Inclusion levels for distillers’ dried grains with solubles have been creeping higher and higher in swine diets as producers seek to protect margins from near-record-high corn prices. 

“The economics of feeding DDGS to swine has been the salvation for many pork producers and has led to feeding much higher levels than what was fed just a couple of years ago,” says John Goihl, swine nutritionist and president of Agri-Nutrition Services, Shakopee, Minn. “DDGS is the primary alternative ingredient available today to help stretch corn and soybean meal supplies.”

However, this surge in DDGS usage has caused some worry among packers since the higher levels, especially in finishing diets, can have a negative impact on carcass-fat quality. As a result, there are growing packer concerns about increasing processing costs and customer complaints.

Some packers have expressed their apprehension by advising limited feeding levels during the finishing phase. Since today, a producer’s feed costs rise when DDGS levels are pulled back, he or she may face higher costs to comply with the request.

“Packers are in a dilemma with the producer,” Goihl says. “Some producers have indicated to packers that they will feed whatever DDGS level a packer recommends, to maintain pork quality. However, there is the issue of increased feed costs.”

Producers can save up to $30 per ton in reduced feed costs, or approximately $10 per market hog, when incorporating high-quality DDGS at levels up to 40 percent, Goihl points out.  However, if a packer docks the producer because of high iodine values in his hog carcasses, a key indicator of fat quality, the savings may be lost. Currently, some packing plants have set their maximum iodine value at 73 grams of iodine per 100 grams of carcass fat. (The measurement is the weight of iodine taken up by 100 grams of fat.)

“I am aware of several packers who are checking iodine values closely,” Goihl says.

Of course, the DDGS question is not the first issue to arise between packers and pork producers. “The DDGS topic is pushing the industry to the edge, similar to the carcass lean percentage issue of the late-1980s and 1990s, as well as the issue of halothane/RN gene in genetic programs,” says Roger Johnson, director of pork quality, Farmland Foods.

Johnson explains that the carcass-fat quality issue is not restricted just to DDGS usage. “It involves any and all (dietary) fat sources that can or have contributed to less desirable fat in the major depots such as bellies,” he says.

The carcass-fat quality issue may already be addressed in agreements you have signed with your packer. “Most marketing agreements are set up with a conforming carcass clause,” Johnson says. “Soft, undesirable fat can be interpreted as contributing to a ‘non-conforming’ carcass. This is the primary means that packers could use to voice their objections.”

So, while feed savings can be considerable when incorporating DDGS into swine diets, it, of course, should not exceed levels that are acceptable to your packer.

According to Johnson, it’s essential that pork producers accept the responsibility for those factors that they control. “The over-use of feedstuffs that contribute to non-conforming carcasses which do not satisfy the needs of customers or the ultimate end-user is not an acceptable practice.”

Goihl believes iodine value guidelines from packers would be helpful, but there are many variables that enter the equation to determine an acceptable IV level. “Iodine values will vary considerably, even among pigs receiving similar amounts of DDGS, due to gender, age and rate of gain differences,” he notes.

Each producer’s results will vary and a one-size-fits-all DDGS inclusion level is impractical.

“Some packers have suggested that producers keep DDGS levels under 20 percent of the diet. However, they are slaughtering many pigs fed diets containing 30 percent to 50 percent DDGS,” Goihl says. “If fat quality becomes a concern, the producer can lower the DDGS inclusion level to approximately 30 percent in the last three to four weeks prior to slaughter.” That requires communication between the two sides.

It’s no surprise that there’s an on-going search for more answers. Since each producer’s results with DDGS can vary, the National Pork Board continues to fund additional research on DDGS and its effect on carcass quality at varying inclusion rates. Some of these studies include:

• Evaluating choice white grease and beef tallow to improve pork quality when pigs are fed DDGS. The study is being spearheaded by Brian Richert at Purdue University.

• Assessing the effects of diets containing DDGS with supplemental tallow on fat digestibility, growth performance, carcass and fat quality in grow/finish pigs. This is under the direction of Gerald Shurson at the University of Minnesota.

• Methods of restoring carcass firmness and other post-harvest traits in finishing pigs fed high DDGS levels. Gary Cromwell, with the University of Kentucky, is directing this project.

Meanwhile, you should double-check any contracts currently in place with your packer and pay close attention to clauses regarding carcass requirements.  With a little homework on your part and an open line of communication, you can head off problems before they develop, which will boost both parties’ ultimate satisfaction.

Cut Feed Costs By Raising DDGS Levels
Here, John Goihl, president of Agri-Nutrition Services, Shakopee, Minn., estimates the feedcost savings as DDGS inclusion rates increase, with corn priced at $6 or $7 per bushel. The table below presents projected savings per ton as DDGS inclusion levels are raised in 10 percent increments. These savings are based on good-quality DDGS priced at $200 per ton and soybean meal at $340 per ton.

Goihl points out that the DDGS levels outlined here are becoming more commonplace in swine diets today.
• Gestation — up to 50%
• Lactation — up to 30%
• Nursery-Phase III — up to 30%
• Grow/Finish — up to 50%

Since results vary for each operation, Goihl recommends working with a swine nutritionist and your packer to determine the most benefi cial levels for your genetics and the end result.