czwartek, 16 grudnia 2010

Is feeding animals with manure the way to go?

This entry treats about cows, pigs and amino acids. 

But before we get dirty let’s start with some basic facts about humans’ and pigs’ nutrition to make sure we’re on the same page.

What does it take to fattened pigs efficiency?

It is said that all animals need proteins to be fattened efficient. Is it really true? Not entirely – in fact all we really need is a substance which proteins are made of – amino acids. Some of which body can “produced” on its own. These “self-made” are called non essential amino acids and they are synthesized mainly from carbohydrates and other amino acids.

And those amino acids that humans and pigs cannot produce themselves are called essential amino acids

Essential amino acids for humans and pigs:

  • phenylalanine,
  • valine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • isoleucine
  • methionine
  • leucine
  • lysine

We shouldn’t forget that children have also two additional amino acids:
  • histidine
  • arginine
Here’s where it gets interesting - if we won’t provide our bodies with sufficient amounts of essential amino acids, over time this will leads to amino acids deficiency and that can result in
  • Heart diseases (our heart simply will not have enough amino acids to regenerate)
  • Depression
  • Kwashiorkor
  • Loss of hair
  • And many, many more
But in rich countries one should not be afraid of amino acids deficiency. Unless being on a very strict diet where either quality or quantity of essential amino acids doesn’t meet one’s daily requirement or if a particular person has some digestive or health related problems.

The same rules apply both to humans and pigs with which we have a lot in common especially when it comes to digestion. But it may or may not be a little bit more difficult to notice it since the lifespan of a pig is approx. 70 to 140 times shorter than ours so the deficiency and its consequences are not so easily recognizable. E.g. what if what we take as pig’s fat and how fast (or slow) pigs will grow up and decrease in feed conversion ratio could be in fact the sign of deficiency. (Feed conversion ratio is a simple measure of an animal's efficiency in converting feed mass into increased body mass).
Studies show that shortage of even just one essential amino acid in pigs feed will cause them to convert it into lard (pork fat) instead of producing structural protein (meat). Of course there’s nothing wrong with that as long we are raising pigs just for our own needs – pork lard from pasture, orchard or forest raised pigs was traditional healthy fat used by our ancestors for centuries. But if you have a business to run, then fat pigs is not what you’re looking for….

Here’s some simple math:
First of all meatiness ratio (how much meat does pig contain) is dropping and most consumers prefer lean pork. E.g. example 1 pound of lard cost about 0, 5 – 1, 5 PLN and 1 pound of meat cost around 5-7PLN in Poland. So that means pork-breeders get paid less for fat pigs.
Secondly protein is the most expensive ingredient in pigs feeding formula (assuming you have to buy it from outside source). ­­
And last but not least – it takes more calories of pig feed for the pig to create fat than to create protein (9 kcal for 1 g of fat and just 4 kcal to create 1g of protein)!
So pig breeders will lose triple if they sell fat pigs to a normal slaughterhouse.
All the amino acids are needed at the same time - if even one is missing; the proteins from food will not be used efficiently. Old biology textbooks, nutrition and animal husbandry differentiate complete protein (animal) and not complete (plant). The amino acids just like wooden barrel holding water can have 99% efficiency but even if one tight plank is missing, then the whole barrel won’t do its job right. And back to barrels ... Water can be stored only to the level of the lowest hole in that barrel. It does not matter that the barrel has a capacity of 500 l (providing large amounts of protein pig feed at all) but what counts is how high the lowest hole in that barrel is (the essential amino acid lacking in pig’s diet.)

If we want to raise pigs on pasture, usually we should watch for those amino acids that are the limiting factor for pigs’ growth (because of their lack of pasture sward) are: lysine, methionine, threonine and tryptophan. Theoretically, one could supplement pigs feed with rapeseed meal or soybeans, but considering, that most of those plants are genetically modified, and they are usually cultivated in a really unsustainable way so it’s better to find other source of essential amino acids.

 A cow - a valuable potential source of feed for pigs
What do all these arguments about the essential amino and pigs have to do with a simple cow?
Cows are excellent for supplying very large quantities of missing essential (and not so) amino acids for pigs as well as a bit of easy digestible calories.

Pigs for Cured Parma ham are raised on pasture; they also get whey – a byproduct from producing famous Parmesan cheese and sweet chestnuts. Such a “feed formula” provides pigs with all essential amino acids they need and also makes pork taste sweet. Is Permaculture principle “produce no waste” met also? I’m sure it is!
Perhaps readers can slowly see the picture of sustainably raise cows and pigs: The cow gives milk, the milk man make butter and cheese. Remnants of the production (buttermilk and whey) can be pigs to eat - this is a wholesome feed –and as you can see there’s no longer need for the GMO soybeans.

One cow can deliver more than 100 pounds of pig feed!
Despite appearances, milk, buttermilk and whey are not the only food for the pigs, which cattle can provide.  Another potential source of food for the omnivore swine is... cow manure.

