Advice for hog producers on high feed prices
MANKATO, Minn. — The University of Minnesota Extension's swine team leader has advice for hog farmers facing big feed prices.
Mark Whitney, associate professor in swine nutrition and management, knows it wasn't too long ago that farmers paid $2.50 per bushel for corn. Now the bill is $6 or higher.
"Half the cost of raising a pig is literally the cost of corn that you're feeding them," said Whitney.
To cope, farmers can find other ingredients to replace corn in their hogs' diets, incorporate anti-microbials to squeeze the most nutrients from corn, keep the herd healthy and follow best feeding practices.
Wheat midds, which are leftover after wheat is screened, is one alternative ingredient to consider as long as it doesn't contain foreign material. It shouldn't be used with distillers grain to avoid too much fiber, said Whitney.
Many Minnesotans have been feeding swine distillers grain as a partial replacement to corn. However, once the diet is 30 percent to 40 percent of the ethanol byproduct, hogs will have a slight decline in growth rate and feed conversion. Feeding a high level also leads to concerns about the hogs' carcass quality.
"One other challenge is the distillers grain product is changing," said Whitney. "We've got what you consider a traditional distillers grain and now there's a lot of other pre- and post-fermentation processes that some ethanol plants are doing to impact the product that will be left over to feed."
Whatever the ingredients, producers need to understand their nutritional content.
"People tend to think, particularly with corn, that corn is corn and it's all the same but there is some variability from year to year," said Whitney.
He advises farmers to periodically evaluate nutrient specifications and fine-tune swine diets. This includes sending samples of ingredients to a laboratory for analysis on amino acids, energy and mineral levels, then using that data to create diets that match their performance goals.
To get the performance they want, hog farmers need to understand the performance they have. Just because a genetic supplier says their hogs can perform at a certain level doesn't mean the hogs will on the farm, said Whitney. Use the supplier's performance numbers as a general idea of the hogs' potential, but do your own record keeping.
Many producers use private companies to manage their records and can compare their production levels and efficiencies with other farms.
In addition to re-thinking swine feed, producers should also re-think how to reach the most return on investment.
"It's not always the case where max performance is max profit," said Whitney. "There might be a slightly lower level that would optimize their return on money spent on feed costs."
Whitney was on the steering committee for the National Swine Nutrition Guide, which helps producers match feeding systems and nutrient levels with their performance goals. It contains nutrient recommendations and feeding guidelines. Its software helps producers create swine diets on a least-cost basis and evaluate nutritional value of existing diets. Some information may be downloaded for free. The full package, including software, is $125 and can be ordered at www.extension.umn.edu/swine.
In terms of best feeding practices, Whitney said only 10 percent, preferably five percent, of feed should go to waste.
Most producers already do a good job of feeding different diets to hogs as they age, but Whitney said more farmers should start feeding barrows and gilts different diets, starting when they weigh between 80 pounds to 100 pounds.
"What surprises me is there is a fairly large number of people that do mixed gender feeding," he said.
It takes more management, but it should be done because barrows and gilts have different amino acids-to-energy ratio requirements.
"You're going to be able to minimize feed costs better and improve your bottom line by split sex feeding," Whitney said.
Producers should also assess the genetic merit of their herd.
"We've got pigs now that grow much faster and much leaner than they did four to five years ago. Make sure your genetics are current," he said.