Feeding Strategies to Mitigate Cost and Environmental Footprint of Pig Production in the US

The livestock sector is one of main drivers of the environmental footprint. Animal feed is a key to sustainable meat production. Researchers are looking for environmentally sustainable feeding strategies that will lower diet cost, agricultural use of land, water depletion, and climate change impact. We used linear models to formulate 4 single-objective diets including least-cost, least-land use, least-water depletion, and least-climate change impact diets. Preliminary results showed that the use of wheat and wheat middlings hold potential to reduce pig diet cost and the environmental footprint.


Demand for sustainable food, which conserves the environment and meets the needs of human development and increasing population, is growing (SCAR 2014). Livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s environmental impacts including agricultural land use, water depletion, and climate change impact (PEW Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production 2010). Feeding is the most important factor in livestock production cost and animal performance which includes growth, nutrition, health, sustainability, and productivity. Farmers are interested in producing animals with a better performance and need feeding strategies that will lower diet costs and conserve resource use (land and water). The objective of this study is to develop cost-effective diet formulations and mitigate the environmental footprint of pig production in the US.

What did we do?

Figure 1. Preliminary grow phase single-objective pig diets including typical US, least-cost, least-climate change impact, least-water depletion, and least-land use. Legend should be read left to right and top to bottom.

Figure 1. Preliminary grow phase single-objective pig diets including typical US, least-cost, least-climate change impact, least-water depletion, and least-land use. Legend should be read left to right and top to bottom.

Windows-based User Friendly Feed Formulation (WUFFDA) linear models are used to formulate single-objective pig diets including least-cost, least-water use, least-land use, and least-climate change impact diets (Figure 1) (Pesti et al. 2004). Models include typical feed ingredients and additional US pig industry top 50 used protein and energy feed ingredients (Table 1 and 2). Nutrient characteristics, inclusion limits, environmental footprint, and cost data for feed ingredients were obtained from the US Animal Feed Database  and incorporated into WUFFDA models (Burek et al. 2014). Theoretical diets are compared against typical US pig multi-phase diets which were obtained from a nutritionist (Figure 1).

Table 1. Typical feed ingredients in US pig diets.

Blood Plasma


Copper Sulfate

Milk, Lactose

Corn DDG

Milk, Whey Powder

Corn, Yellow Dent


Dicalcium Phosphate



Potassium Sulfate


Poultry By-Product

Fat (Poultry)


Fish Meal

Sodium Chloride

Limestone, Ground

Soybean meal, 48%


Trace Mineral Premix


Vitamin premix


Zinc Oxide




Table 2. Top 50 protein and energy feed ingredients in US pig diets.

Alfalfa Meal

Oat Grains


Oyster Shell

Beet Pulp

Pea Protein Concentrate

Blood Meal Spray-Dried

Peas, Field Peas

Canola Meal, Expelled


Canola Oil

Rice Bran

Canola, Full Fat

Rice, Broken

Citrus Pulp


Corn Bran

Safflower Meal

Corn Gluten Feed


Corn Gluten Meal

Soy Protein Concentrate

Cotton Seed Meal

Soy Protein Isolate

Fat (A/V Blend)

Soybean Hulls

Fat (Beef Tallow)

Soybean Meal, 44%

Fat (Restaurant Grease)

Soybean Oil

Feather Meal

Soybean Seeds, Heat Processed


Soybeans, High Protein, Full Fat

Flaxseed Meal

Sunflower Meal

Meat and Bone Meal

Sunflower, Full Fat

Milk, Casein

Wheat Bran

Milk, Whey Permeate

Wheat Middlings

Milk, Whey Protein Concentrate

Wheat Shorts

Molasses, Sugar Beets

Wheat, Hard Red

Molasses, Sugarcane

Wheat, Hard Red Winter

What have we learned?

The US producers use corn and soybean meal as a base for pig diets (Figure 1). The single-objective modeling shows that more sustainable and cost-effective diets can be formulated by diversifying protein and energy sources. For example, preliminary theoretical single-objective diets for one pig growing phase show that the use of wheat and wheat middlings may reduce multiple objectives (Figure 1). The least-cost diet includes wheat, sorghum, wheat middlings, and corn distillers grains (Figure 1). Wheat, wheat middlings, soybeans, soybean hulls, corn distillers grains are the main ingredients in the least-climate change impact diet (Figure 1). The least-water depletion diet includes wheat middlings, corn distillers grains, and canola meal (Figure 1). The least-land use includes corn distillers grains, wheat, rice bran, and corn gluten feed (Figure1). Theoretical diets serve as guidelines to develop realistic sustainable cost-effective pig diets that pig producers will be able to incorporate into their production system. 

Future Plans

The results presented in this manuscript are preliminary. Formulated diets will be analyzed using the Pig Environmental Calculator (PPEC) and Simapro 8.1 life cycle assessment (LCA) pig production model (PRé Consultants 2014; National Pork Board 2015). The PPEC calculates the actual amount of feeds and total costs (National Pork Board 2015). The Simapro 8.3 cradle-to-farm gate pig production life-cycle assessment model calculates environmental impacts of pig production (PRé Consultants 2014).

Animal feed availability, pig production practices, and environmental footprints vary for pig production regions in the US. Feed costs are dynamic including costs and geography. The intention is to develop pig diets for different pig production regions in the US. Thus, further research will focus on multi-objective analyses to evaluate potential to reduce simultaneously cost and environmental footprints under different constraints. We will verify results with nutritionists, economists, and other experts. The pig producers will have access to formulated diets through PPEC.


Jasmina Burek, Research Associate, University of Arkansas jburek@uark.edu

Greg Thoma, Jennie Popp, Charles Maxwell, Rick Ulrich

Additional information

Pig Production Environmental Calculator
Life-Cycle Assessment Modeling for the Pork Industry


Burek J, Thoma G, Popp J, et al. (2014) Developing Environmental Footprint, Cost, and Nutrient Database of US Animal Feed Ingredients.

National Pork Board (2015) Carbon Footprint of Pork Production Calculator – Pork Checkoff.

PEW Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (2010) Environmental Impact of Industrial Farm Animal Production.

PRé Consultants (2014) SimaPro 8.3.

SCAR (2014) Sustainable food. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/food.htm.


This research is part of the program “Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Agriculture,” and is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68002-30208 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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