What happens to plants that cow swallows?

Interesting things happens with plants digested by cows. First of all you need to know that for the cow plants are not the direct source of food - to increase the nutritional value of their feed cows are using middle man - bacteria. Cows are chewing plant to increase the surface on which bacteria can act (aren’t cows “increasing the edge?;). These bacteria digest plant food and then they multiply. After they multiply a cow moves plant food pre-digested with all bacteria to the next stomach. A cow (or rather a farmer who feeds it) in contrary to the pig does not need to worry about essential amino acids quality or quantity consumption. It’s enough, that the cow will get an appropriate amount of protein, fiber and carbohydrates. Even better, the cow does not even have to consume large amounts of proteins because the bacteria in their stomachs are able to convert a urea into proteins (nitrogen source for bacteria to produce a protein). There are known cases in which a large part of the cows’ diet were sawdust, urea (nitrogen source for the synthesis of proteins by bacteria), and cow-lick made of molasses and micronutrients.

Why a cow can eat food which doesn’t contain all the essential amino acids?
Because a cow produces in its stomach right conditions for the growth of bacteria, whose feed may not contain a set of amino acids. These bacteria are, however, able to produce all the essential amino acids from non essential amino acids. When the bacteria multiply on a digested plant then the cow moves it to the next stomach.

Cow’s manure is potential valuable although cheep pig feed. One can see small dots – it’s where maggots have turned into fly.

Why cow manure may be a feed for pigs?

Pigs are omnivore animals.
Nature has given them the task of “environment cleaners”.  Apart from the fact that they eat plants and animals, they also eat droppings of other animals with great pleasure. Cow manure is composed in large part from the undigested part of plants and bacteria. And as mentioned earlier manure contain all the essential amino acids. They may therefore be a valuable "concentrate feed” for pigs. In addition, if cows are fed grains, part of the grain passes through cow undigested properly. Under normal conditions, this type of product would be wasted.

The benefits of cow manure in pig nutrition.
The first and fairly obvious benefit is the use of cow dung as an energy source for pigs. The second is the previously mentioned protein and essential amino acids. The third benefit of feeding pigs with cow’s manure is providing them with micronutrients and vitamins, especially from B group (including B12).

What percentage of a cow’s manure could comprise pig diet of?
FAO (UN agency dealing with food and agriculture) has published data on the experiment conducted in Mauritius in 1976 in which pigs were fed 40% of cow's feces , 40% molasses and 20% of commercial compound feed. Pigs on the compound indeed grow more slowly than in the control group, but the breeders have achieved good economic results due to the low prices of such mixtures
Depending on several factors one cow can provide food in the form of manure for 3 up to 17 pigs:
It’s determined by:
• age and cow’s diet
• what part of pig’s diet is to be manure
• age of pigs

How to integrate the possibility that pigs can be fed with cow’s manure into Permaculture design?

If we want to raise pigs and cows the Permaculture way you should follow these suggestions.

On the first day the pasture is grazed by cows. On the second day cows moves to new cell of pasture, now pigs can moves where cows were yesterday - they will eat cows’ manure, roots and part of the pasture sward. The third day pigs are moved where cows were at day two and chickens come where yesterday pigs were - they will eat a large part of parasites found in feces of pigs. In addition, they will scratch manure and accelerate incorporation of nutrients into soil.

This way the pasture is used in “Holistic Management” way, so the land will not be overgrazed and the amount of weeds will be very low. Same pasture can be actually a
silvopasture based system in which walnuts, chestnuts, fruit and other fodder trees are also being grown. This agroforestry system should be protected from winds by windbreak.

Can pigs be fattened in this way without purchasing commercial feed?
At the moment it is difficult to say whether the same pasture, cow manure and whey are able to provide full nutrition for pigs. I am inclined to believe that adding walnuts and chestnuts to their diet, pigs will grow pretty decent and we will enjoy the fact of knowing what our animals eat.

Can pigs be fed with feces of other herbivores?

Yes, pigs can be fed feces of other herbivore animals such as horses, goats, rabbits ... A very good source of food for pigs is horse manure, because the horses digest less efficiently than cows, so "horse apples" contain more seeds, etc that means they contain more calories.

I would like to know your experience with feeding pigs (or other animals) with manure.

Hi everyone!

Guys from North (Northern Europe, Scotland, Russia, Baltic States, Northern China, Canada, Northern USA) or far South (Argentina, Chile, Tasmania) are you tired of reading about all that banana circles on permaculture blogs? If you do, stay tuned!
This blog is dedicated to permaculture, especialy in cool climate (continental or cool temperate). I will describe things related to this subject:
  • animal and human nutrition
  • animal husbandry
  • forest gardening
  • soil science
  • agroforestry
Usually, post are based  by scientific references.

Someday you may notice weird grammar or spelling on that blog - you need to forgive me that - English is not my first language. Stay tuned and enjoy!
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