Pigs in building

Swine specialists say feed efficiency is a key measurement for producers, and with current market conditions it might be worthwhile to feed pigs to higher weights. 

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With high feed prices, swine producers are looking to maximize feed efficiency.

“When feed prices get high, people are looking at ways to cut feed costs,” says Marcia Shannon, University of Missouri Extension swine nutritionist.

However, Shannon points out this is a different time for the markets.

“With $6.50 per bushel corn, we also have $1.13 (per hundredweight) hog prices, which is unusual,” she says.

Currently, Shannon says producers may want to consider feeding pigs to higher weights, which are providing higher net gains per pig under current grain and market conditions. This is despite the higher inefficiencies of feeding at higher weights, she says.

“Everybody’s scenario is different,” Shannon says. “It depends a little. Everybody’s feed efficiency is different, and people’s costs are different.”

Dave Stender, swine specialist for Iowa State University Extension in northwest Iowa, says the key for producers is figuring if the extra weight is paying off.

“If you’re still making money putting pounds on that pig, then it still makes sense to put pounds on those pigs, until you don’t have any room,” he says.

Stender says producers also need to consider what weights packers want, as well as the direction the hog market is heading. If it seems to be trending up, then feeding pigs to higher weights pays off even more, but if it is trending down, it can cut into the benefits of taking time to add on extra pounds.

“The direction of the market has an impact,” he says.

Even with higher feed costs, Shannon says the hog markets provide opportunities.

“There’s still money to be made for those producers,” she says.

Packer demand is driving pig market weights higher, Shannon says. But her models show producers can make a profit with somewhat lower hog prices.

“If hog prices drop back down to $60, there’s still some money to be made,” Shannon says. “Even as corn prices near $6 per bushel, hogs weighing 240 to 300 pounds at $60 per hundredweight fetch a return. This includes a marketing dock for pigs outside of the 240- to 300-pound live market weight and a 15-cent-per-pound charge for facilities and labor.”

Her model assumes that it takes 10 days to add 10 pounds with a decreased feed efficiency of 3.7 pounds.

The goal, Shannon says, it to take full advantage of the higher hog prices.

“With hog prices, it seems like it’s always feast or famine, and right now we’re feasting,” she says. “I want them to feast as much as possible.”

Stender says high feed cost reminds producers of the importance of feed efficiency, the ratio of feed relative to gain.

“That’s when you pay attention to those management factors,” he says. “It just pays more to pay attention.”

Shannon says particle size in feed is a key part of efficiency. Maintenance of parts in feed mills can help make sure particles are ground down small enough. She says getting close to 800 microns in particle size is a good goal, but sometimes a simple visual inspection can help.

“If you can see particles that clearly look like corn, you should ask the mill to check the particle size,” she says. “If you can identify what’s corn, your particle size is probably too big.”

Stender says this helps with digestion.

“The finer you grind the feed, the more area it is for the pig’s stomach to digest the feed,” he says.

He says other ways to improve feed efficiency include keeping pigs from being too hot or too cold, having quality feed pellets, use of amino acids and good feeder design to cut down on feed waste.

“The goal of feeder management is to have very available fresh feed,” Stender says. “The access has to be easy.”

Long-term, Shannon says it is always good for producers to be thinking about improving their rations.

“It’s less input cost,” she says. “That helps when we’re talking about global warming and carbon footprint.”

Overall, she says pigs and poultry are “pretty good on efficiency,” but producers can always strive to get better.

Shannon says feed efficiency and feeding strategies can help producers make the most of the good times.

“We like high market hog prices, but we also know they’re not going to stay there forever,” she says.

This article originally ran on agupdate.com.

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