high-cost product and has the potential for a higher incidence of heat damage.

Canola Meal

Canola meal is a byproduct of the oil extraction process from canola seeds. It is popular in Canada and has been gaining U.S. producer attention over the past decade. It is a good source of protein and contains high level of methionine and cystine which are crucial essential amino acids for pigs, but typically has a lower rate of  lysine overall.  However, canola has potential anti-nutritional factors including phenolic substances, phytate and glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing phytochemicals known to reduce growth performance.

Sunflower Meal

Sunflower meal is produced from the residues remaining after extracting the oil from sunflower seeds. This crop is mostly grown in the midwestern U.S. but can be shipped nationally. Sunflower meal contains more fiber than soybean meal and has been known to increase the solubility of protein and phosphorous for growing pigs.

Sesame Meal

Sesame meal is the byproduct of sesame seed oil extraction and is frequently produced in warmer climates of the U.S. It is regularly used in poultry diets. Sesame meal has a high protein content, particularly high in arginine and energy content. Like sunflower meal, sesame meal contains greater amounts of fiber.

Protein Sources as-fed basis, NRS (2012)

Source CP% Lysine% Methionine% Crude Fiber% Fat% Net Energy kcal/kg
Soybean Meal (Dehulled) 45.13 2.79 0.60 3.30 6.64 2598
Field Peas 22.17 1.63 0.21 12.84 1.20 2419
Canola Meal 35.19 1.58 0.61 23.77 9.97 2351
Sunflower Meal (Dehulled) 39.86 1.45 0.78 18.44 2.90 1482
Sesame Meal 42.60 1.01 1.15 18.00 7.50 1972

Alternative fat sources for swine diets

Dietary fat provides energy and essential fatty acids. Alternative sources to soybean oil may be cost-effective at certain times.

When incorporating alternative fat sources into swine diets, it’s important to consider factors such as fatty acid profile, stability, digestibility and cost. These factors not only define the taste of the pork but also the palatability of the feed source to the pigs.

Alternative vegetable oils

Alternative vegetable oils include canola oil and sunflower oil. These oils may improve palatability and contain more omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than the traditional animal fats used.

Animal fats

Tallow and lard are available animal fats from rendering. These fat options should be managed carefully to avoid feeding excessive saturated fat, due to the difficulty of digestion for pigs. Equipment to melt and keep it in liquid form is required.

Fish oil

Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fatty acids can have great health benefits for pigs, such as improved reproductive performance and overall immune function. Fish oil can vary in cost and availability depending on regionality and nutritional content.


Flaxseed is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. This ingredient also contains ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), which can be further converted into EPA and DHA as the pig digests it. This ingredient can be fed in either ground or processed form. However, the fatty acid profile of flaxseed is different from fish oil and its conversion efficiency may be lower.

Alternative carbohydrate sources for swine

Carbohydrates provide energy for growth, maintenance and various other physiological processes. Most of the time cereal grains, such as corn and wheat are commonly used as carbohydrate sources, but there are alternatives that can be used.


Barley is a cereal grain that is regaining popularity in livestock diets. This cereal grain contains starch and fiber which provides energy and promotes gut health. However, its lower energy value and high fiber content will prevent it from completely replacing all the corn used in a grow-finish swine ration, but barley can fully replace corn in weanlings and sow diets.


Triticale is a hybrid grain created by crossing wheat and rye together. The nutrient profile is like that of wheat and is used in comparable nutrition rations accordingly. This ingredient contains a balance of starch and fiber that wheat and rye contain separately.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a root vegetable that can provide a good source of both energy and dietary fiber in a swine diet. They can be processed, which is typically done by grinding or heating up into a dried form or incorporated into swine diets as a component of a mixed ration.

Sugar beet pulp

Sugar beet pulp is a byproduct of sugar extraction from sugar beets. It is a highly fibrous carbohydrate source and can improve pig gut health. However, sugar beet pulp can decrease the digestion of protein and amino acids and absorption rate of protein and carbohydrates in pigs due to the higher rate of fiber within the ingredient.

