Feed costs have more than doubled this year, and the cost to raise a pig is destined to remain high into the next year or longer. Add in the volatility of the hog and feedgrain markets, and it’s no surprise that pork producers are looking for ways to reduce input costs, especially when it comes to feed.

One possible solution is to get the most out of your feed ingredients — particularly feed additives. Most cost-saving solutions focus on removing feed additives thought to have no nutritive benefits, so they’re considered dispensable.   However, that assumption is not always accurate. 

But does a feed additive really contain valuable nutrients?

“Yes,” says Chad Risley, general manager of Lucta, “many feed additives use carriers that supply nutrients, such as limestone, salt, whey and soya grits.” 

Although the nutrient contribution may be small, every bit helps when you’re staring at the kind of profit or loss margins that pork production has faced this year. Formulating diets with these nutritive carriers in mind reduces overfeeding, which also helps limit waste and nutrient excretion in manure, Risley points out.

One common feed additive that contains a critical nutrient is phosphoric-acid-based feed acidifiers. Such products are traditionally used in the nursery-pig phase as a way to acidify the diet.   These products lower the pH of the pig’s stomach, which improves protein digestion and controls undesirable bacteria.  Feed acidifiers use phosphoric acid — the same phosphoric acid that is used to manufacture feed phosphates like dicalcium phosphate and monocalcium phosphate. 

To illustrate the point, say a feed acidifier product contains 50 percent phosphoric acid (80 percent baseline) on an inert (non-nutritive) carrier.   The amount of available phosphorus in this feed acidifier is 19 percent.  Dicalcium phosphate contains 18.5 percent available phosphorus, and monocalcium phosphate contains 21.1 percent available phosphorus. 

Therefore, the feed acidifier in the example can replace the other feed phosphate sources nearly pound for pound.  For simplicity, the example ignores the calcium component of the two feed phosphates, which are each around 20 percent calcium.

A typical inclusion rate for the feed acidifier example is 4 pounds per ton of feed, and, therefore, it can replace approximately 4 pounds of feed phosphate. Assuming your feed phosphate costs $1,000 per ton, the “savings” by using the phosphorus value in the acidifier is $2 per ton. (See the accompanying table.)

“If your feeding program already uses acidified diets, you need to be taking advantage of these savings to lower your acidification costs,” Risley contends.

Other feed additives in which the nutritive value tends to be overlooked are flavors (which are carrier dependent), amino acids (energy value), organic minerals (amino acid/protein value) and antibiotics (which are carrier dependent).

“If you’re not considering the nutritive value of additives, you’re probably wasting money,” Risley says.

So, if you are looking for ways to save on feed costs — and who isn’t — but are unsure about your feed additives’ nutritive value, ask your supplier or nutritionists for more guidance.

Seemingly Small Savings Add Up

Here’s an example of the potential savings with a phosphoric-acid-based acidifier, providing 19 percent available phosphorus. Depending on feed phosphate prices, using a feed acidifier can reduce costs up to $2.40 per ton of feed.  

Here are some other feed-additive loading values to review. Feed additives provide more nutrients than you might think. For example, lysine = energy, organic minerals and yeast = amino acids, and flavors = sodium.

These are suggested values; always check with your ingredient supplier for his recommended values.