Improving efficiencies with high feed ingredient prices

In the next few weeks I will be speaking at quite a few producer and contract grower meetings in the upper Midwest. At each meeting, I’ve been asked to talk about something related to production efficiencies and high feed costs.

This is really a hard topic as we all greatly improved our efficiencies in order to survive during the past 3 years. How do you get even better if you already have been doing as much as possible to get it right?

For pig owners, there still are a lot of diet decisions that will impact feed conversion and feed ingredient costs. Dr Bob Thaler from South Dakota State University showed me some data this week from a set of feed samples he collected at meetings this winter. Fully 1/3 of the samples had a particle size greater than 700 microns. This means there is still a lot of room for improvement in feed processing for many producers. It is very clear from the research data that for each 100 micron decrease in diet particle size, feed efficiency improves 1.2%.

At one time, the target diet particle size was 700 microns. Most production systems now target 600-650 microns, with some targeting as low as 550 microns. The challenge is that as we decrease particle size, the cost to grind the grain goes up and the throughput of the mill decreases. At the same time, problems with bridging increase in feed storage bins. The risk of increased ulcers used to be a major concern as we decreased particle size. With the addition of DDGS to almost all grow-finish diets, this risk is much less and I am not getting reports of ulcer problems with the decreased particle size.

The challenge for contract growers is that they have no say what is in the feed bin – they are just responsible for managing the diet that is delivered. Some production systems have feed conversion bonus payments that are tied to the management of these delivered diets. In this case, what should the contract grower concentrate on to get the best feed conversion and bonus?

We’ve been saying this for the 30+ years that I’ve been in the industry, but it hasn’t changed – keep feeders properly adjusted. I carry a camera with me for many site visits and the set of pictures that I accumulate each year of feeder adjustment mistakes in facilities hasn’t changed. The available data says for most dry feeders, the target is 40-50% pan coverage, especially during the grower phase. If we tighten feeders too much, daily gain declines with limited improvement in feed conversion. Feed conversion really sky rockets when we open feeders so that we have more than 50% of the pan covered with feed without any real improvement in daily gain.

Out-of-feed events are an everyday management challenge at many sites. Again, the research data says that if we don’t have feed available for ad libitum consumption, especially during the growing phase, daily gain will suffer. The growing pig can’t make up for a missed meal as easily as the finishing pig.

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