The tremendous increase in grain costs over the past few years has increased focus on feed programs. Even small improvements in the feed programs used to produce eggs and meat can lead to substantial savings in feed costs and dramatically improve profitability. Phase feeding is a common practice used to implement feed programs. The objective of this article is to review the benefits of phase feeding and for producers already using phase feeding programs to discuss the need to periodically review phase feeding programs to improve profitability.

What is phase feeding? Phase feeding is a term used to describe the feeding of several diets for a relatively short period of time to more closely match an animal’s nutrient requirements. When one diet is fed for a long period of time (Figure 1) the feed meets the nutrient requirements of the animal “on average.”
However, at any given point in time, the feed is either under or over the animal’s nutrient requirements.
With this type of feeding program, we would expect animal performance to be reduced early, since the animal is not getting the nutrients required to meet established performance goals. Later, when the feed’s nutrient content is greater than the animal’s requirements, we are adding unnecessary cost to production. In fact, in some cases the excess nutrients can be detrimental to animal performance and certainly leads to excess nutrient excretion to the environment.

Through phase feeding (Figure 2), you more closely match the animal’s nutrient requirements and minimize the over- and under-feeding of nutrients. Ideally, to get maximum benefit from phase feeding, diets to be fed and feed budgets are established based on actual animal performance and profitability/performance goals. The correct diets and feed budgets must be established for each stage of production. Information from breeding companies about expected performance in commercial conditions can be useful in establishing expected performance.

The disadvantages of moving from one feed to a phase feeding system includes greater complexity in ordering feed and the potential need to install additional feed bins on the farm. However, with increased pressures on profitability, these disadvantages must be weighed against the benefits of improved animal performance and profitability.

A broiler feed example will be used to show the practical benefits of moving to a phase feeding system on animal performance and profitability. Let’s assume one feed is fed to a house of 40,000 broilers for 42 days. The feed meets the “average” nutrient requirements over this 42 day period and costs $400/ton. Birds average 5.5 lb at 42 days with an average feed conversion of 1.87. Feed requirements are 10.3 lb/bird (5.5 x 1.87) with a feed cost is $2.06/bird or $82,400 for the house.

To develop a phase feeding for these same broilers, we consult with the breeding company and establish a feeding program with three feeds with the same “average” price (Starter= $420, Grower= $400, Finisher= $380/ton) as the one feed program above. However, the feed budget for these 3 feeds is adjusted to match the bird’s nutrient requirements (Figure 2). Based on this information, the Starter, Grower and Finisher feeds are fed at 1, 3 and 6 lb/bird, respectively.

Since we are more closely matching the nutrient requirements of the broilers, feed conversion is improved to 1.82 during the same 42 day period with a 5.5 lb broiler weight. The phase feeding system results in a feed cost of $1.95/bird or $78,000 for the house. Total feed cost has been reduced over $4,000 for the house using the phase feeding program. This example underestimates the value of phase feeding since it assumes the same adjusted weight (which we would expect to be improved) and same mortality/morbidity (which we would also expect to be improved).

Even with phase feeding, if the diets and/or feed budget do not match expected performance, feed costs will be unnecessarily increased or animal performance will be reduced. Audits should be routinely conducted to make sure established feed budgets and diets match performance criteria established when designing feed programs.

We may want a particular diet to last two weeks based on expected/past performance, so we establish a feed budget of 2 pounds of feed per animal. However, if the 2 pounds of feed per animal actually lasts three weeks, we must investigate why. In this case, the animals are matching the feed budget but are receiving the wrong budget to achieve established performance guidelines. Being on budget with the wrong budget/wrong diet can be very costly. If this is the case, work with your nutritionist to properly match budgets/diets with performance targets.

Once the correct diets and correct feed budget are established, strict adherence to established feed budgets is a critical step to assure the proper amount of each diet is being fed. Over-feeding a budget unnecessarily increases feed costs, while underfeeding a budget reduces animal performance. Either of these situations reduces overall profitability.

Feed budgets are typically established by a nutritionist to provide a certain quantity of each diet per animal (23 lb/100 birds). Practically, feed budgets are used by producers and feed companies to provide a certain quantity of feed for an entire group of animals being fed (10 tons/group). Many times the feed budget for a group of animals is not correct, because the correct number of animals is not used in calculating the budget or animal inventory is not properly adjusted for deaths, culls, or other animal removal. Feed budgets are most effective when they match the number of animals actually being fed.

Phase feeding is an important part of establishing feed programs to meet animal performance and profitability goals. Producers not using phase feeding should consult with a nutritionist to establish the potential benefit of phase feeding for their operation. Producers who already use phase feeding should work with their nutritionist to periodically review their feed programs and adjust accordingly to meet production and profitability goals.

For more information about Wenger Feeds’ Products and Services, contact us.