Ingenious: Pigs, General Patton and the University

Animal scientist revolutionized swine feeding

Professor Gene Becker created “The Illinois Diet,” which revolutionized swine and poultry feeding. (Image by DougPeterson)
Animal scientist revolutionized swine feeding

It’s not often that a tale can tie General George S. Patton to pig farming. But that’s the case with the story of Gene Becker, ’45 ACES, MS ’45 ACES.

An animal scientist and University alumnus who joined the faculty in 1950, Becker devised a revolutionary corn-soybean meal diet for pigs that remains virtually unchanged to this day.

Building on German improvements to the edibility of soybean oil (as discovered by a chemical engineer in Patton’s post-World War II army of occupation), Becker also studied the newly discovered crystalline form of Vitamin B12. After establishing how these and other substances could supplement swine nutrition, he began to advocate in the 1950s for a new approach to feeding pigs. Becker showed producers how to mix their own feed by blending soybean meal, vitamins and minerals with corn.

“The Illinois Diet” revolutionized both swine and poultry feeding. The new regimen improved the animals’ diets, saved producers money (not coincidentally incurring the wrath of the feed industry) and gave a big boost to soybeans, which weren’t a major crop in the 1950s.

“Gene Becker forever changed the paradigm of swine feeding,” says former U of I President Robert Easter, PHD ’76 ACES, who studied and worked with Becker at Illinois. “It began here and spread all around the world, and the swine industry and the feed industry changed forever. Talk about impact.”

Sources: D.E. (Gene) Becker and the Evolution of the Corn-Soybean Meal Diet for Pigs, by D.H. Baker.