With feed costs at record levels and breakeven costs soaring, increasing your operation’s efficiency is more critical today than ever.

“Make sure your operation is lean and mean,” says Steve Meyer, president, Paragon Economics.

Everything you can do to be more efficient, even addressing the seemingly small items, can help. “It’s the little things that make the difference,” according to Mike Brumm, Brumm Swine Consultancy, Mankato, Minn. Here he offers some tips to help increase your operation’s production efficiency.

Adjust feeders

This may seem like “Pork Production 101” to you, but day-in and day-out, poorly adjusted feeders waste a lot of your money.

“Everyone talks about this one, but it’s hard to get right,” Brumm says.

Start by getting a clear agreement with barn managers to make this a priority. Have them take ownership of this task; require them to go in and check feeders weekly, if not daily.

“If you want to be good at adjusting feeders, take a digital camera into the barn along with the person in charge of adjusting feeders,” Brumm says. Take photos, review the results, conduct retraining as necessary and get agreement from both managers and barn workers as to what the feeders need to look like.

Do this and “you will get better feeder adjustment,” he says.

Kansas StateUniversity offers photographs of properly adjusted feeders as well as tips on feeder adjustment on its swine Extension Web site. To access the photos, click here .

Minimize “out-of-feed” events

Out-of-feed events are part of the real world, and they have a serious economic impact on your operation. They can cost as much as $3 per pig due to reduced daily gain and increasing the pigs’ time to market. The fact is, human error is the main reason for out-of-feed events.

“If a pig misses a meal, it doesn’t grow — especially pigs from 40 pounds to 120 pounds,” Brumm warns. “If they miss a meal, they don’t make it up.”

Another important factor is to manage the slide mechanism on tandem bins, and it’s something you must watch closely. The problem occurs when feed is present in one bin, but the slide is open on the empty bin, so no feed gets delivered. “This is a huge issue and it’s an especially big issue with tube feeders,” he notes. “I see this a lot on farms.”

Feed particle size is another overlooked element. “Feed efficiency increases 1.2 percent for each 100-micron decline in the feed’s mean particle size,” Brumm notes. KansasStateUniversity research suggests an average particle size of 700 microns, but points out that fine grinding (600 to 700 microns) for high-fiber feed ingredients can further improve feeding value.

“However, as micron size is decreased to attain feed conversion improvements, the risk of feed bridging also increases, which can lead to an out-of-feed event,” Brumm says, “and if that occurs, any improvement gained in feed efficiency related to particle size will be lost.”

Watch feed delivery fees

Order only full loads of feed and make sure that any truck delivering feed to your operation is full. Again, that sounds elementary, but you’d be surprised how often this slip up surfaces.

With high diesel-fuel prices, feed mills will be increasingly aggressive in making sure they cover their delivery charges whether a truck is full or not. “You will always pay full-load delivery fees in the future,” Brumm warns.

Another related strategy that Brumm has to offer is to negotiate for mid-week delivery. You might find that you can save on delivery charges with that option since most feed is delivered at the beginning or at the end of the week. Your feed supplier may actually be willing to deliver feed for a bit less during “off-peak” times.

Do an energy walk-through of your barns

Propane and fuel bills are other places to search for savings, and prices are not going to offer relief anytime soon. As Brumm points out, “The Department of Energy and others are predicting that heating costs may rise as much as 25 percent by fall.”

Make sure you know the manufacturers’ guidelines on the electronic controllers in your barns and how to achieve the desired set points.

“There is big potential savings that can be realized here,” Brumm says.

He recommends that you compare your energy expenses against “normal” cases. There are Web sites available that do an excellent job of publishing data on a wide range of crop and livestock production expenses, including energy. To access the web Site, go to www.finbin.umn.edu.

Brumm cites four-year average fuel costs at $1.43 per pig on a wean-to-finish operation, 71 cents per pig for grow/finish barns and 50 cents per pig in breeding herds. Of course, with fuel prices’ rapid escalation this year you’ll need to adjust those average costs upward in order to get an accurate comparison.

Another place to look for ways to improve energy efficiency is electricity use. In a wean-to-finish operation, $1.04 per head and 62 cents per pig for a grow/finish operation have been typical electricity costs, averaged across both tunnel and curtain-sided facilities. But again, those costs are based on historic data and will require upward adjustments for you to accurately compare your status.

Look closely at the fans in your buildings. Review them to determine which ones should be operating and when; then make sure they come on and turn off when they’re supposed to. Of course, make sure all fans are clean and operating properly. That is always an important task, but it’s even more critical this year as you work to reduce electric bills. 

Consider changing ceiling lights from incandescent bulbs to florescent ones. Put heat lamps and mats on timers, especially as the piglets get a bit older. Note that this will take some attention from management as you don’t want to chill young pigs.

Double-check heaters and fans

“Getting the controllers correct is huge in terms of reducing your energy bill,” Brumm says.

For winter operation, set your controller so it turns the furnace off 2° F below the set point. “When you’re operating in furnace mode, your daily high temperature should never reach the set point,” he adds. “The goal in managing barns in the winter is to keep the pigs just above the point of cold stress.”

Make sure you have a full understanding of how your controllers work. Review operator’s manuals or ask the installers for information you may need for a complete and thorough working knowledge. Seal the barn up and do everything you can to reduce leakage.       

Your barn managers also must be aware of controller function and energy-saving strategies since they are working in the facilities on a daily basis and can have a big impact on energy savings. 

A furnace should never be running with a group of finishing pigs in the facility, Brumm points out. “The goal with pigs weighing 100 pounds and more always is to get heat out of the barn.”

Bear in mind that with today’s genetics, growing pigs generate 15 percent to 20 percent more heat than pigs of 20 years ago, as lean deposition creates heat.

In the summer, let finishing pigs get as warm as you can get away with. For example, the pig-level temperature when cooling must begin is 86° F for feeder pigs and 80° F for finishing hogs.

“The reduced feed intake resulting from temperatures higher than those levels can be huge,” Brumm warns. “That means we have to be more aggressive about cooling pigs.” 

Blowing hot air over hot pigs does not cool them. Wetting the pigs must be part of your summertime strategies. Use sprinklers to get the pigs wet, then turn them off. “The cooling takes place as the pigs dry, not when they are getting wet,” he says. Two minutes of sprinkling should be enough. When the pigs get dry, it’s time to wet them again.

With dripper systems, change how you plumb the line. For example, plumb it to the middle of the barn and then run the lines out in both directions. “You can significantly reduce the dripper’s ‘on’ time, as well as the amount of water going into the pit,” Brumm says. You also will have more consistent water pressure throughout the building.

Make sure fans are operating efficiently. Shutters need to be maintained so they open and close fully. If shutters are not open all the way while the fans are operating, it means air is not leaving the barn. That causes the larger fans to turn on, which then eats up more power and more money. Cleaning ventilation fans also can reduce electricity costs and improve air quality.

With today’s numerous challenges, running facilities efficiently must be a priority. Getting commitment from employees is a vital step. Hold energy awareness meetings and invite input from workers. Everyone on the operation must look for opportunities to increase efficiency.

With high energy and other input costs now a fact of business, stepping up to improve energy efficiencies must be part of the daily routine.