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Study: Feeding barley doesn't make for better pork

Agriculture.com Staff 07/08/2010 @ 11:00pm

An Iowa State University study involving more than 1,000 hogs shows that adding barley to the grow-finish diet phase does not translate into pork that is better tasting, is more tender or has less water loss.

Animal science research assistant Jay Lampe helped coordinate and conduct the study, which was designed to evaluate differences in meat quality and production traits of pigs based on the grain portion of the growing and finishing diets. A total of 1,040 pigs were included in the test, half barrows and half gilts. Two different sire lines were used -- a Hampshire-Duroc cross and purebred Duroc along with one sow line, PIC 1055.

Lampe says five diets were used to provide several comparison opportunities.

"We used yellow corn, white corn, two different mixtures of yellow and white corn, and barley in four phases," he said. "The average on-test weight was 61 pounds and the average off-test weight was 287 pounds."

Eight pigs were randomly selected from each of the 40 pens in the study for meat quality analysis, including ultimate pH, juiciness, tenderness, fatty acid profile and color.

Although there were slight performance and carcass differences among the pigs, these were attributable to the genetics and sex of the animals rather than the diets, Lampe says.

There were no significant differences among the five diets for average daily gain, average daily feed intake or feed efficiency, and no effects on backfat thickness or percent fat-free lean, he said. Also, there were no significant diet differences for meat eating quality traits as measured by trained sensory panel analysis. Any anticipated advantages for barley-fed pigs in these meat quality traits were not found.

However, the barley diet did produce some differences. Pigs fed barley as the main energy source had a smaller loin muscle area and a lower iodine value in the subcutaneous fat. This suggests the fat was of firmer, harder quality than that of pigs fed the corn diets.

Lampe says study results suggest that barley doesn't appear to provide an advantage in meat quality traits when compared with traditional corn-based diets.

"Producers who want to use barley or white corn as the primary energy source in hog diets should consider the availability and relative cost of those grains when making that decision," Lampe says. "Our barley-fed pigs had a more saturated fat content, but all five diets provided a very acceptable fat hardness for the current U.S. meatpacking industry."

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