This year, a frequent question from producers was “How can I control feed costs?”

While procurement strategies are required for each ingredient, finding ways to improve feed efficiency also is key. First, you must determine what feed efficiency level is acceptable for your operation. To make this assessment, you should adjust feed efficiency to a common end point — such as 50 pounds to 250 pounds or 50 pounds to 270 pounds — as well as to a corn/soybean meal-diet equivalent (1,500 kcal. per pound).

You may need to make adjustments to account for:

1) Differences in the pigs’ starting and ending weights;

2) Differences in dietary energy level;

3) Differences in diet form (pellet versus meal).  (See table below)

My rule for pigs fed a corn/soybean meal-based diet without added fat, and with a closeout weight range of 50 pounds to 270 pounds, is that feed efficiency should be 2.9 pounds of feed per pound of gain or lower. Feed efficiency will increase and decrease by about 0.005 pound of feed per pound of gain for each 1 pound of pig weight above or below those starting and end points. So, for a weight range of 50 pounds to 250 pounds, the target would be 2.8 pounds of feed per pound of gain. For a weight range of 60 pounds to 270 pounds, the target would be 2.95.

To adjust for dietary energy, feed efficiency should be altered proportionally for the energy difference between the current diet and a corn/-soybean meal diet. For example, if you feed a diet with 1,400 kcal per pound, the feed/gain goal would increase by 7.1 percent (1,500 -– 1,400 = 107.1 percent).

If pellets are fed instead of meal, the goal should drop by 6 percent due to the improved feed efficiency with pellets. Thus, the goal for pigs fed pelleted diets from 50 pounds to 270 pounds would be 2.73 (2.90 x 94 percent).

If, after making the adjustments, you discover that your feed efficiency is falling short, you need to look at the various influencing factors individually. To ensure that no areas are overlooked, review the decision tree that is presented here.

Start by breaking feed efficiency into two factors: 1) feed disappearance and 2) average daily gain. Then, investigate whether the poor feed efficiency is associated with high feed disappearance, low average daily gain or both.

Disappearing feed

Here’s a list of areas that you need to dig into to find clues for feed efficiency declines. 

•  Genetics. Low-lean, high-feed-intake genetics will deliver poor feed efficiency. Records from your genetic supplier or, better yet, from other producers with similar genetics will help you determine whether your genetics are capable of excellent feed efficiency.

•  Feed waste. Poor feeder adjustment (more than 50 percent of the feeder pan is covered with feed) will increase feed waste. Old feeders with poor design or inability to adjust will increase waste. These should be replaced and can often pay for themselves in less than two turns of animals through the barn.

•  Low energy density. Diets that are low in energy will increase feed consumption and reduce average daily gain, resulting in poor feed efficiency.

•  Feed delivery. Check delivery records to ensure that feed credited to a group of pigs was actually delivered to that group. Other points to note: Two deliveries recorded close together in a tight period of time may be a data entry error. Review your feed budgets to see that the correct amount of each diet is being fed.

•  Diet deficiencies (amino acids). Inadequate levels of lysine or other amino acids often lead to an increase in feed use and lower average daily gain, which cuts into feed efficiency.

•  Mortality. Mortality late in the finishing period can boost the feed disappearance calculations for the remaining pigs. For each 1 percent increase in mortality, feed efficiency will be hurt by 1.5 percent to 2 percent.

•  Effective temperature. If temperatures are too low, pigs will eat more just to maintain body temperature. Because the feed is going to produce heat and not for growth, feed efficiency will suffer.

Checking daily gain

The other side of the feed-efficiency equation that can pull down your results is, of course, average daily gain. Here are some points to consider:

•  Disease. Disease problems that cut into average daily feed intake tend to have a dramatic impact. Each 1 percent increase in mortality will hurt feed efficiency by about 1.5 percent. Disease or any other stressor that diverts nutrients from growth to the immune system will reduce average daily gain and hurt feed efficiency.

•  Genetics.  Genetics with high average daily feed intake can still have poor feed efficiency. However, genetics with low average daily feed intake will usually have low average daily gain, which damages feed efficiency.

•  Feed availability. Limiting feed intake whether intentionally or unintentionally (such as plugged or empty feeders or bins) will drop average daily feed intake and average daily gain. High stocking density with inadequate feeder space will also temper average daily feed intake and average daily gain. 

•  Water availability. If adequate water availability falls short so will the pigs' average daily feed intake, average daily gain and feed efficiency.

•  Diet deficiencies (amino acids, salt, energy and others). Any nutrient deficiency can lower average daily gain. However, those most often found to impact average daily gain and feed efficiency are amino acids, salt and energy. 

•  Effective temperature. High environmental temperature will cut average daily feed intake and average daily gain. Feed efficiency is not altered much by high temperature unless it is so high that feed intake drops to just above required maintenance levels. At that point, feed efficiency will decline simply because there isn’t much energy available for average daily gain because it’s all being used for maintenance. 

Other points to consider

•  Grain particle size. High particle size will decrease a diet’s digestibility. Feed efficiency worsens by approximately 1.2 percent for every 100 micron increase in grain particle size. Feed particle size should be as small as practical. For meal diets, the optimum compromise between flowability and best feed efficiency is 600 to 700 microns.

•  Diet form. Pelleted diets will provide 3 percent to 6 percent better feed efficiency than diets fed in a meal form. The improvement depends on the particle size of the grain used in the pellet versus the meal form. An advantage of pelleted diets is that finer particle size (500 microns or less) can be fed without flowability worries. The quality of the pellet comes into play here as well; as pellet quality improves, feed efficiency also improves.

While feed intake, average daily gain and feed efficiency are always priorities, there’s no doubt that high-priced feed makes them more important than ever. Take a close look around your system and within your herd to see where small or large adjustments are needed. In these challenging times, it can make the difference between a bottom line in the black or one facing red ink.


Does your feed efficiency measure up?

Here are some feed efficiency targets from Mike Tokach, KansasStateUniversity swine nutritionist. To take this quick test, select the diet type that you’re feeding (meal or pellet, corn-based or milo-based) and its fat content. Then pick your hogs’ beginning and end weights. The feed/gain figure is your target.

Feed efficiency targets

   

Corn-based diets

Milo-based diets

Pig Entry Weight

(pounds)

Pig Market Weight

(pounds)

0% Fat

5% Fat

0% Fat

5% Fat

   

Meal Diets (pounds of feed per pound of gain)

40

250

2.75

2.48

2.81

2.52

40

270

2.85

2.57

2.91

2.62

40

290

2.95

2.66

3.01

2.71

50

250

2.80

2.52

2.86

2.57

50

270

2.90

2.61

2.96

2.66

5

290

3.00

2.70

3.06

2.75

60

250

2.85

2.57

2.91

2.62

6

270

2.95

2.66

3.01

2.71

60

290

3.05

2.75

3.11

2.80

   

Pelleted Diets (pounds of feed per pound of gain)

40

250

2.59

2.33

2.64

2.37

40

270

2.68

2.41

2.73

2.46

40

290

2.77

2.50

2.83

2.55

5

250

2.63

2.37

2.68

2.42

50

270

2.73

2.45

2.78

2.50

50

290

2.82

2.54

2.88

2.59

60

250

2.68

2.41

2.73

2.46

60

270

2.77

2.50

2.83

2.55

60

290

2.87

2.58

2.92

2.63