Carbohydrate Sources as-fed basis, NRS (2012)

Source CP% Crude Fiber% Crude Fat% Net Energy kcal/kg
Corn 8.24 1.98 3.68 2672
Barley 11.33 3.90 2.11 2327
Triticale 13.60 2.54 1.8* 2507
Sweet Potatoes 4.5# 2.6# 1.00^^ 2580#
Sugar Beet Pulp 9.10 2.80^ 0.97 1734


*Neutral Detergent Fiber of Triticale, %; Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, 2005

^Evaluation of Energy Values of High-Fiber Dietary Ingredients with Different Solubility Fed in Growing Pigs using the Difference and Regression Methods, Liu et al., 2021

^^Dietary Fiber Isolated from Sweet Potatoes Residues Promotes a Healthy Gut Microbiome Gut, Lui et al., 2020

#Net Energy (kcal/kg) for Sweet Potatoes,

Vitamin and Mineral Sources for Swine

Vitamins and minerals are essential for overall health, growth and performance for pigs and other livestock. While large commercial swine production systems commonly use vitamin and mineral premixes, alternative sources are available that can supplement or replace traditional vitamin and mineral premix sources.

Common Feed ingredients

Many common feed ingredients, such as various grains, oilseeds and forages, contain vitamins and minerals that are essential for swine. For example, cereal grains (corn and wheat) contain certain B vitamins, while oilseeds, such as soybeans, contain higher concentrations of vitamin E and minerals like zinc and selenium. Including various common ingredients within your swine diets will contribute to a greater amount of the essential vitamins and minerals pigs need for proper growth, assuming the feed ingredients are being fed in adequate amounts. While most feed ingredients used in complete swine diets contribute to the vitamin and mineral needs, supplementation of vitamins and minerals may be needed. This is best accomplished by first doing a complete feed analysis to determine which, if any, essential vitamins and minerals are lacking. These results can then be used to guide the selection of some feed ingredient sources that can specifically address those deficiencies.

Yeast and yeast derivatives

Yeast and yeast derivatives, for example, yeast culture or yeast extract, can serve as an alternative source of various B vitamins, in particular thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. These products are derived from yeast fermentation and can enhance the vitamin content of swine diets.

Mineral-rich additives

Select additives can be used to provide specific minerals. For example, diatomaceous earth can be used as a source of silica, which is valuable for skeletal health, however, some research reports that the digestibility can be low. Similarly, bone meal or bone char can provide calcium and phosphorus. However, it is important to ensure that these alternative mineral sources are safe, properly processed and free of contaminants.

Mineral salts and chelated minerals

Mineral salts, such as sulfates and oxides, are commonly used to supply adequate mineral supplementation in swine diets. Chelated minerals are bound to an organic molecule that improves the mineral’s bioavailability for the pig to digest and absorb. Chelated minerals can be used as a good alternative to inorganic mineral sources and have the potential to enhance mineral absorption and utilization by pigs.

When using alternative crop sources in swine diets, it is important to consider factors such as nutrient composition, digestibility, anti-nutritional factors, and availability. However, considering alternative vitamin and mineral sources for swine, it is crucial to assess the nutrient content, bioavailability and safety of these alternatives. As you integrate alternative carbohydrate sources into swine diets, consider factors such as nutrient composition, digestibility, palatability and availability. Working with an animal nutritionist can help ensure proper formulation and utilization of these alternative protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamin and mineral sources in swine diets, considering the specific nutritional needs of the animals which vary considerably by age and breeding status.

As the cost of raising livestock increases, it is important to be effective with your cost and labor practices with your small farm swine production system. Feed and supplements are typically the largest input cost of swine production systems. Therefore, it is important to understand the nutritional value of common feedstuffs, as well as potentially less costly available alternatives that are used in swine diets. Consulting with local swine experts, nutritionists, feed mill managers or Michigan State University Extension educators can provide valuable insights tailored to your specific circumstances.