Organic Pigs and Hybrid Rye

The organic swine research program at the WCROC continues to grow. On September 1st, 2021,we started a new project titled: Integrating hybrid rye as a winter cover crop into organic pig production. This project brings together researchers and extension educators from multiple disciplines to tackle the challenge of high costs of feed and bedding in organic pig production. We will grow hybrid rye organically to produce an alternative feed ingredient and bedding for organic pigs. Because chemical fertilizers are not allowed in organic crop production, we will use swine manure as fertilizers for organic hybrid rye. To determine the optimal application rates of swine manure, we are testing how different manure application rates of swine manure (both liquid and solid) influences hybrid rye yield. Currently, the plot trial for manure application is in progress. Besides the plot trial, we planted 19 acres of organic hybrid rye in late September of 2021. We will harvest organic hybrid rye grain in the summer of 2022. We plan on offering a field day to farmers and the general public before harvest to showcase organic hybrid rye production and demonstrate how swine manure application affects hybrid rye yield.

After harvest, we will feed hybrid rye to organic pigs. We will replace 50% of corn with hybrid rye in diets for growing-finishing pigs (from 50 to 270 lb body weight). By replacing 50% of corn in pig feed, we expect to replace about 230 lb of corn with hybrid rye for each growing-finishing pig. Prices for organic corn remain high over the last several years due to high production costs and strong demand. Organic pig farmers have been looking for alternatives to organic corn to reduce feed costs. Organic hybrid rye may be a good alternative because of its nutritional value to pigs and benefits to crop rotations. Hybrid rye contains 96% of ME (metabolizable energy that is used for pigs to maintain body function and growth) and similar digestible amino acids (protein) found in corn for pigs. Importantly, hybrid rye has higher concentrations of phytase than corn. Phytase is an enzyme that breaks phosphorus (P) in grains and makes it available for pigs to use. Including hybrid rye in pig diets may increase digestibility of P and reduce excretion of P in manure (which balances N:P in swine manure as fertilizers). Additionally, hybrid rye contains higher concentrations of fermentable fiber which can potentially improve gut health of pigs and pork quality. In this project, we will investigate all these potential benefits of feeding hybrid rye to pigs. Particularly, we will investigate differences between pigs fed control diets (corn and soybean meal-based diets) and pigs fed treatment diets (with hybrid rye replacing 50% of corn in control diets); and determine how treatment diets affecting growth and health of pigs, digestibility and excretion of phosphorus, pork quality and consumers’ acceptance of pork. We will also conduct economic analysis to evaluate whether growing hybrid rye for pig feed and bedding is an economically viable option for organic pig farmers. Finally, we will evaluate whether integrating hybrid rye into organic pig production can reduce negative environmental impacts of pig production through increasing diversity of crop rotations and reducing P excretion in manure.

The project is conducted by a multidisciplinary research team, consisting of researchers and extension educators specialized in swine science, meat science, agronomy, manure management, applied economics, and agricultural energy. This three-year project is supported by the Organic Research and Extension Initiatives (OREI) of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agricultural (NIFA).