Feed cost represents more than 60% of the variable cost of swine production and a major part of the feed cost is to ensure that pigs have adequate energy and protein supply to reach their optimum potential in terms of the production goals. Corn, wheat, barley, and soybean meal have been the most widely used feedstuffs to meet the energy and protein requirements of pigs. However, the prices of these conventional feedstuffs will continue to be variable.
Swine producers have to find alternative feed resources to ensure economic sustainability of their business. Currently, canola meal and cereal grain co-products from the biofuel and milling industry are commonly used for pig feed in Western Canada because of their availability, low-cost and nutrient content. However, these alternative feed resources are typically fibrous in nature and when fibrous ingredients are incorporated into pig diets; the carbohydrate composition inevitably changes from a high starch diet toward a diet containing less starch and more non-starch polysaccharides, which are the major component of dietary fiber.
Starch and dietary fiber, however, differ in several aspects apart from their chemical structures. For instance, whereas starch is mostly digested and absorbed in the small intestine, fiber is not digested in the small intestine of pigs because monogastric do not produce the digestive enzymes that break down fiber. However, some fiber types can be fermented by the microbes in the pig’s intestinal tract. Further, dietary fiber has the potential to reduce energy and nutrient digestibility and consequently depress pig growth performance. However, the reports have been rather contradictory and the negative effects of fiber-rich diets on nutrient utilization and pig growth are influenced by the fiber source, type, and inclusion level. On the other hand, dietary fiber has received a lot of attention in swine nutrition in recent years because some fiber components have beneficial effects on pig gut health when fermented in the intestine, and can positively affect gestating sow welfare.