Certainly, creative ways to improve economic performance are always welcome, and it pays to have a few tricks up your sleeve during challenging economic times.

The day-to-day activities within an operation often mask areas where you can find a few extra pennies or dollars.

Steve Dritz, DVM, swine specialist at Kansas StateUniversity, has delved deeply into swine nutrition.

Here, he offers some “tricks” of the trade to improve your production cost scenario.

Trick 1: Monitor Grain Particle Size

It’s widely accepted that reducing grain particle size leads to improvements in nutrient digestibility. By increasing the exposure of grain particles, you increase digestibility by allowing enzymes greater access to break down nutrients for absorption.

“The rule of thumb we use to value grain particle size is a 1.2 percent improvement in finisher feed efficiency for every 100 micron reduction in particle size,” Dritz notes. “We used to value this improvement in finishers as 50 cents per 100 micron reduction. However, due to increased feed price, this value has increased to 90 cents per 100 micron reduction.” So by reducing particle size from 900 to 600 microns it could improve your return by $2.70 per pig.

Dritz and his fellow Kansas State researchers have developed a simple and low-cost method to regularly monitor grain particle size on the farm or at the mill to provide immediate feedback. You can download the procedure and spreadsheet from www.ksuswine.org; look under particle size information.

Other tips that you can use to monitor particle size include:

  • Review feed samples for particle size on a regular basis.
  • Chart the results.
  • Add notations of mill adjustments to the chart.
  • Monitor ground grain only.
  • Note that reducing particle size variations also reduces flowability problems.

Trick 2: Boost Biosecurity and Sanitation

Biosecurity research at Purdue University and the University of Minnesota has shown that routine procedures such as entrance protocols, washing hands, and changing boots and coveralls can reduce disease spread, especially porcine reproductive respiratory syndrome virus. Other research has demonstrated the importance of cleaning, sanitizing and drying animal-transport vehicles.

“We’ve recently completed an analysis that explored the risk factors for PRRS virus contamination of production sites,” Dritz notes. “Our conclusion is that biosecurity factors are much more important than site location factors when it comes to preventing PRRS virus spread.”

Because PRRS is such a costly disease, Dritz says that sharpening your biosecurity and sanitation protocols is time well spent — especially these days. You’ll get the added benefit of controlling or preventing other herd-health issues, as well. Walk through your system to look for slip ups, oversights or areas that have weakened. Don’t just fix the problem spots; organize an educational review session with production managers, barn workers and growers. Include discussions about disease costs and prevention. Talk about where best to focus your resources and efforts to acheive the greatest impact.

Trick 3: Study Behavioral Economics

“There is a whole area of scientific research that can help us understand our decision-making errors,” Dritz says. “Hopefully, by understanding behavior, we can make better decisions.” He points to some examples adapted for pork production.

  • Overconfidence: Everyone tends to think he/she is above average.
  • Mental Accounting: At times, you may value some dollars less than others. “We see this when dealing with nutrition,” Dritz notes. “When times are good, feed ingredients of questionable value are not scrutinized as closely — when times are tough, we scrutinize things closely, even though the dollar savings would be beneficial in both cases.”
  • Loss Aversion: This surfaces when hog prices drop below production costs, when the tendency is to lower nutrient levels to reduce cost. While this may increase short-term cash flow, it also reduces performance and, in the end, revenue potential.
  • Status Quo Bias: “This is when we want to keep things the way they’ve always been,” Dritz points out. But don’t fall into this trap; look for areas that could benefit from change.
  • Regret Aversion: This is a tendency to avoid taking action because you’re afraid it won’t end up being the best alternative.
  • Recent Bias: “We tend to assign more importance to recent events than we do to events in the distant past,” Dritz says. “We usually think good times or bad times will continue forever.”
  • Information Cascades: This is a tendency to copy the actions of others while ignoring our own objective information. “We see this in production systems that do what everyone else is doing instead of following one’s own data,” he adds.
  • Credulity: People often give too much credibility to others and not enough to themselves. Do not discount your own ideas and perspectives, as you and your staff know best what will work in your system.