Pigs have been a staple of the human diet for thousands of years. As long as people have been domesticating pigs for consumption, they have also been developing better ways of managing , breeding and feeding them. Pigs have a different nutritional requirement than cattle, horses, sheep or chicken, especially to obtain optimal growth, fat and meat production. Farms have developed specific feeding programs for swine that will provide the market with the kind of pig they demand.
The diet of any food animal is important for many reasons. Farmers must be careful not to feed any substances that may be harmful to humans to animals who are to be slaughtered for food consumption. Animals that are exposed to toxic substances will absorb them into their flesh, and pass them onto anything that consumes them. Control of what the animals eat is vital to the success of any animal farmer.
From the size of the swine they produce to the fat content, to the rate of reproduction, farmers influence these effects on their stock by manipulating the rationing and nutritional content of the feed they provide. Usually, a higher protein feed is needed for swine then for cattle or sheep. Trace minerals and probiotics lend to gut health and better digestion, and vitamins and other supplements influence sexual growth and health. Usually 60 days before slaughter a feed with corn or other high carbohydrate source is fed, to quickly fatten up the animal.
Types of feeding the farmers provide for their swine are free range, which means that the animals range feral and eat what they can off the land, an all natural diet. Small farms or individual farms that raise swine for themselves will often feed "slop," which is basically all the human leftovers from the family or from local restauraunts, or neighbors. Larger pig farms almost always feed commercially mixed swine feeds.
The main function of what farmers feed their pigs is to keep the animals healthy and to prepare them for slaughter for meat consumption. The higher muscle and fat content the animal has, the more meat it will provide. Generally, free range swine will be smaller and leaner than commercially fed swine. Slop fed swine can be larger and healthier than free range pigs, but the largest and best meat producing pigs are those fed commercially prepared feeds.
By carefully monitoring the feed intake of their swine, farmers can produce more meat in a shorter time, provide healthier animals that are not tainted will disease, and give consumers a wider variety and more economical meat choice.