As pork producers seek to protect margins from near-record corn prices, inclusion levels for distillers’ dried grains with solubles have been ramping higher in many swine diets. Reductions in input costs made possible by incorporating the ethanol co-product in feed can help protect profits and producers are pushing the limits. 

“The economics of feeding DDGS to swine has been the salvation for many pork producers and has led to feeding much higher levels than what was fed just a couple years ago,” says John Goihl, president of Agri-Nutrition Services, Shakopee, Minn. “DDGS is the primary alternative ingredient available to help stretch corn and soybean meal supplies.”

The surge in DDGS use has raised some concerns among packers, however, since the higher levels of DDGS, especially in finishing diets, can negatively impact carcass fat quality. As a result, some packers have expressed their concern over increased processing costs and complaints from customers.

Some packers have suggested a limit on DDGS inclusion levels fed during the finishing phase. However, since input costs usually rise as DDGS levels are scaled back, producers may face higher feed costs to remain in compliance with their packer.

According to Goihl, producers can save up to $30.00 per ton in reduced feed cost, or approximately $10.00 per market hog, when incorporating the higher levels of good quality DDGS. However, if a packer docks the producer because of high iodine value present in slaughter hogs (a key indicator of fat quality), the savings may be lost. “Packers are in a dilemma with the producer.”

“The DDGS topic is pushing the industry to the edge similar to the carcass lean percentage issue of the late-80’s and ‘90’s and the issue of halothane/RN gene in genetic programs,” according to Roger Johnson, director of pork quality, Farmland.

Johnson explains that the issue of carcass fat quality is not just restricted to DDGS usage.  “It is any and all fat sources that can or have contributed to less desirable fat in the major depots such as bellies.”

The carcass fat quality issue may be addressed in agreements between packers and producers. “Most marketing agreements are set up with a conforming carcass clause,” says Johnson. “Soft, undesirable fat can be interpreted as contributing to a “non-conforming” carcass.

According to Johnson, it is essential that pork producers accept the responsibility for those factors that they control. “The over-use of feedstuffs that contribute to non-conforming carcasses which do not satisfy the needs of customers, or the ultimate end-user, is not an acceptable practice.”

Goihl believes iodine value guidelines from packers would be helpful but there are many variables that enter the equation to determine an acceptable IV level. “Iodine values will vary considerably, even among pigs receiving similar amounts of DDGS due to gender, age and rate of gain differences.”

Each producer’s results will vary and a one-size-fits-all DDGS inclusion level is impractical. “Some packers have suggested that producers keep DDGS levels under 20 percent, however, they are slaughtering many pigs fed diets containing 30 percent to 50 percent DDGS,” says Goihl. “If fat quality becomes a concern, the producer can lower the inclusion level of DDGS to approximately 30 percent the last 3 to 4 weeks prior to slaughter.”