Nutrition for show pigs can be as simple or as complex as the pig dictates. Unfortunately, there is no one method to feeding show pigs headed for the show ring and consistently compete at a high level.

There are many factors that influence how a pig is fitted for show. Some of these are:

  • Genetic road map
  • Environment
  • Management level
  • Health status
  • Gender (barrow or gilt)
  • Age

So, this article will deal with the basics. This may shock some of you, but it takes way more than nutrition for a pig to find its way to Grand Champion. It takes a combination of nutrition, genetics, management, and health to get the most out of your show pig project, each playing a vital, equal role. The following will look at a few of the things that will play a huge role in how your show pig responds to nutrition.

Water is extremely important to how the pig expresses its genetic potential, and how feed is utilized. Water is directly related to feed intake. If you find that your pig is not eating or growing well, look at the water source first. Water should be clean, fresh and abundant at all times. If the water is too cold during cool months, or too warm during warm months your pig will not eat correctly, and will not fully express its genetic road map.

Make sure your pig has a comfortable home. Your barn or pig house should be draft free and dust free. A coughing pig will have a less-than-desirable outcome. The pen should be free of items that might cause injury and subsequently impact the movement and soundness of your pig.

All of these factors impact how the pig utilizes the feed that is offered, and ultimately how the pig expresses the genetic/nutrition interaction.

Quality show pig feed 
There are also things that even the greatest of all feeds cannot accomplish. Even the best feeds will not increase body length, base width or bone. Feed will not make the pig tall at the point of the shoulder. Nor will the best feed turn an unsound pig into a sound one. You will need to select animals that already express these features.

Nutrition unlocks the genetic potential of your show pig project. A great feed will do only so much for poor genetic potential. However, a poor-quality feed can ruin great genetics.

Medicated feed 
If you purchase a pig(s) at a pig sale, consider medicating the pig for at least 14 days after purchase. When pigs are placed in the same air space as other pigs with a differing immune status, the result can have serious consequences, if not properly addressed.

Feeds medicated with Lincomycin®, CTC and Denagard®, or ASP or CSP are appropriate for receiving young newly purchased pigs. Injectable antibiotics are appropriate (consult your local veterinarian). Water soluble medication is also applicable.

Purina® HONOR® Show Chow® SHOWPIG 709 feed, medicated with 100 grams/ton Lincomycin is a very good choice for receiving pigs. This medication offers protection against respiratory and gut immune challenges. Another good choice is Purina® HONOR® Show Chow® SHOWPIG 509 feed which is medicated with Lincomycin and Safe-Guard. Feed either of these feeds for at least 14 days to newly purchased pigs.

Remember that muscle is protein, and protein is comprised of amino acids. So, if you purchase a pig that is moderate to light muscled, you probably should look at feeding a 20 percent crude protein such as Purina® HONOR® Show Chow® SHOWPIG 509 feed until the pig weighs at least 75 to 100 lbs.

If the pig you have purchased is heavily muscled, you may want to feed an 18 percent crude protein feed, such Purina® HONOR® Show Chow® SHOWPIG 709 feed early on to prevent the pig from developing “too much” muscle, and therefore becoming tight moving.

For very heavily muscled show pigs, Purina® HONOR® Show Chow® FINALE™ 809 feed is a great option, once the pig reaches about 80 lbs. in body weight.

Also remember that every metabolic process has a caloric cost. Lean tissue synthesis, bone growth, skin and hair development all take calories for the process. Energy fuels everything. To achieve maximum genetic expression, an appropriate level of energy must be fed, either in the complete feed, or with an energy supplement such as Purina® HIGH OCTANE® Power Fuel™.

As the pig grows and develops it may become tight moving or somewhat “hard” muscled. When, or if you notice these signs, it is a good idea to decrease crude protein, increase dietary energy, or both.

Feeding show pigs oat groats
You might have noticed some folks feeding rolled oats (oat groats) along with their regular show pig feed. It might be a good idea to offer a small amount of oat groats (1/2 lb.) each day with the pig’s feed to increase the particle size of the total diet. This is a good idea, as the pig is less likely to suffer from ulcers, although many pigs perform very well and are never fed oat groats. It is a personal decision.

Actually, almost all pigs have an ulcer of some kind. Whether they become bleeding ulcers and a real problem to the pig’s health and a threat to life is a matter of the total stress imposed on the pig. Again, environment and management play a huge role in the pig’s health status and response to feed.

Feeding methods
Whether you hand-feed or self-feed at the beginning of the feeding period, it is merely a feed delivery process. However, hand-feeding usually results in the pig becoming gentle more quickly. When the pig associates you with feed, it begins to trust you. Pigs are like most creatures, they need to learn that you are not going to do them harm.

Self-feeding can also be effective. The important thing is to spend time with your pig, regardless of how you plan to deliver the feed. There is no substitute for time spent building a bond and trust between pig and exhibitor. Regardless of how you deliver the feed at the onset of your project, you will need to begin hand-feeding at some point in the feeding period to allow your pig to look its best on show day.

Have a plan 
Modern show pigs usually look their best at about 6 to 6 ½ months of age. So when purchasing your pigs, select appropriate-aged pigs.

Feed with the show ring in mind. From the start, try to picture what you desire your pig to look like on show day and feed to that end. There are many supplements, topdresses and nutritional products that allow you to change the outcome of your pig. Again, muscle is protein, and body condition or cover is a fat layer.

To help address muscling, feed a high-protein feed or topdress such as Purina® HIGH OCTANE® Champion Drive™ supplement. To help address cover or body condition, use a high- energy feed or supplement (Purina® HIGH OCTANE® Power Fuel™).

To help address fill and rib, feed Purina® HIGH OCTANE® Depth Charge™ supplement at ½ to 2 lbs. per day along with regular show pig feed.

For help with leanness, cleaning up front ends and help promoting muscle, Purina® HIGH OCTANE® Fitter 35 supplement at 1 to 2 lbs. per day is an excellent choice.

For help with appetite, adding more calories to the pig’s diet, and increasing fat cover, Purina® HIGH OCTANE® Heavy Weight™ supplement does a very nice job. Start at 4 oz. per day and increase by 4 oz. per day about every 5 to 7 days until you are feeding the desired level.

Purina® Paylean® feed is really not a basic issue so it will not be covered in this article, except to say it is a tool and not a magic potion. Unsound, heavily muscled, or stress-positive pigs need not be fed Paylean®.

If you do choose to feed Paylean®, HIGH OCTANE® SHOWPIG Paylean® Premix feed is an excellent low-inclusion, well-fortified product.

Good luck with your show pig project. Enjoy the learning process along the way. And, if you need assistance, ask for it. There is usually someone willing to help.