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Feb 14

5 Ways to Reduce Feed Costs This Year – Pork Magazine

By Chris Hostetler, Ph.D., Director of Animal Science, National Pork Board

It may still only be February, but its clear the year wont be without challenges for U.S. pig farmers as feed costs continue to rise. As both corn and soybean meal prices surge, finding ways to reduce their impact on your bottom line is critical since combined they typically make up nearly 65% of the cost of production.

Regardless of the strategies producers use to lower feed costs, its critical to rely on the professional advice of swine nutritionists and other production experts. The focus should be on practices that optimize feed costs and efficiencies while maximizing profitability and maintaining a nutritionally balanced diet for the pigs.

1. Find alternative feed ingredients.Although you may find alternative feedstuffs and byproducts locally, you may need to look further for available sources. Many of the alternatives, outlined in the Pork Checkoffs Alternative Feed Ingredients in Swine Diets booklet, have become competitively priced during times of high grain prices as is the case with distillers grains with solubles (DDGS).

Regardless of the alternative feedstuff you find, determine its nutritional profile and feeding value at the price quoted before you decide to use it. Also, make sure to understand the form in which it will be delivered so extra labor or machinery is not required to make it practical. Examples of alternative feedstuffs include bakery products, glycerin (byproduct of biodiesel manufacturing), poultry fat, etc.

You should work closely with a swine nutritionist when making decisions about alternative feeds so that you continue to feed a nutritionally balanced diet to your animals.

Sows and older market hogs can utilize higher percentages of DDGS in their ration than other pigs. However, high levels of DDGS in market hogs may negatively affect carcass quality.

Jim Pettigrew, animal science professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, suggests the following: Buy DDGS from a plant where you have a good relationship Buy only light-colored DDGS Buy only DDGS with lysine at 2.8% minimum crude protein Avoid DDGS with a high level of syrup balls

Recommended levels of DDGS in swine diets (Univ. of Illinois)

From Stein, H.H. 2007. Distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) in diets fed to swine. Swine Focus #001, Department of Animal Sciences, College of ACES, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For additional technical information on feeding DDGS to livestock, go the University of Minnesotas Biofuels Co-Products in Animal Feeds website. Much of this work was funded by Pork Checkoff and is summarized in this report.

2. Use more crystalline amino acids and less animal protein.

The costs of many feed ingredients fluctuate over time. This is true of many crystalline amino acids such as lysine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine, valine, and isoleucine. They have significantly decreased in price over the years and are now cheap enough to allow for the replacement of a substantial amount of soybean meal in the diet. The results can be a nutritionally balanced diet for the pigs at a real cost savings.

For starter pig diets, it pays to be very particular about animal protein ingredient sources and costs. For example, a starter diet can be nutrient-dense and high performance but still lower cost by using reduced levels of key ingredients. These include spray-dried animal plasma, soy protein concentrate, spray-dried blood meal and dried whey when high energy hulless oats and hard red spring (HRS) wheat are selected as basal grains.

3. Replace broken or damaged feeders and keep feeders in proper adjustment.Broken or damaged feeders can result in excess costs due to feed wastage or inadequate feed supply, resulting in poor pig performance. Consider replacing older or inefficient feeders with well designed, efficient feeders that minimize feed wastage and promote maximum pig performance.

Adjusting feeders to reduce feed wastage should be a routine practice. Minor adjustments of feed bins and transport systems can also result in big savings. Kansas State University recommends the following steps for proper feeder adjustment: Close feeder completely after cleaning before putting any feed in the feeder. Open feeder just enough to start small feed flow. Shake feeder to increase amount of pellets or meal in pan (to cover 1/3 of pan). Clean corners daily instead of increasing feeder adjustment to increase feed flow. Prevent moisture damage and spoilage in feed systems and storage. Eliminate all rodents, birds and other pests.

As a reference, these feeders show how much feed should be in the pans of properly adjusted feeders for nursery, grow-finish and lactation phases.

4. Be timely on culling sows, especially at weaning.

Injured animals, sows with irregular estrus, open sows and sows with reproductive abnormalities are costly to keep. Sow caregivers can be a critical help in identifying these unwanted cases. This makes teaching employees to be observant and to make daily observations so important.

Be consistent in pregnancy diagnosis to remove non-pregnant females as quickly as possible. Likewise, identify and market non-select gilts early before their growth curves change significantly making them more costly to feed for the gain realized. Marketing these animals early also prevents them from reaching a market weight out of the ideal range for your packer. This will help reduce some of these avoidable costs.

If pigs start off as poor performing, they tend to stay that way. Because of this, it often pays to be aggressive in culling of these animals before or at weaning since they are more likely to contract disease, grow more slowly and take more feed to reach an acceptable market weight.

While sick pigs may, improve after treatment, some may show little or no improvement. This makes timely euthanasia critical. Conversely, you can also try to market them in a lower weight channel. To help standardize this process, create a standard operating procedure that prescribes the conditions under which pigs should be sorted or euthanized to reduce losses and improve herd performance and economic returns.

5. Keep barn environments optimal for growth.

Dont underestimate the importance that a pigs environment plays in its ability to stay healthy and use less feed to grow to its full potential. Stocking density, air quality (in terms of ammonia levels), ventilation, air flow, humidity and ambient temperatures at pig level, all affect pig performance and comfort.

To keep tabs on these variables, be sure to review all ventilation settings to ensure they are appropriate for the pigs at each stage of production. Train employees and all caregivers to observe signs of pig discomfort such as piling or huddling. Similarly, they should check for drafts, gaps in building curtains and excess humidity levels.

On a regular basis, make sure all equipment is running at maximum efficiency and is appropriate for the job. This is especially true for any ventilation equipment and supplemental heating units to ensure proper environmental control and animal performance.

Stay Vigilant and Be Open to New Ideas

These are just five management practices that you can use to reduce feed costs during times of elevated grain prices. There are many more to consider, but the more important point is to review all management practices on a regular basis to identify areas of inefficiency so you can address them quickly. Doing so can mean the difference between black or red ink on your ledger.

Read more from Farm Journal's PORK:

2021 U.S. Pork Exports Forecast: Not Great, But Still Pretty Good

4 Things Animal Ag Can Learn from the Human Response to COVID-19

High Feed Costs? Review Your Health Program

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5 Ways to Reduce Feed Costs This Year - Pork Magazine

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