top of page

Nutrition, Sustainability, Animal Health

Science Feeds a Need to Lower Costs

Diversity Makes the Difference

Science Feeds a Need to Lower Costs

When it comes to feeding your animals, forget about nice linens and gourmet meals. To support their growth and well-being, pigs need good, nutritious food on a regular basis. The challenge for producers is to offer those meals without breaking the bank. Given ever rising feed costs and the volume required on farm, especially for growing-finishing pigs, scientists investigated new options to diversify the ingredient supply and methods for getting the most from nutrients in pig diets.

Today, a burgeoning global population and rapidly evolving climate change have altered the food producing environment. More than ever, alternative ingredients, especially proteins and fats, are required to sustain the pork sector, the food chain and the planet. To give producers the greatest return on their feed investment, those ingredients must be of high quality and able to maximize pig performance.

A healthy pulse

With those ends in mind, researchers focused on a few key areas in these studies. First, they looked to characterize the nutrient content of Canadian grown pulses, which have gained attention as alternatives for inclusion in current swine diets. These pulses included two varieties of field peas, as well as lentils, chickpeas and faba beans. They also aimed to understand how pelleting and extrusion under different conditions affect the nutrient content of the ingredients.

Pelleting is the process of converting finely ground mash feed into dense, free flowing pellets. Pelleting a diet makes it easier to handle feed and helps reduce feed waste, while supporting optimal performance. Research has demonstrated that pelleted feed supports roughly a 7% increase in feed efficiency.

Extrusion, which involves applying heat, moisture, and pressure to an ingredient, can improve energy and protein digestibility for pigs, and the heat treatment increases the storage life of pulses by reducing water content.

Amino acids to the rescue

The project also measured the digestibility of amino acids in faba beans, lentils and yellow field peas. Since pigs are unable to synthesize all of the amino acids required to function normally, they must obtain many of them from feed ingredients.

Based on their work, researchers now have sufficient nutrient data on Canadian grown field peas, lentils, chickpeas and faba beans for these ingredients to be considered for inclusion in swine diets.

Dare to be different

While pulses are rich in macro and micronutrients, the study noted that various cultivars differ in what they can provide and how they react to processing treatments. Overall, however, there were no extreme detrimental effects of processing on nutrient content of the pulses, specifically in relation to protein and amino acid content.

For swine nutritionists, the results also warned against making assumptions on how the nutrients of one pulse ingredient might change due to processing, simply by comparing it to another pulse ingredient.

As for pork producers, they will now have more quality, low-cost feed options. Additionally, they can consider different processes, such as extrusion, to improve the digestibility and availability of nutrients.

Teams work

Three people led the way on this project:  Dr. Kate Shoveller, professor, Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph (U of G); Dr. Dan Columbus, research scientist – nutrition at the Prairie Swine Centre (PSC) in Saskatoon and adjunct professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S); and Cara Cargo-Froom, a PhD student at the time and currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the U of G.

Other key experts involved were Dr. Rex Newkirk, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the U of S; Dr. Yongfeng Ai, associate professor, Food and Bioproduct Sciences, U of S; Dr. Olufemi Babatunde, postdoctoral researcher- Nutritional Physiology at the PSC; and Dr. Chris Marinangeli, former Director of Nutrition, Science & Regulatory Affairs with Pulse Canada and currently Senior Director, Research and Regulatory Affairs at Pulse Canada

Although scientists can now draw broad generalizations about changes in nutrients across pulses or within a pulse category (e.g., changes in beans), there is more to be done. Understanding how processing can affect each category of pulse, and the varieties within the category, can provide much needed insight on the specific varieties of interest.

As part of her ongoing program, Dr. Shoveller will continue to seek quality protein sources for pigs, dogs, cats and horses.


Project Title:  Reducing feed cost and the environmental footprint and enhancing global competitiveness of Canadian pork production by increased nutrient utilization of feedstuffs fed to growing-finishing pigs.

Lead(s)/Co-Lead(s): Dr.  Kate Shoveller (University of Guelph)

Budget: $281 128

Research Methods

To evaluate the overall quality of protein-dense feed elements, scientists used a digestible indispensable amino acid score (DIAAS).

The DIAAS is determined using amino acid digestibilities measured at the end of the small intestine, which provides a more accurate measure of the amounts of amino acids absorbed by the body, with DIAAS ultimately presenting a score to inform on protein quality of an ingredient.

Though it was not part of the official study, researchers observed the pigs’ eating behaviors. They noted that while every pig consumed all of the diets provided, there was a clear preference, based on the “gusto” with which they ate, for the pea and faba bean diets over the lentil option.

bottom of page