A solution to skyrocketing feed prices facing the pork industry may be found in the renewable energy sector. A team based at the University of Guelph recently tested a novel feed ingredient with the potential to reduce production costs for finishing pigs and increase market opportunities for bio-diesel producers.

“Crude glycerol is a co-product of bio-diesel production that can be used as an energy source for animal feeding,” explains Phil McEwen, livestock research specialist from the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus. “The reason for conducting the trial was to find out if incorporating crude glycerol into a feeding program would be an avenue for pork producers to maintain performance and achieve cost savings without any deleterious effects on carcass and meat quality.

“So far all the signs are pointing in the right direction. We haven’t completed the total analysis, but it definitely looks like we can incorporate crude glycerol into swine diets without compromising performance or carcass quality,” McEwen says.

An Added Bonus

As an added bonus, this potential new use could help Ontario’s fledgling bio-diesel industry by providing a new market for the co-product.

“If we are looking at bio-diesel production on a small scale, it’s an avenue for the smaller renewable energy producer to have a home for some of the crude glycerol that is being produced without having to refine it,” McEwen says.

Crude glycerol used in the trial was manufactured at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus bio-diesel production facility with the help of professor Rob Nicol. The production process involves hydrolyzing oil extracted from oilseeds (e.g. soybeans) to produce bio-diesel and the co-product, crude glycerol. Producing one liter of bio-diesel will yield approximately 80 grams of crude glycerol with the energy value of glycerol reported to be comparable to corn.

Trial Results

The research feeding trial was conducted at the Arkell Swine Research Facility using 120 pigs (barrows and gilts). The animals were fed one of five different dietary treatments – receiving crude glycerol at 0, 2.5, 5, 10 or 15% of the ration as dry matter during the growing and finishing phases of production.

The team, which also included University of Guelph professors Ira Mandell and Kees de Lange as well as Hypor swine nutritionist Greg Simpson, found no difference in days to market and very little difference in growth rate and feed efficiency across all five treatments. Carcass and meat quality were also consistent between the groups.

Cost Savings

Just how much the novel feed ingredient could save producers is still being investigated. “The cost of crude glycerol seems to be relatively constant,” McEwen says. “But energy ingredient prices will need to remain high in order to incorporate it into a swine diet in a cost-effective way.”

Another requirement is approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). “The regulatory process to make it an approved feed ingredient still needs to be completed before a swine producer could incorporate this energy source into a feeding program,” explains McEwen, who received special approval from CFIA to conduct the testing.

Next Steps

McEwen is encouraged by the results to date and eager to see more trials. “This co-product looks highly promising but further research is needed to get regulatory approval and to look at the economics of using it in swine diets,” he says.

In the meantime, pork and bio-diesel producers can look forward to potentially helping lower each other’s production costs in the future.

This project was funded in part through Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of several Growing Forward programs in Ontario.