Given the fact that feed prices have jumped about 20 percent in the last year, pork producers should carefully evaluate the competitiveness of their feeding programs. In my experience, they are sometimes unaffordable due to a poor choice regarding the type of feeding program used.

Here, I will address the feeding options available to you and compare the programs’ cost-effectiveness.

Review the options

There are four basic methods of supplying nutrients to pigs:

1. Purchased complete feed.

2. Grain plus concentrate or supplement.

3. Grain plus soybean meal and basemix. 

4. Grain plus soybean meal, salt, calcium and phosphorus source(s) and premix.

Now, let’s look at these a bit closer.

Complete feed. This is a ready‑to‑feed product containing ingredients that meet the pigs’ total nutritional needs. The feed manufacturer assumes all responsibilities for ingredient quality and mixing errors. You are responsible for using the product correctly.

Concentrate or supplement. This is a mixture of ingredients formulated to complement nutrients present in grain. When it is correctly mixed with grain, the resulting diet will meet the pigs’ total nutritional needs. Typical inclusion rates are 300 to 500 pounds per ton for all classes of pigs except starting pigs. Your task is to mix the correct ratio of concentrate and grain.

Basemix. This product generally contains ingredients rich in minerals and vitamins. Basemixes correctly mixed with grain and a protein source or sources will satisfy the pigs’ total nutritional needs. Some basemixes contain crystalline amino acids, phytase and animal protein products. Typical inclusion rates are 50 pounds to 100 pounds per ton, although some basemixes for nursery diets are added at 200 pounds to 400 pounds per ton. You assume the responsibility for possible variation in the protein content and quality of protein sources and for correctly blending the ingredients.

Premix. This product contains vitamins and/or trace minerals. The pigs’ total nutritional needs can be met by combining premixes with grain, salt and sources of protein, calcium and phosphorus. Typical inclusion rates are 5 pounds to 10 pounds per ton. Premixes are available with trace minerals and vitamins combined or packaged separately. You assume more responsibility for correct diet formulation and preparation as well as quality variation of the protein, calcium and phosphorus sources with this option than with the other options.

Which method to use?

One option does not consistently promote better pig performance or a lower cost of gain than another. The major considerations for choosing an option are shown in the accompanying table.

  • •Convenience refers to your level of involvement in making nutritional decisions and feed preparation.
  • •Risk relates to the odds of a diet lacking the intended nutrient concentration and ingredient quality. It rates the shifting of responsibility from the feed manufacturer to yourself for proper quality control and nutrient sourcing and inclusion.
  • Service is the level of technical advice, farm recordkeeping and other functions that an outside entity offers.
  • Cost includes that of ingredients and services such as processing, blending, delivery and technical advice.

Producers who put a high priority on convenience, want to minimize the risk of feed quality problems and want ample service will favor complete feeds. However, the cost is generally higher to justify the manufacturer’s services and risk assumption. With a premix program, there is less cost but it’s also less convenient, it carries higher risk and offers few or no services. The risks associated with feed quality can be managed, but it takes a commitment of time and resources.

So, only you can determine which method provides the best balance of factors that are most important to you while maintaining a competitive feed cost per unit of gain.

Do some homework

As you evaluate which feeding program option is best for you, it’s important to establish what you want in a feeding program and here’s where homework will pay off. Determine the energy and nutrient (amino acids, minerals, vitamins) levels you want in your diets, as well as the major ingredients. Give the information to feed companies that offer the type of feeding program you’re considering and ask for a complete nutrient, ingredient and cost profile. Be sure to carefully review the dietary information that the companies provide to ensure your specifications are met.

During 2008, you’ll be able to consult a new publication — The National Swine Nutrition Guide — to use in benchmarking your feeding program. The most current university-based swine nutrition information is available from KansasStateUniversity.

Produce feed on or off the farm?

Producers can purchase individual ingredients and manufacture diets on the farm or purchase complete feeds in meal or pellet form. The point is to compare the on-farm fixed costs and operating costs associated with manufacturing feed to custom rates at local feed mills and decide which is best for you.

Don’t forget to take into account the cost savings that may result from pelleting feeds. Pelleting corn/soybean meal-based diets improves feed efficiency and daily gain by about 6.5 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively. Pelleting is more easily justified when feed is expensive.

Because of problems associated with stocking several ingredients, as well as challenges in securing and maintaining quality ingredients such as dried whey, blood products and fish meal, it’s recommended that most producers purchase complete pelleted feeds for nursery pigs weighing less than 20 to 25 pounds. When feed for those pigs is made on the farm, it’s usually best mixed using a basemix or concentrate that contains many of the specialty ingredients that are needed in these diets.

It’s wise to periodically review your feeding pr ogram, especially now. But your answers need to focus on more than just raw costs — the best decisions relate to the program’s revenue-generating ability.