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Finetuning feeds and feeding

Feed is the major component in the cost of producing pig meat. This does not necessarily mean it is the only area to achieve savings, but it has to be addressed and managed. However, when considering options, remember anything that cuts production efficiency will almost certainly cut profitability.

How to reduce feeding costs

Each situation is different and requires a different approach.

It is important to realise that the feed cost component of producing pig meat is not just a reflection of the cost per tonne of feed; it is the combination of the cost per tonne and the herd feed conversion ratio (FCR).

Table 1. The feed cost component of producing pig meat
Feed cost ($/tonne) Herd FCR Feed cost/kg ($/kg DW*)
400 4.0 1.60
400 3.5 1.40
350 4.0 1.40
350 3.5 1.23

* DW is dressed weight.

Taking this into account, there are many factors that influence feed cost per tonne and herd feed conversion ratio such as:

  • Herd feed conversion ratio factors:
    • feed intake (usage/wastage)
    • growth rates
    • carcass weight and quality
    • production volumes.
  • Feed cost per tonne factors:
    • diet specifications
    • ingredient costs
    • number of diets
    • inclusion of additives.

Herd feed conversion ratio factors

Determine feed intake for your pigs on your farm

This is the most important information a nutritionist can use to minimise feed costs. Knowing how much feed a pig eats each day provides the information needed to set the levels of amino acids and other nutrients. It is not easy information to collect but provides important information for optimising performance and minimising feed costs.

Monitor growth performance

This should not just be limited to growth rate at slaughter but should also include weight-for-age monitoring at appropriate points in the growth cycle. This information will allow you to see whether pigs follow the target growth curve and to identify any periods of poor growth. The relationship between feed intake and growth rates is involved.

Factors affecting feed intake and growth include:

  • Normal feed intake - slow growth:
    • protein deficiency
    • amino acid imbalance
    • feed separation
    • low energy density
    • feed wastage
    • chilling.
  • Low feed intake - slow growth:
    • restricted feeder access
    • water supply (volume, quality, temperature)
    • errors in mixing (inaccurate weighing, mixing)
    • high stocking rate
    • unpalatable feeds
    • feed separation
    • social stress.

Monitor carcass weight/quality

On most units, there are opportunities for increasing market returns. Graph the pigs' fats and weights from the kill sheets on a marketing scattergram (weight along horizontal axis and fats on the vertical axis) to see how they compare to the purchaser's desired categories for pig weight and fat. The aim is to reduce the outliers of fat and weight and have a large proportion of pigs toward the purchaser's desired weight and fat maximum range.

Production volumes

Improve or at least maintain breeding herd efficiency such as farrowing rates, litter size, pre-weaning mortality.

Reduce feed wastage

  • Feed wastage accounts for the largest difference between the animals potential feed efficiency of 2.0:1 and the figures of 2.5 to 3.0 recorded on farms.
  • At a wheat price of $225/tonne, 4% feed wastage costs about $3/pig (Table 2). In practical terms, a pig only has to spill 60g/day or the equivalent of one teaspoon of feed an hour to account for a 4% difference in feed wastage. This equates to a 400 sow herd using an extra 105 tonnes of feed each year to produce the same amount of pig meat. While it is impossible to eliminate feed wastage, this is an area for improvement on most farms. The effect of feed wastage on profitability increases as feed price increases.
  • Physical wastage includes the obvious examples of feed lost if fed on the floor or spillage out of feeders onto the floor, but also includes:
    • feeders (poorly designed, worn, faulty, incorrectly adjusted)
    • spilt feed during delivery
    • feed placed in incorrect bins
    • spoilt fed (e.g. moisture penetration and condensation in silos, urine or faecal contamination or moisture in feeders)
    • ingredients/feed stored incorrectly
    • milling loss (moisture, trash)
    • coarse grinding of grain
    • overfull feed barrows
    • feeding unnecessary animals - e.g. non-pregnant sows (at end of 16 week expected gestation has eaten 175 kg since mating), feeding rodents (an adult rat eats 15g/day so if 100 rats this is 4 t/year), culled sows kept too long, overweight sale pigs
    • pigs kept outside their thermo-neutral range (e.g. cold pigs eating to keep warm, hot pigs using energy to lose heat).
  • Metabolic wastage involves no loss of feed but rather inefficiencies in feed utilisation because diet specification and feed intake are not matched to the pigs' needs.
Table 2. The effect on profitability of different wheat prices at 2% and 4% feed wastage
Base wheat price ($/tonne) Base value Cost if 2% of feed is wasted Cost if 4% of feed is wasted
$/pig $/kg DW $/pig $/kg DW $/pig $/kg DW
175 0 0 1.3 0.02 2.7 0.04
200 4.7 0.06 6.1 0.08 7.6 0.09
225 9.4 0.12 10.9 0.14 12.5 0.15
250 14.1 0.17 15.7 0.20 17.4 0.21
275 18.8 0.23 20.5 0.26 22.3 0.27
300 23.7 0.29 25.5 0.30 27.4 0.33
325 28.5 0.35 30.4 0.36 32.4 0.39

