Squeezing every nutrient, and every penny, out of feed is an important task on hog farms today. Whether to grind or pellet feed is worth reviewing.

Pelleting swine diets has become more commonplace in all production stages. As Julie Salyer, Vita Plus swine nutritionist, points out, feeding pelleted diets to finishing pigs can improve feed conversion by 5 percent to 8 percent. “Some factors to take into consideration when contemplating whether to pellet swine diets include feed processing costs, factors including particle size and pellet quality, as well as the ingredients that can be used in formulation,” she says.

There’s no question that feed particle size influences feed efficiency as it can make nutrients more available and digestible for the animal. When pelleting a diet, the particle size can drop to <400 microns. That compares to a meal diet’s particle size, which typically runs 600 to 700 microns.

“Reducing the average particle size of ingredients within a pellet improves digestion and nutrient absorption,” Salyer says. She does warn that smaller feed particle size can potentially increase the risk of stomach ulcers. It also will increase the mill energy cost due to the longer grinding time needed.

Feed quality is always important, but pellet quality is particularly critical because “the amount of pellet fines can change the magnitude of growth response, sorting and feed wastage,” Salyer says. Processing factors such as temperature, ingredient inclusion and die thickness, greatly impact pellet quality.

Producers are using byproducts in much greater numbers today, and you need to consider how such ingredients may affect pellet quality. For example, Salyer points out that diets containing more than 7 percent fat won’t make good pellets. “Diets containing more than 18 percent fiber will most likely not push through the pelleting die,” she adds. “However, including a limited amount of higher-fiber ingredients, such as wheat middlings, can help bind ingredients and make stronger pellets.”

Salyer cites two Kansas State University experiments, one which evaluated pelleted corn/soybean meal-based diets, and a second, which evaluated the pelleted diets containing multiple byproducts. Both experiments showed that pelleting improved growth performance. However, the pelleted diets that included byproducts had more fines in the feeder, which tempered gains in growth performance compared to pigs fed the pelleted corn/soybean meal diets, she notes.

As noted previously, pelleting doesn’t come without a cost, and for producers considering their own pelleting system the cost is significant. “A 15 ton-per-hour pelleting system, including a new boiler, wiring and 8-ton to 20-ton loadout bins, costs about $850,000,” Salyer notes. “This investment only makes sense if a production system has enough through-put to optimally utilize the pelleting system.” The other option, of course, is to work with commercial toll mills that can produce pelleted diets for you, and it’s best to shop around for prices if that option exists.