With feed costs rapidly increasing, it presents a major concern for many producers. While there is little that an individual can do to influence ingredient prices, there are several ways to reduce the total feed usage within an operation. In short, anything that improves feed conversion will improve profitability -- a fact that's even more important when feed costs are high.

Reduce feed wastage

The No. 1 thing that can help reduce feed costs is to focus on reducing waste. Research shows that many feeders are not properly adjusted, and feed waste can be as high as 8 percent.

Two things can be done to reduce feed waste. First, make sure the feeders are in good working order, with no holes, sharp edges or broken corners. Broken or misfunctioning feeders should be repaired or replaced.

Second, make sure feeders are adjusted correctly.  About 50 percent of the feed pan’s surface should be visible at all times. If that is not the case, then make adjustments to reduce the feed amounts. Also, make sure that old and moldy feed is not accumulating in the corners of the feeder because this will encourage pigs to root in the feeder, which may increase waste.

Pelleting and correct grinding

Feed utilization usually increases by 5 percent to 10 percent if the feed is pelleted instead of fed in a mash form. The economics of pelleting feed improves as feed costs increase. With current high feed prices it would be economical to pellet the feed wherever possible.

Feed utilization also improves if corn is ground fine because nutrient digestibility increases with fine grinding. Therefore, make sure that the hammer mill or roller mill is adjusted to avoid particle sizes that are too big.

Both pelleting and fine grinding do increase the risk of pigs developing ulcers, and mortality rates may increase if the feed is ground too fine. An average particle size of 600 to 650 microns is recommended.

Improving feed conversion

Several additives have been shown to improve feed conversion. Antibiotic growth promoters will usually increase feed conversion by 5 percent to 10 percent during the nursery phase, and by 2 percent to 5 percent during the grow/finish phase.

Acidifiers and direct-fed microbials may also increase feed conversion during the nursery phase. However, the effect of these additives is less pronounced during the grow/finish phase.

The economics of using feed additives that improve feed conversion improves when feed costs are high, and with current prices, this may be worth considering.

Market pigs at lighter weights

A pig’s feed utilization drops off as it gets older and bigger. More of the feed’s energy and nutrients go toward maintenance in larger pigs than in smaller pigs. The overall feed conversion will be improved if pigs are marketed at a lighter weight.  But the profitability of this depends on the packer’s buying grid and the current marketing strategy's ability to avoid shipping hogs that fall outside the packer’s window. If a significant number of animals are shipped at weights that exceed the packer’s premium,  a lower average shipping weight may be more profitable. Overall, doing a more precise job of sorting can improve marketing profits and reduce feed costs.

It is a continuous balancing act to meet the pigs’ nutritional needs in order to keep them healthy and growing, and to maximize output. But when feed prices are high, that balancing act takes on a new dimension.