Feed cost per tonne factors

Finetune diet specifications

Review diet specifications with your feed company or nutritionist to ensure diets match the requirements of the genotype/sex and age of pig being fed. This will ensure that diets are close to optimal with a minimum need for 'safety margins'. To estimate requirements you need an idea of your pigs' growth rate and feed intake in each stage of production. Without this information, dietary specifications can only be optimised by trial and error. AUSPIG simulations, available through us and commercial resources, can establish the requirements of your genotype and tailor diets to the sex and age of pig being fed.

When reviewing diet specifications, it is important to know what specifications are creating the major cost pressures and the effect of relaxing these specifications.

Phase feeding

Feeding a series of diets from weaning to sale ensures a more efficient use of nutrients, as does feeding separate diets to male, female and barrow pigs. The advantages of feeding more diets are:

  • reduced feed costs
  • improved growth rate/FCR
  • reduced environmental pollution.

Disadvantages include:

  • capital costs for silos
  • capital costs for feed systems.

Most producers feed at least two diets during the growing period to minimise wastage and reduce feeding costs. 

Table 3 shows that profitability can be improved by increasing the number of diets during the grower/finisher phase.

Table 3. The effect on profitability of increasing the number of diets from 30-105 kg
Change in profit Single diet
30-105 kg
2 diets
30-60 kg
60-105 kg
3 diets
30-40 kg
40-60 kg
60-105 kg
4 diets
30-40 kg
40-60 kg
60-80 kg
80-105 kg
$/pig Base 2.90 4.50 5.30
$/kg DW Base 0.03 0.05 0.06

Use least-cost diet formulation

While many producers re-formulate diets on a regular basis to take advantage of changing market conditions, others maintain a fixed diet for months or even years. The frequency of diet formulation depends on the market conditions, but should be changed whenever a new ingredient is added, or new batch of ingredient is introduced. Re-formulation is needed to ensure specifications are maintained for the lowest possible cost.

Examine ingredient costs and constraints

  • Critically review all feed ingredients. Are they the best ingredients for the job? Are there alternative ingredients that could be considered? Is the range of ingredients too restricted?
  • Examine the effect of limiting the inclusion of certain ingredients and the effect of forcing ingredients into the diet.
  • Do you have diets rounded to bag or half-bag sizes? What is the effect of relaxing this constraint?
  • Consider group buying with other producers as a way to reduce cost by buying larger quantities.

Review diets mixed on farm

Creep and starter diets require specialised and expensive ingredients. Consider the cost of purchasing and storing milk powders, additives, the cost of ingredient wastage and quality control such as order of mixing. Can you manufacture these diets cheaper than you can buy them?

Review quality-control procedures

If you are home-mixing, you are responsible for quality control and it is an essential part of successful feed manufacture.

Consider the following key areas.

Ingredient quality

If you are not regularly getting your grain analysed for DE (digestible energy), you may be wasting your money. Your nutritionist will have to rely on an average book value when grain can vary by 3 to 4 MJ DE/kg - your grain may be higher or lower than the average book value. You may be losing up to $20 for every tonne of grain your operation uses. This equates to $85/sow/year. Contact current licensed users of the AusScan technology in Queensland: Symbio Alliance 07 3340 5702, SGS Agritech 07 4633 0599

As well as testing for DE, have your grain tested for protein content as there is a wide range even within one grain type. Protein meals may also need testing, and check that the particular protein meal you are purchasing is the same type as being used in the formulation.

Accuracy of feed milling and mixing

Keep a check on particle size. Are you achieving the desired particle size? Large particle size leads to poor performance, while too small a particle size increases feed manufacturing costs and can lead to ulcers.

Is the proportion of ingredients specified in the formulation the same as that actually being mixed? Are ingredients weighed accurately? Is the feed mixed for the required length of time?

Feed delivery

Is there feed separation in silos and feed trucks? Are silos managed well (stale feed, water damage from condensation)?

Review all diet formulations for additives

Products are usually added to diets to address specific problems, but can remain in the diet long after the problem disappears. Regularly review diets to consider why additives are being included. Are they appropriate and cost effective?

It is also worth considering other additives that are not included, such as enzymes, organic acids, and toxin binders.

Further information

Last updated 29 April 2010