Feeders as a control point in production

While we know that feed is the largest expense in a wean-finish barn, and we all strive for a low feed cost per pound of gain, I don’t think we realize how important our investment in a feeder is. A couple of weeks ago I was involved in a conference call with Steve Dritz from Kansas State University. In a discussion of feeders, he brought up how much feed each feeder in a barn handles per year.

Let’s look at a wean-finish barn with small pens and a 60” feeder (tube or wet/dry or dry) feeding 2 pens of pigs. If we have a 40 ft wide barn/room, there are 25-27 pigs per pen (50-54 pigs/feeder). In a 50 ft wide barn/room, there are often 30-32 pigs per pen (60-64 pigs/feeder).

I did the math based on a 40 ft wide barn/room as that is the most common size in the US industry. If we assume there are 50 pigs sold from the combined pens in a wean-finish facility at each turn and there are 2 turns per year, this is 100 pigs/year/feeder. With an incoming weight of 12 pounds and a sale weight of 268 pounds, this is 256 pounds of gain per pig. If the wean-finish feed conversion is 2.55, this becomes 65,280 lbs of feed that goes thru that feeder in 1 year. This is 32.6 tons of feed. At $160/ton, this is $5,220. In ten years time, this becomes $52,200 of feed.

I think we all can acknowledge the importance of the feeder in controlling feed wastage. It is the control point for the biggest expenditure in our production facilities. Yet, we are often hesitant to spend money on this control point. I can’t begin to count all of the older facilities that I’ve been in that have feeders that need repair or replacement. At $160/ton, a change in feed conversion of 0.02 units (2.53 vs 2.55) is worth 512 pounds of feed per year ($40.96 @ $160/t) per feeder.

For grow-finish barns receiving 55 lb pigs and doing 2.8 turns per year, the numbers become 80,514 lbs of feed (40 tons) per feeder per year at a 2.70 feed conversion. A change of 0.02 units in feed conversion (2.68 vs 2.70) now becomes 596 lbs of feed per feeder per year ($47.68 @ $160/t).

For wider barns where there often are more pigs per feeder, the numbers become even bigger.

The point of this exercise – if old or worn out feeders are limiting you from getting good feed conversion numbers, it doesn’t take much improvement to justify replacement of the existing feeders. If you own pigs placed in contract finishing facilities, some type of cost sharing with a contract grower may be worth considering as they will be hesitant to replace feeders unless there is a f/g bonus in your payment scheme.

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