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It’s All Fine for the Swine

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 04/30/2015 More stories >>

a group of pigs

The new foodie trend of “snout to tail” cooking utilizes all parts of the pig for sustainability and waste reduction as well as gastronomic pleasure. But pigs themselves are masters of resource optimization: they can be fed a dizzying variety of feedstuffs, much of which might otherwise become refuse.

It’s this capability that Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences researcher Rajesh Jha is exploring in his research into alternative feeds for swine, developing more cost-effective and sustainable animal production systems. He has successfully evaluated a wide range, including a number of locally produced options. Sweet potato, cassava, and taro show promise, as do okara and macadamia nut cake. All have reasonably high, though different, nutritive values and digestibility, so combinations can be used to formulate diets for various animals.

nut cake, a waste product of local oil processing, is a promising swine feed.

Macadamia nut cake, a waste product of local oil processing, is a promising swine feed.

The last two also have the advantage of being otherwise waste products. Okara, the soybean pulp remaining after production of soymilk or tofu, is often relegated to the landfill. However, Dr. Jha’s lab found it very promising as pig feed due to its high nutritional value and digestibility. Macadamia nut cake, a by-product from macadamia oil processing plants, used to be thrown away as well. However, Dr. Jha shows that it also has high potential as animal feed thanks to its high protein, energy values, and digestibility. Now he is starting a chicken-feeding trial with macadamia nut cake as well.

Dr. Jha not only searches out new potential foods for swine; he works to improve those already in use. A waste product commonly used as swine feed is Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS), a corn-derivative by-product of ethanol production. DDGS is fed not only to pigs but to dairy and beef cattle, poultry, and sheep. However, the digestibility of DDGS is quite low; therefore, it can only comprise a relatively small proportion of their diets. A highly competitive grant recently awarded by the National Pork Board is allowing Dr. Jha to research ways to treat DDGS with enzymes to unlock its nutrients and allow it to be used more effectively by the pigs who eat it, leading to a reduction in the cost of their feed and increasing environmental sustainability. Not only this, but he explains that this technique can work to enhance the available nutrition of other feeds, including the local feedstuffs he’s testing.

The best part? All this research is bolstering Hawai‘i’s pig-farming industry, leading to more luscious local pork to eat, snout to tail.