Ask Alice: Are pellets more efficient?

Posted on 10. Feb, 2016 by in Ask Alice

Q:  Why do you say pellets are more efficient than whole grains?

A: As I was saying, there are some good reasons why we often pellet or otherwise process feed ingredients.  In the case of pigs the reason is that their digestive system works so fast they don’t keep whole kernels in their systems long enough to get the good out of whole grains. A ground up grain or seed has a lot of open surfaces that can be acted upon by the fluids, enzymes and actions of digestion, but a seed in its seed coat has a relatively small and protected surface area.  Pigs and other animals get some value from eating whole grains, sure, but at the price of feed who wants them to poop it undigested? (The answer to that is: the chickens. They think it is great to pick out the half-digested bits from other animals’ manure.) Pigs’ digestive systems are a lot like ours, except they chew less, so I will leave you to draw your own conclusions. Generations of Animal Science grad students who analyze poop for research and work-study programs will agree that there is plenty of whole stuff that is available post-pig if whole grains are fed unprocessed.

With birds pellets are also more efficient but for a different reason. Their little digestive system can’t handle more than about 5 or 6 ounces of feed at a time so if we want an egg a day (or solid growth in the case of a meat bird or pullet) we need to maximize their system’s efficiency. Of course the gizzard grinds up whole grains so they can be digested, but it takes a while, and while the bird is digesting the grain she ate at noon, there’s no room in her system for dinner.  Grandma’s chickens weren’t expected to lay an egg a day or finish growing in a couple of months so if it took a while to grind up the whole grains inside the chicken it didn’t matter.

With ruminants like goats, sheep, cattle and alpacas the animals do chew their cud, so they can eat whole grains and get some benefit from them, but even after the cud is chewed some whole seeds remain and are wasted. They digest rolled grains, chopped grains and pellets much better. Horses also do well on rolled grains, chopped material or pellets. Whole oats are great for horses, but rolling them, processing them or including them in a pellet minimizes waste and really improves digestion. Most of these animals are also eating hay or forage in addition to their pellets or processed grains.

One more thing to consider, though, is that the owner and the animals may prefer whole grains because they are easy to identify and pleasing to see. I’ll agree, I like the look of whole grains myself. So I compromise. I save the whole grains for treats and the pellets for nutrition and then I have the best of each.

Our combination feeds, like Non-GMO Natural Environments (layer), Non-GMO Flap and Quack (waterfowl), non-GMO Ruminant Concentrate (goats, sheep, cattle, alpacas), and Non-GMO Equine Concentrate (horses) are another way to have both the efficiency of pellets and the attractiveness of whole grains and seeds.


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