Corn is the main ingredient used in swine diets and contributes the major feed ingredient cost in animal production. The increase in current and proposed ethanol production has helped to increase the price of corn. The higher corn prices appear to be more than a short term event. Prices of other ingredients are also changing relative to the price of corn resulting in substantial increases in feed prices.

It is important to continuously monitor alternative ingredients and consider their possible use in diets. However, corn will likely be the major ingredient in swine diets. If we look at higher feed costs as a whole, anything to improve feed efficiency can help maintain or improve profitability.

Feed conversion during the grower and finisher period is a key factor to monitor. This is the period of the animal’s life when a majority of feed is consumed. The efficiency of feed utilization can be dramatically influenced by factors such as feed wastage, nutrient levels in diets, feed budgets, diet form (pellet or mash), the use of additional fat, and other environmental factors.

The influence of average feed cost and feed:gain ratios on feed cost per pig are shown in Table 1. Feed efficiency is always important to monitor, but an increase in average diet cost makes feed efficiency even more important. An example will be used to demonstrate the importance of feed efficiency relative to price of feed.

Assume an average feed cost of $300/ton and a feed:gain ratio of 2.70. The feed cost per pig is $85.05 per pig (see Table 1). If average feed cost increases to $325 per ton, feed cost per pig increases to $92.14 per pig (an increase of $7.09 per pig!). At $325/ton, a reduction in feed:gain ratio from 2.70 to 2.60 decreases feed cost $3.41 per pig ($92.14 to $88.73 per pig) accounting for nearly half of the increase in diet cost from $300 to $325. Feed cost per pig decreases to a greater degree as feed prices increase. Anything producers can do to improve feed efficiency during periods of high feed prices will help reduce feed costs.

Management-wise, how do you improve feed conversion? Feed wastage is probably the most critical factor that can be controlled on-farm. Routine and proper feeder adjustment throughout the life cycle is essential. For grow-finish pigs, only 40 to 50% of the pan should be covered with no feed in the corners. Also, make sure feeders are in good working condition and are appropriate for the animals being fed.

Diet form is also important to evaluate. In general, less feed is wasted when feed is fed as pellets. Pellets can improve the feed conversion 5-8% throughout the grow-out period. As mentioned previously, some of this improvement is due to a decrease in feed wastage.

At an average diet cost of $300 per ton, diets manufactured as pellets can reduce cost $6.30 per pig (feed conversion reduced from 3.00 to 2.80). Typically, it costs ~$6.50 per ton to pellet a diet, which equals $1.91 per pig (588 lb feed x $6.50/2000 lb feed) to pellet feed. The net effect of pellets in this situation is a $4.39 per pig savings ($6.30 per pig savings in feed – $1.91 per pig cost to pellet). The return from pellets increases as diet cost increases.

Dietary nutrient levels (especially lysine and energy) also influence the efficiency of feed utilization. It is important to be sure you are feeding the right diet during each phase of production. If nutrient levels are too high, you are unnecessarily increasing diet cost and getting no return. In contrast, if nutrient levels are too low, performance will be reduced and productivity (daily gain and feed conversion) will be compromised.

It is difficult to establish general nutrient requirements (i.e. energy, amino acids, etc.). A variety of factors (environment, overcrowding, etc.) can influence nutrient requirements in a given situation. It is important to work with a nutritionist and evaluate close-out information and current feeding programs to establish areas where diet changes can improve profitability.

Feed budgets are another part of the equation to monitor. The correct diets may be fed, but if we are using feed budgets (feeding a certain amount of a feed per animal), we need to be sure we are feeding the appropriate budget for the appropriate stage of production. Again, over-feeding a certain phase can unnecessarily increase diet costs, while underfeeding a certain phase can reduce performance.

For producers mixing feed on farm, the economics of utilizing fat or other high energy ingredients should be evaluated. As a rule of thumb, feed conversion is improved 2% per every 1% increase in dietary fat. Certainly, adding fat to the diet is going to increase diet cost. In addition, lysine levels should be increased when adding fat to maintain an equal lysine:calorie ratio. Information from Table 1 can be used to determine if the addition of fat is an economical choice.

Let’s assume a producer has average closeouts with a 3.00 feed:gain ratio from 50 to 260 lb body weight with an average diet cost of $300 per ton. At this level of production, feed cost per pig is $94.50. He determines that he could add 5% fat to his diets, which will increase average diet cost to $325 per ton. Is it economical to add fat to diets?

We would estimate feed conversion will be improved from 3.00 to ~2.70 (5.0 x .06= .30 unit improvement). At a diet cost of $325 per ton, feed cost per pig would be $92.14. In this case, fat is a good buy with a decrease in feed cost of $2.36 per pig. Keep in mind, the producer must have the ability to handle and store fat on-farm. If a producer doesn’t currently have the ability to handle fat on-farm, the potential payback from making an investment in fat storage can be estimated.

Genetics, health status, ventilation, etc. are all factors that can influence feed conversion.

There are many other factors influencing feed conversion that are important to evaluate. Genetics, health status, ventilation, etc. are all factors that can influence feed conversion. These factors plus those discussed in this article are all important to evaluate at anytime, but at higher corn (diet) costs, evaluating these factors is even more critical to maintain or improve profitability.

Table 1. Feed Cost/Pig (50 to 260 lb) at Various Feed Prices and Feed:Gain Ratios.
Feed: Gain
Feed Cost, $/ton 2.50 2.60 2.70 2.80 2.90 3.00 3.10 3.20
$200.00 $52.50 $54.60 $56.70 $58.80 $60.90 $63.00 $65.10 $67.20
$225.00 $59.06 $61.43 $63.79 $66.15 $68.51 $70.88 $73.24 $75.60
$250.00 $65.63 $68.25 $70.88 $73.50 $76.13 $78.75 $81.38 $84.00
$275.00 $72.19 $75.08 $77.96 $80.85 $83.74 $86.63 $89.51 $92.40
$300.00 $78.75 $81.90 $85.05 $88.20 $91.35 $94.50 $97.65 $100.80
$325.00 $85.31 $88.73 $92.14 $95.55 $98.96 $102.38 $105.79 $109.20
$350.00 $91.88 $95.55 $99.23 $102.90 $106.58 $110.25 $113.93 $117.60
$375.00 $98.44 $102.38 $106.31 $110.25 $114.19 $118.13 $122.06 $126.00
$400.00 $105.00 $109.20 $113.40 $117.60 $121.80 $126.00 $130.20 $134.40

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