Hog and pork prices this year have already set records, and it’s not unrealistic to think that even more will develop. Of course, input costs, particularly those related to feed, also are setting records. Consequently, finding ways to cut feed costs and improve profitability prospects are daily priorities for all pork producers.

Certainly there are endless ways to tackle this challenge, and choices are driven by your pork production operation’s needs and goals. Rommel Sulabo, University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher in Hans Stein’s Monogastric Nutrition Laboratory, offers some tips that may help you reduce feed costs and increase profits. Among them, he focuses on alternative feed options.

“As feed ingredient costs rise, it’s even more critical for producers to take a closer look at non-traditional feed ingredients,” Sulabo says. “Fortunately, there are a number of options available to reduce diet costs by changing ingredients and formulating new diets.”

Whether alternative feed ingredients make sense for your situation depends somewhat on your location and access to feed alternatives. Here’s a look at Sulabo’s top five tips.

1. Incorporate DDGS: Although the cost of distiller’s dried grains with solubles has increased in recent months, you can still achieve significant savings. Even with current corn, soybean meal and DDGS prices, for each 10 percent of DDGS you incorporate into swine diets, costs decline by $7 to $9 per ton.

If your DDGS supply is consistently average or above average in terms of quality, it’s not unrealistic to incorporate 30 percent DDGS into diets for all pig categories from sows to finishers. You do need to ensure that the diets are properly balanced for all nutrients, Sulabo emphasizes. But if you make 30 percent DDGS your target inclusion rate for all pig diets (sows through the finishing stage), the total cost savings can add up to about $10 per market hog.

Now, DDGS is gaining popularity beyond U.S. borders, particularly in China, which means your competition for the product will continue to increase, so watch prices and calculate tradeoffs closely.

2. Use small grains when available: If small grains are an option for you, keep a close eye on those prices. Small grains can replace all or most of the corn in diets fed to pigs across all age groups.

“Wheat has a slightly greater nutritional value in a pig’s diet than corn,” Sulabo says. “So, it can easily replace all of the corn.” As for the price trade out, on a per-bushel basis, a producer can pay between 25 and 50 cents more for wheat than for corn without increasing diet costs.

Barley and sorghum can replace all or most of the corn in the diet, and the grains’ nutritional values are close to that of corn, Sulabo adds. However, because barley weighs less, it adds up to fewer pounds per bushel when compared with corn. On a per-bushel basis, it should cost no more than 85 percent to 90 percent of the cost of corn in order to pencil out.

Oats can replace up to 40 percent of the corn in most swine diets. However, both the bushel weight and energy concentration are less than that of corn, so the oat price would need to be less than 80 percent of corn (on a per-bushel basis) for it to be worth a look. 

3. Consider other co-products: In certain regions, co-products such as hominy feed, bakery meal or wheat middlings are available, and they can be included in pig diets up to 30 percent. If you can purchase them at 90 percent of the price of corn, or less, they can usually reduce diet costs, Sulabo says.

Quality differences do exist in these ingredients, so it’s important to find and work with committed suppliers to ensure quality, he adds. You’ll also need to work with a swine nutritionist, monitor production performance and determine storage and feed delivery options that make sense for your operation. 

4. Use fish meal substitutes: The cost of fish meal has increased dramatically in recent years because of things like reduced catches, the Gulf oil spill and increased demand from the aqua-feed industry, Sulabo notes. Among the alternatives are enzyme-treated soybean meal, fermented soybean meal, enzyme-treated pig intestines, poultry byproduct meal,meat-and-bone meal and blood meal.

Weaned pigs are the target phase for these products as they need the protein boost as well as assistance in transitioning from the sow to grower diets.

“Weanling pigs usually perform well when fed these protein sources instead of fish meal,” Sulabo says. “Pigs don’t have specific requirements for fish meal, so it can be reduced or avoided as price dictates.”

5. Eliminate inorganic phosphorus: Pigs require dietary phosphorus, but because pigs cannot readily use the phosphorus contained within corn and soybean meal, diets are often fortified with dicalcium phosphate or monocalcium phosphate.

However, those phosphate sources have climbed in price, causing more producers to turn to phytase. It allows the pig to utilize more of the phosphorus in corn and soybean meal, thereby requiring less inorganic phosphorus.

You can use less inorganic phosphorus if diets contain DDGS, because the product already has relatively high levels of digestible phosphorus. If you incorporate both phytase and DDGS, there’s no need to use dicalcium phosphate or monocalcium phosphate in diets fed to weaned pigs that weigh more than 25 pounds or to grow/finish pigs, according to Sulabo. So, by eliminating the inorganic phosphorus, you can significantly reduce your total diet costs.  

Corn and soybean meal have been the standard, go-to products dominating swine rations for decades, but with the changing dynamics in feedgrains’ supply and price, it may be worth looking around at options — if not for today, then as possible considerations down the road.