All signs point to a bountiful harvest, with corn and soybean meal prices expected to fall. However, with feed costs making up about 65 percent of production costs, it still pays to reduce the cost of the diet or improve feed efficiency.

Since 2008, many producers have incorporated alternative feed ingredients in swine diets to reduce feed costs, said Dr. Chris Hostetler, director of animal science and technology for the Pork Checkoff. The primary choice has been dried distillers grains with solubles.

“The choice has become so prevalent that many swine nutritionists no longer consider it an alternative ingredient,” Hostetler said.

While alternative feed ingredients lower feed costs, there is a cost due to the higher fiber and lower energy content and the fact that pigs don’t utilize energy derived from fiber as well. “As a result, the economic gain of feeding a reduced-cost diet is offset by impaired growth performance,” Hostetler said.

Running the Numbers

Swine nutritionists are working to balance this by incorporating the greatest amount of alternative feed ingredient with the least impact on performance.

The Industry Productivity Analysis, compiled with data from 35 percent of the U.S. sow herd and associated offspring, provides benchmarks for key productivity indicators for sow farms, nursery, wean-to- finish and conventional finishing operations.

The average feed efficiency is 1.48 pounds of feed per pound of gain for nursery pigs, 2.50 pounds for wean-to-finish production and 2.66 pounds for conventional finishing. However, farms with the best and worst feed conversion differ significantly, Hostetler said.

“Pigs from production facilities in the bottom 25 percent consume an additional half pound of feed per pound of gain. Regardless of the price of feed, this represents a significant loss of potential profit.”

Looking for More Answers

Producers have made progress in improving feed efficiency, largely in farms with conventional finishing, where feed per pound of gain declined 0.026 pounds from 2008 to 2013, Hostetler said. But what if pigs could better utilize dietary fiber?

Since 2007, Checkoff research has been finding answers in how to best utilize alternative feed ingredients. Research summaries can be found in the publication, Pork Industry Nutritional Efficiency Consortium Research 2007-2011, at porkstore.pork.org.

An August webinar series also addressed fiber in swine diets. The webinars can be viewed at pork.org.