The volatile cost of traditional swine diets is a major challenge that you face today. One strategy playing a role on more farms is regular evaluation of alternative feed ingredients as a way to temper the feed cost bite.

Before selecting a new ingredient however, you will need to get your calculator and pencil out because it will take some homework. You must consider and evaluate many factors before you change diets. Quality and nutrient availability of the alternative ingredient are two critical factors to consider.  Palatability, effect on the end product, transporting and handling the product, as well as cost are other important considerations.

Here are a few tips to consider before switching to what appears to be a lower- cost ingredient. You don’t want it to end up costing you more in the long run. “Care is needed as you consider unfamiliar feed ingredients for pig diets,” says Chad Hastad, Swine Nutrition Services, Truman, Minn.

First, Hastad suggests that you concentrate on the basics and make sure those steps are being done properly. “With the high feed costs, we get a lot more questions about ‘cheapening up’ diets,” Hastad says. “But before you look at alternative ingredient options, there are several things to do first to economize on feed costs.” Those steps include:

  • Consider reducing particle size to improve feed efficiency.
  • Keep feeders adjusted correctly.
  • Look at market-hog weights and adjust those down if it makes sense to do so without facing a penalty from the packer.
  • Consider how fat is used in the diets.
  • Look at increasing inclusion rates of distillers’ dried grains with solubles.
  • Evaluate how Paylean is being used, to determine and maximize its benefits.
  • Work with your swine nutritionist, veterinarian, suppliers and banker to find ways to reduce costs within your system.
  • Make decisions based on facts, not on hearsay or emotions.
  • Look at feed budgets — are they correct and are they being followed?
  • Look at possible equipment changes, such as feeders, waterers and delivery systems to improve efficiency.

Making sure your feeding basics are sound makes it much easier and more likely to benefit from a possible change in ingredients. “If you’re following these fundamentals first, you can be more proactive in looking at alternative feed ingredients,” Hastad says.

But before considering any byproduct, he recommends that you ask yourself the following questions.

  • What is the nutrient composition? The accompanying table shows the nutrient values of various grains and byproducts compared to corn.
  • How variable is the quality of the product as delivered, and how will I deal with variation?
  • In what form does the byproduct come?
  • Have I factored in the cost to transport the product? For example, higher DDGS inclusion rates will affect transportation. At 40 percent inclusion, a 24-ton truck may hold only 18 to 22 tons of feed. This will increase transportation cost per ton of complete feed.
  • How does the ingredient impact diet flowability, bulk density and feed milling? 
  • Do I have enough available storage space?
  • How will the ingredient impact hog growth performance and carcass parameters such as leanness and fat quality?
  • Will the product be available consistently at an economical price?
  • Do I save enough money to cover any added risk that I may face? 
  • If I use manure for crops, how will the new ingredient affect the manure’s nutrient content and amount?

Once you answer these questions and you believe the risks are worth it, start to incorporate alternatives. But always monitor performance carefully and make adjustments quickly, if needed. Keep your past and current feed efficiency data for your herd on hand as your comparison standard. You can then more accurately determine the benefits, or shortfalls, in feed efficiency and animal performance delivered by diets containing alternative ingredients.

There may be many opportunities regarding alternative feed ingredients available to you locally if you look around for them. However, if you end up with an improperly balanced diet, you will not only forfeit any financial gain, your hogs’ performance will pay a price. So do your homework before making any changes.

Small Grains Present Alternative Opportunity

Small grains such as wheat, barley or rye are worth considering when formulating an alternative swine diet. With careful nutritional balancing, swine diets consisting of these small grains can perform equally as well as corn-based diets.                                  

Most small grains are higher in crude protein as well as several essential amino acids such as lysine and threonine than corn. However, evaluating small-grain-based diets for lysine concentration is critical since it’s the first limiting amino acid. Balancing the diet for lysine content also will usually provide adequate levels of other essential amino acids.

Small grains also are higher in digestible phosphorus, according to the National Pork Board’s publication Alternative Feed Ingredients in Swine Diets. Although you may still need to add inorganic phosphorus to meet a pig’s requirement for the mineral, smaller amounts may suffice in a small-grain-based diet.

Small grains can actually carry a higher feed value than corn since their high lysine level may reduce soybean meal amounts in finishing-pig diets by about 100 pounds per ton. This increases the feed value of small grains relative to corn by 5 percent to 7 percent.

Adding small grains to a crop rotation plan also may offer benefits. Adding an extra crop to a typical corn/soybean rotation can reduce costs, improve distribution of labor and equipment, improve future corn and soybean yields, improve cash flow and reduce weather risks, as the NPB booklet outlines.

To access the full document, click here.

Check the Relative Value

Alternative ingredients vary in nutritional value relative to corn. To help you know where you stand nutritionally, this table provides a summary of the feed value of some commonly used alternative ingredients.


How Much Can I Use?

Maximum usage rates for common energy sources vary by the production phase. This table provides guidelines that can help keep your feeding program in check to prevent undesirable effects from showing up in your alternative feeding strategy.

* Denotes no nutritional limitation in a diet balanced for essential amino acids, energy, minerals and vitamins.