The Importance of Amino Acids for Pigs & How to Supplement Their Feed Correctly

The importance of amino acids for pigs, and how to properly supplement it in their feed.

If you raise pigs, you probably already know the basics.

You know what to feed them, how to keep them, and perhaps most important (if you learned this lesson the hard way!) how to build a fence to contain them properly.

However, you may not yet know about amino acids—and why they’re so important to pigs.

A lot of research has been published in the past decade about amino acids and why they are so essential to pigs. Lysine is one of the most important — but it’s not the only one they need.

Here’s what you need to know about why pigs need amino acids to grow properly and how you can supply them with everything they need to stay healthy.

What are the essential amino acids for pigs?

The essential amino acids for pigs are:

  • histidine
  • leucine
  • isoleucine
  • methionine
  • threonine
  • valine
  • tryptophan
  • phenylalanine

… and most importantly, lysine.

Many of these names may sound familiar to you because they are amino acids that humans also need. In fact, pigs are similar to humans in their amino acid needs.

In addition to the essential amino acids listed above, other amino acids are considered non-essential or semi-essential. Contains:

  • glutamine
  • alanine
  • aspartic acid
  • glutamic acid
  • glycine
  • proline
  • hydroxyproline
  • serine
  • asparagus
  • cysteine
  • tyrosine

Why do pigs need amino acids?

Before we go into too much detail about why pigs need amino acids, it’s important to first clear up any confusion about what an amino acid actually is. Huh.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. A common misconception is that pigs need a certain percentage of protein to grow, but in reality, it is the amino acids they need. If any one of the essential acids is not provided sufficiently, the growth of the pig will be affected.

Essentially, all living things require amino acids to some degree. These structural units of protein (along with peptides) are absorbed into the body during the digestion process and form new proteins, like muscles, which are themselves made up of different amino acids.

This is where many people get pig nutrition wrong. They think that pigs need crude protein, but in reality they need amino acids. A pig’s diet must include a certain amount of amino acids to help it grow, reproduce, and lactate.

Lysine, tryptophan and threonine are the three most important amino acids for pigs, often referred to as “limiting amino acids” for pigs.

Symptoms of Amino Acid Deficiency

When you’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with your pigs, a lot of research and vets will point to you as a “protein deficiency” issue. In fact, protein deficiency is more closely linked to amino Acid deficiency.

If a pig does not receive sufficient amounts of essential amino acids, it can cause issues such as reduced mileage, poor feed conversion and over-fat carcasses in growing pigs.

In lactating sows, milk production may decrease, may lose a lot of weight, and the sow may not return to estrus. This can cause significant issues if you are attempting to raise your own pigs on the farm.

how to replenish amino acids

Amino acids must be found naturally in food. In the wild, a pig consumes a diet that contains all the amino acids it needs.

However, most pigs today are fed a formulated ratio including grain and corn. They lack essential amino acids for pigs. Therefore, protein supplements are often used to help correct deficiencies in these ready-made feeds.

For example, the right combination of grain and soybean meal will provide a good balance of amino acids. This is what many feed companies use in manufacturing their bagged pig feed.

So if you’re buying store-bought pig feed, do you need to supplement with other sources of amino acids?

Maybe not. It is in other situations that you may need to consider supplements, which we will detail below.

1. Cooking Your Own Pig

Many people make their own pig food to save money. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it’s important to remember that pigs still need those amino acids. Therefore, if you are feeding corn directly to your pigs, they are probably not getting the essential amino acids.

You can add other sources of amino acids to help supplement such as the following:

  • canola meal
  • peanut meal
  • sunflower meal
  • Poultry Meal
  • cottonseed food
  • bone meal or meat meal
  • fish food
  • Egg
  • corn gluten meal

There are synthetic amino acids that can also be added to feed, but they can be expensive and not all provide the same benefits.

2. Recommendations for Young Pigs

Young piglets require the same amino acids as older ones, but a significant problem arises because younger pigs (those smaller than 25 lbs) have a harder time digesting the proteins found in soybean meal. This is why it is so important to use a creep feed that is specifically formulated for growing pigs, not a standard feed when you are weaning young pigs.

Amino acid needs – specifically lysine needs – are directly related to age and weight. As pigs get older, their need for lysine decreases. This is because they are not putting on muscle tissue as fast as little pigs. They require more of their food energy for maintenance rather than growth.

3. Ingredients Are Key

Most finished feeds will offer enough amino acids to meet a pig’s nutritional needs. However, this is not always true, especially when a feed manufacturer is using synthetic amino acids and/or byproduct feed ingredients (such as fish or bone meal). It is always important to check dietary levels of amino acids in feed, especially lysine.

Soybean meal is one of the best sources of amino acids for pigs. Many feed producers choose not to use soybean meal for economic reasons. While alternatives such as cottonseed meal, sunflower meal and bone meal can be used, they do not always produce the best results.

Most grains (such as barley and sorghum) alone do not provide essential amino acids to pigs. However, nutritional needs can be met from protein sources such as soybean meal.

Always check the ingredients and consider changing your pig’s diet if you think they are suffering from protein or amino acid deficiencies.

4. Free Choice Feeding

Make sure whatever protein supplements you give to your pigs (of any age) are not hand fed, but free-fed. These can be mixed with cereals or should be available on a free choice basis at all times.

5. Summer Time “Blah”

Have you ever noticed how little you want to eat when it is extremely hot in the summer? Pigs are like that. Because of this, it’s a good idea to provide a cooling system (such as lots of soil and water) to help keep your pigs from overheating.

You should also increase the amino acid levels of their feed if possible. That way, even if their feed intake is reduced, they will still be getting the right amount of nutrients, no matter what. Increase lysine levels by 10% during the warmer months of the year.

Provide amino acids for optimal growth

Some people may worry about “protein poisoning” by giving their pigs too many amino acids. However, this is usually not a concern. It has been estimated that diets containing up to 50% protein were not toxic (although a laxative effect was occasionally observed).

Make sure you always double-check the ingredients list of your pigs’ feed – especially if you suspect that something may be lacking in their diet.

You are what you eat! Help your pigs grow strong and healthy by feeding them a diet full of all amino acids and other nutrients.

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