Current economic conditions have created unprecedented challenges for livestock and poultry producers. High feed and production costs coupled with low market prices have put pressure on profitability. Feeding cheaper diets can reduce input costs, but may not necessarily be the best choice to maximize profitability. Producers need to focus on ways to maximize profitability through an optimal use of feed. The purpose of this article is to discuss potential feed tips for maximizing profitability in today’s economy.

High Energy Diets
The most expensive nutrient to provide for in the diet is energy. The use of high energy diets (typically added fat) improves the efficiency of feed utilization. This is a situation where diet cost may increase, but the improvements in feed efficiency result in improved profitability.

For swine, the rule of thumb is a 1% increase in fat results in a 2% improvement in feed efficiency. A producer should continually evaluate the price of feed with added fat and compare the increased cost to the expected improvement in feed efficiency. If the expected improvement in feed efficiency is greater than the increased cost of adding fat, the higher energy diet is the better choice economically.

Net Energy
The use of Net Energy (NE) of ingredients can optimize the use of available ingredients and reduce feed costs. Typically the use of NE versus Metabolizable Energy (ME) or Digestible Energy (DE) will change the relative value of ingredients resulting in a decrease in the use of high protein ingredients, increase the use of crystalline amino acids, and increase the use of corn and fat. In addition, because the relative value of ingredients is improved on an energy basis, pig performance typically becomes more predictable.

Byproduct Ingredients
The use of byproduct ingredients, such as bakery products, distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS), and wheat middlings in diets can improve profitability by lowering feed costs. It is critically important to purchase byproduct ingredients from reputable suppliers (single source preferable), analyze for nutrient content on a routine basis, and continually evaluate the relationship of price to nutrient value. Additionally, when considering a new byproduct ingredient, work with a nutritionist to understand other factors to consider when using byproduct ingredients in diets.

Ingredient Analysis
Ongoing nutrient analysis of ingredients used in diets is an important part of optimizing profitability.  Regular analysis of ingredients allows the producer and/or nutritionist to adjust diets to meet specified nutrient levels. Diets containing ingredients with higher nutrient values than what is used in the formulation of the diets results in a higher nutrient content than what is needed resulting in unnecessary additional cost. Likewise, a diet containing ingredients with a lower nutrient values than what is used in formulation results in lower nutrient content than targeted resulting in suboptimal animal performance.

Particle Size of Corn
The proper particle size of corn can significantly improve feed efficiency. Research from Kansas State University suggests a 1% improvement in the feed efficiency of swine for every 100 micron decrease in the particle size of corn. For producers feeding mash feeds, a target of 700 to 800 microns is an achievable goal to help optimize performance and prevent potential ulcer issues that may result from grinding corn too fine. A target of 500 to 650 microns is an achievable goal for corn used in pelleted diets.

Pelleting feed improves the availability of nutrients to the animal, improves feed conversion, decreases feed wastage, and reduces dust. As a rule of thumb, feed efficiency of grow-finish swine is improved 5% when diets are pelleted as compared to feeding mash diets. Pelleting will increase the cost per ton of feed, but with current feed prices, there is typically a positive return when pelleted diets are fed. It is always important to continually compare the expected improvement in performance with the increased cost to pellet diets.

Match Feed Budget and Diets with Expected Performance
Ideally, 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. 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 the feeding programs.

As an example, we may want a particular diet to last 2 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.

Follow Feed Budgets
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. Overfeeding 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 (5 lb/pig). 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.

Feeder Management
Feeder management is always important. During periods of high feed prices, good feeder management is especially critical and can be the difference between a profit and a loss. Older feeders that are broken or hard to adjust can cause significant feed wastage. As a rule of thumb, if you see feed on the floor you conservatively have at least 5% wasted feed. Based on this factor, feeders designed to minimize feed wastage can be a cost effective investment.

Feed Outages
Several studies have been conducted in the past few years on the influence of feed outages on the performance of pigs. The results of these studies clearly show the negative impact of feed outages on the performance of pigs. It is important to eliminate or at the very least minimize the frequency and duration of feed outages.

Water Management
Water is typically provided free of choice to animals, but is a critical nutrient that can often be overlooked. It is important to periodically check the quality of water being used for production. Poor quality water can reduce water consumption. If water consumption is reduced, feed consumption will also be reduced and impair animal performance.

Water flow rates should be monitored to ensure adequate water is being provided and also to be sure water is not being wasted (excessive flow). Typically, water flow rates should be in the range of 2 to 4 cups/minute for swine. In addition, waterers should be checked to make sure they are not plugged (to prevent inadequate water consumption) or are leaking (to prevent wasted water).

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