With the rapidly rising costs of feed ingredients, everyone is searching for strategies to manage costs and protect profit margins while maintaining efficient pig growth.

Feed represents 65 percent to 75 percent of pork production costs, with 75 percent of that amount consumed in the grow/finish period.  In these times of near-record corn and soybean meal prices, maximizing nutrients and energy as well as reducing feed waste are priorities. 

Other strategies such as selecting efficient feeders, sized correctly for the animals, and utilizing alternative ingredients also can help cut your feed bill. “We have to constantly look for ways to get the most calories out of every bite of feed,” says Joel DeRouchey, swine nutritionist, Kansas State University Extension. Here are several feeding strategies that can help squeeze the most from each feed dollar invested.

If you want more calories available to pigs in each bite, start with feed processing.

“We have to push the envelope in feed processing to get the most calories from the feed,” DeRouchey says. He provides two examples.

Kansas State research shows that pelleted diets increase nutrient availability and result in less waste and better feed conversion.  However, since the pelleting process adds to the diets’ cost, feed efficiency improvements must exceed the added cost.

When feeding ground feed, consider reducing the micron size of particles. For example, each change of 100 microns in feed particle size can mean a 1.2 percent change in feed efficiency, DeRouchey says. “While recommendations have traditionally been for particle size of 600 to 700 microns, reducing the size further can help improve efficiency. Some producers are now grinding corn at 350 to 400 microns.”

Monitor feeder maintenance

Maintaining feeders and keeping them properly adjusted to minimize waste is always important, but even more so when feed prices are sky-high. See that feeders are cleaned regularly to allow proper flowability, and make sure that corners of the feeder pan are free of build-up and spoiled feed.

“For growing and early finishing pigs, open the feeders so that about half of the feeder pan is covered, and about one-third of the pan for mid to late finishing pigs,” DeRouchey says. “Repair or replace broken feeders and consider using wet/dry feeders, which can improve average daily gain.” They can have the added benefit of reducing waste and dust.

Every time feed is handled or pigs come in contact with feed there’s the opportunity for waste. Check your scales, mixing equipment, bins and conveyor systems regularly and eliminate leaks. Make this area part of your regular maintenance program.

Alternate ingredients

There are several factors to consider when evaluating alternate ingredients since they vary greatly in nutrients and nutrient availability.  “First, determine if there could be adverse health factors associated with it,” says Bob Thaler, swine specialist, South Dakota State University Extension.  “Second, make sure you know the ingredient’s nutrient profile, including energy and amino acid content, so it can be evaluated and incorporated into a balanced diet.”

Alternate ingredients should contain readily digestible energy and the correct energy levels. “Take extra care when adding alternate ingredients to nursery and lactation diets where energy intake is a critical issue,” Thaler says. Also, evaluate the digestibility of other nutrients and whether they will produce a palatable product.

Many producers are adding distillers’ dried grains with solubles to swine diets to reduce their feed bill. Thaler gives a “rule of thumb” for each 10 percent DDGS contained in a diet — 200 pounds of DDGS plus 3 pounds of limestone can replace:

• 178 pounds of corn,

• 19 pounds of soybean meal (containing 46 percent protein) and

• 6 pounds of dicalcium phosphate in a ton of complete feed.

So, if 200 pounds of DDGS plus 3 pounds of limestone are less expensive than the ingredients replaced, it’s economical to use DDGS.

“Producers often make the mistake of thinking DDGS mainly replaces soybean meal,” Thaler says.  “However, DDGS mainly replaces corn (89 percent), not soybean meal (9.5 percent). Another important benefit is its high concentration of available phosphorus.”

He emphasizes that each ingredient being considered must have a consistent nutrient content. “So once you’ve balanced the diet it remains effective with each future shipment,” Thaler says. "Make sure you know how long the product will be available and at what price.”

Also, you need to have adequate bin space for storage, or you’ll have to remove another feed ingredient from your inventory to be able to use the new ingredient.

Review and revise rations

With the high and volatile costs of many ingredients, each must show a proven benefit to feed efficiency and overall performance, whether it’s an “old standby” or an alternate ingredient. Review nutrient availability and diet content for each production phase.

For example, DeRouchey expects whey costs to continue rising and says some producers have removed it from the diet of 15-pound to 25-pound pigs, or the diet fed immediately following starter pellets. “Producers need to evaluate the margin-over-feed cost of the extra weight gain from the whey and determine if added revenue pays for the ingredient,” he notes.

Fat is another ingredient that must be considered carefully — use it where it’s most beneficial. “A pig responds to added dietary fat early in the growing period more than in the finishing phase,” according to DeRouchey. 

Many variables affect the most economical time to add fat, including the time of year and associated growth rates, market price fluctuation and when pigs will be marketed. Looking ahead and determining what levels are needed and when they will produce efficient gains should drive fat usage.

 “We need to get away from thinking there is a mandatory level of a particular ingredient that must be present in all finishing diets,” DeRouchey adds.

In the case of dietary fat, the most profitable inclusion period will change throughout the year. “For pigs marketed around July 1, for example, start feeding the added fat in March during the growing and early finishing period. This captures the improved growth rate for summer marketing,” he says.

For pigs placed in the summer or fall, consider pulling out the fat, as cooler weather should improve gains. “It is not a golden rule for every producer, but you need to think strategically about when you can maximize the investment for each added ingredient,” DeRouchey says.

You can find more tips and recommendations to reduce the cost of inputs at http://bit.ly/m2oo9t

By reviewing diets for each phase and carefully combining these and other strategies, you can take a bite out of your feed bill.

DDGS savings can add up

Many producers are upping their inclusion rates of distillers’ dried grains with solubles as a way to reduce feed cost. “If you go to 30 percent inclusion rate from 20 percent, for example, a feed savings of about $8 per ton (based on a 77 percent DDGS-to-corn price ratio) is possible,” says Joel DeRouchey, Kansas State University swine nutritionist.

As DDGS levels reach 40 percent to 50 percent in growing and early finishing diets, it may require a couple of extra days to market because growth rate may decline. However, if DDGS’ feed savings offset the added cost of extra days in the finisher, or the hit of selling a light pig, you can still come out ahead.

While upping the DDGS level is worth considering, proceed with care so as not to negatively impact fat quality and carcass yield. “Ask your packer before pushing up the DDGS levels since he may have recommended limits,” advises DeRouchey.

For gestation-sow diets, each 10 percent of added DDGS can save $9 to $10 per ton of feed. “Many producers are feeding 50 percent to 60 percent DDGS in gestation diets and 20 percent to 30 percent DDGS in lactation,” he adds. “Those levels may work this year because we don’t have a mycotoxin concern.”

DeRouchey recommends getting a nutrient analysis from your DDGS supplier. “Know what nutrient levels are contained in the DDGS,” he says. “If the fat level is only 7 percent, instead of a regular 10 percent, you must adjust the diet’s energy content accordingly.”