Wheat versus maize

Dr Ioannis Mavromichalis
Questions whether maize can replace wheat - or the other way round - are frequently asked. Such concerns usually emerge when alternative cereals are priced competitively (due to oversupply or lower quality).

The question whether maize can replace wheat is often asked in major wheat-producing areas (e.g., Canada, Europe) where there is considerable experience in feeding wheat. Similarly, producers in major maize-producing areas (e.g., USA, Latin America) frequently ask whether wheat can replace maize. Such concerns usually emerge when alternative cereals are priced competitively (due to oversupply or lower quality).

There is ample evidence suggesting that properly balanced diets using similar quality wheat or maize will yield similar results, at least in terms of animal performance (see table). Obviously, replacing good quality wheat (or maize) with moldy maize (or wheat rich in arabinoxylans) will fail to produce similar results. Therefore, more emphasis should be placed on quality than nutrient composition when comparing cereals.

Table 1. Feeding wheat or maize to nursery pigs.


When replacing wheat for maize the following should be taken into consideration:

• Wheat has less energy (95% of that in maize), more protein (11-12 versus 7-8%), and higher phosphorus bioavailability (50 vs 14%) than maize. Thus, a one-to-one substitution based on weight will produce severe nutrient imbalances.

• Wheat contains certain anti-nutritional factors (arabinoxylans) that could be detrimental to animal performance at high concentrations. In this case, a wheat-specific enzyme (xylanase) is recommended for piglet diets.

• Finely, ground wheat increases pellet durability (but pellets also become harder), decreases feed flow in bins and feeders, and may increase incidents of ulceration in susceptible pigs.


Finally, there is some evidence to suggest that wheat (and barley) support a more healthy microflora than maize-based diets, especially in the absence of feed-grade antibiotics.

In conclusion, local availability, quality, and price should be the main factors determining use of wheat or maize in most parts of the world. Properly balanced diets that take into account the strong and weak features of each ingredient support excellent performance throughout the world. However, when replacing wheat or maize with other cereals of lower nutrient density and higher concentrations of fibre and anti-nutritional factors, such as barley and rye, performance may suffer without serious alterations in diet design.

The above appeared in Applied Nutrition for Young Pigs, by Ioannis Mavromichalis (CABI, 2007). This book can be obtained at www.e-nutritionist.com.


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    Judith Mutamba

    This is valuable information as new pork breeders the industry. Any information on use of sorghum as alternative to maize?

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    So what if corn or maize is unavailable and there is no option but to use wheat and lupins in the weaner mix? Barley is not a good option for weaners and I have no idea about rye. What else could be used to help this diet design?

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    Ioannis Mavromichalis

    Judith, you may start from this reference from a previous blog of mine here at Pig Progress...


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    Sometimes there are problems in replacing 100% of corn by wheat. Some experience an increased in back fat thickness as well as less lean fatteners.This is also true when using high level of cassava. Because in the Philippines our only alternative for corn is either wheat or cassava. DDGS can be a partial alternative but with the inconsistent quality (also high level of mycotoxin), some don't prefer to use it. Enzymes, xylanase specifically, can help counteract the NSP from wheat but still there is no other alternative that can fully replaced corn in the diet. This is based on my perception.

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