The last time pork producers worried about high feed costs was 2015. Now, higher commodity prices have producers revisiting strategies to reduce feed costs and preserve profits, according to Ryan Strobel, DVM, Swine Vet Center, St. Peter, Minnesota.
“Six months ago, we were sitting at $3 cash corn,” Strobel said. “Now it is over $5 cash corn. That’s about $20 per head difference in feed costs…and might take all our profits.” Every dollar increase in corn price is roughly $10 difference in cost per head.
Strobel offers three strategies to help reduce feed costs.
1. Reduce slaughter weights
“A quick, easy way to save on feed costs is to bring down slaughter weights,” he said. “If you are selling at weights of 280 to 300 pounds, back off to 270 to 275 pounds and save 10 to 25 pounds a hog.”
However, the ability to cut slaughter weights depends on the packer’s current kill situation, the grid at your packer and contracts. This option is not possible for everyone.
Another challenge for cutting pig weights is the quality of the 2020 corn crop. Strobel said pigs are gaining well on corn produced in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa in 2020. It can be a challenge to get weights under control. Plus, continued genetic improvement is making a difference. Pigs may be ahead of normal marketing windows.
2. Feeder settings
Other obvious ways to reduce feed costs is to make sure you aren’t wasting feed. “Recheck your feeder settings and make sure they are set at 30% to 40% pan coverage,” Strobel said. Feeders set too open will result in poor feed quality and feed wastage.
Check over feeders regularly for other problems that can lead to waste like moldy feed. Repair feed lines that have holes in them, cracked bin boots that can allow moldy feed and any cracks in feeders that can result in wastage.
Mat feeding in wean-to-finish also can lead to feed waste. Strobel recommends working with the staff to make sure they understand feed is expensive and shouldn’t be dumped in the pit.
“I still recommend mat feeding as much as possible, but smaller amounts more often will help the pigs continue to eat and not waste as much over the side of the mat,” he explained.
Sow farms should periodically weigh feed boxes to make sure the feed amounts are accurate. Also conduct body-condition checks more often to make sure sows aren’t eating too much and adding condition when they don’t need it.
3. Feed production issues
Make sure the feed mill is set so that particle size is below 700 microns, Strobel said. Coarse feed particles will cause poor feed efficiency and reduced nutrient utilization. It can also increase feed waste at the feeder. More consistent micron size really helps with settings as well as feed utilization. Check micron size at the mill at least once a week to make sure the rollers or hammer stay accurate.
Double-check your tandem bins to make sure the right diets are used at the right time for feed efficiency. For example, this means finishing the phase 3 diet before moving on to the phase 4 diet, he explained. Diets are specially formulated for specific weight ranges and genetics. Blending two diets will hurt performance and feed efficiency.
Some producers also may decide to replace soybean meal in pig diets to cut costs. Strobel said in the next 6 months, if soybean-meal prices continue to rise, he expects to see producers move to replacements like canola meal, bakery byproducts or distiller’s dried grains with solubles, depending on market prices of what can be added.